Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) is a network of community-based organizations of the urban poor in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It was launched in 1996 when “federations” of the urban poor in countries such as India and South Africa agreed that a global platform could help their local initiatives develop alternatives to evictions while also impacting on the global agenda for urban development. In 1999, SDI became a formally registered entity.
In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate organizations come together at the community, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies. SDI’s mission is to link urban poor communities from cities across the South that have developed successful mobilisation, advocacy, and problem solving strategies. Since SDI is focused on the localized needs of slum dwellers, it has developed the traction to advance the common agenda of creating “pro-poor” cities that address the pervasive exclusion of the poor from the economies and political structures of 21st century cities. Further, SDI uses its global reach to build a platform for slum dwellers to engage directly with governments and international organizations to try new strategies, change policies, and build understanding about the challenges of urban development.
SDI believes that the only way to manage urban growth and to create inclusive cities is for the urban poor to be at the center of strategies for urban development. Concurrently, there is no government that can hope to stop or ignore the challenges of urbanization. Forward-looking cities prepare for the urban population growth, and work with their citizens to harness the social, technological, and economic benefits of urbanization.
Achieving scale in urban development policy and practice begins at the individual settlement level. When local authorities engage with informal settlement communities, residents become active partners in upgrading their built environment. When communities and authorities learn together and produce developmental outcomes together, they are able to reach many more communities than the top-down initiatives that some countries attempt. Further, when communities own the process of upgrading, they are able to ensure that it is sustainable and continues to grow over time.
Urban growth presents monumental challenges for policy makers and ordinary people alike. By working with the people urban interventions affect, these problems become more manageable, and the solutions more sustainable.