Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI) is a transnational NGO founded in 1996 and currently registered in South Africa and the Netherlands, with its member countries ranging across the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America. It represents 'federations' of the urban poor and homeless groups who have organised themselves at a city or national level. In contrast to the prevalent post-war attitude of governments being best placed to deal with issues of poverty and development, SDI emphasises the need for the poor to be able to help themselves. They have developed a number of mechanisms or 'rituals' that facilitate this and which members have to adhere to. These focus on issues of governance and leadership with one of their key tactics being the encouragement of daily saving as a way to not only collect funds, but as a pretext for neighbourhood organisation. The daily interaction of people living in the same area under similar conditions encourages dialogue, raising opportunities to meet, discuss, and mobilise together. Although not only an organisation for women, SDI places a fundamental emphasis on their participation, contending that women's involvement is crucial to the success of initiatives based around issues of household finance and housing needs. They also highlight that women's movements have historically tended to be non-party political whilst effecting change on a social and political level.
Organised as a network, SDI's pedagogical approach is based on horizontal exchange where members learn from each other's experiences rather than relying on the detached and often inappropriate knowledge of 'experts'. As members organise a savings group, gain land tenure regularisation, improve settlement infrastructure, or complete income generation and housing projects, they travel to other locations to meet those attempting to do the same. The growth of the SDI network increases its power and ability to influence governments and donors; the grass-roots organisation thus gains strength through numbers and is quickly becoming a large-scale social movement. It has recently become only the second NGO alongside Habitat for Humanity International to join the Cities Alliance, an organisation consisting of donor governments and the World Bank. Herein also lies a critique of SDI, which is seen to be aligning itself more and more with neo-liberal forces, and for some becoming the voice for the urban poor. Nonetheless, SDI have managed to create a space for local action and mobilisation at a time when governments and political parties have failed to act.
Diana Mitlin and Sheela Patel, 'Working for rights from the grassroots', Alliance, 10 (2005), 27-28.
Sheela Patel, Sundar Burra and Celine D'Cruz, 'Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) - foundations to treetops', Environment and Urbanization, 13 (2001), 45-59.
D. Satterthwaite, 'From pProfessionally Driven to People-driven Poverty Reduction: Reflections on the role of Shack/Slum Dwellers International', Environment and Urbanization, 13 (2001), 135-138.
'Slum Dwellers International - Mutual learning for human development', The South-South Opportunity, http://www.impactalliance.org/ev_en.php?ID=49485_201&ID2=DO_TOPIC [accessed 15 March 2010].
"In SDI's experience, it is always women who dream of tree-lined
streets, brick houses, and safe places for their children to play
-- and who are willing to save incrementally to turn this dream
into a reality. Thus, women's savings and loan schemes are the
foundation for all collective action."
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