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Deep democracy; transforming opportunities for the urban poor

Brief of the October 2001 issue of E&U

Book/Report, 6 pages

In more than ten nations, federations formed by urban poor groups are helping to change the way in which urban poverty is addressed - locally, city-wide and even nationally. These federations demonstrate new ways to: * implement projects, including their own housing and infrastructure projects, with much lower costs and of better quality than government projects; * develop grassroots organizations that are controlled by and accountable to member households (most federations have at their base savings groups formed primarily by low-income women); * learn from and support each other through community-to-community exchange visits between different savings groups in each city. This roots innovation and learning in what urban poor groups do. The federations also arrange exchange visits between cities, both nationally and internationally (through which the longer-established federations have helped set up new federations); * influence policies by setting precedents (a community-designed and managed public toilet; a house design developed collectively that is far cheaper to build than those of public agencies or private contractors; a relocation programme that serves the needs of those relocated) and using these precedents to negotiate support for further projects and to negotiate changed policies (which develops new “legal” solutions on the poor’s own terms). The federations have legitimacy by being representative, large (many have tens of thousands of members) and demonstrating feasible, cost-effective solutions; * develop their own knowledge base through undertaking their own “slum” or “shack” surveys and censuses (which official agencies and policies need) which help build partnerships with official agencies in ways that strengthen and support their own organizations; and * influence the policies and priorities of international agencies through their own international organization, Slum/Shack Dwellers International

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