“Mongolia is not an easy country to live in and David [South] showed a keen ability to adapt in difficult circumstances. He was sensitive to the local habits and cultures and was highly respected by his Mongolian colleagues. … David’s journalism background served him well in his position as Director of the Communications Unit. … A major accomplishment … was the establishment of the UNDP web site. He had the artistic flare, solid writing talent and organizational skills that made this a success. … we greatly appreciated the talents and contributions of David South to the work of UNDP in Mongolia.” Douglas Gardner, UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative Mongolia
Cities for All, recently published by Habitat International Coalition, draws together thinkers and innovators in a compilation of case studies addressing the challenges of inclusive cities in the global South. The book seeks to articulate experiences of South-South cooperation and enhance the links between different regions. David South interviews the co-editor, Charlotte Mathivet.
The largest movements of people in human history are occurring right now, as vast populations relocate to urban and semi-urban areas in pursuit of a better quality of life, or because life has become intolerable where they currently live. In Arrival City, Canadian journalist Doug Saunders finds that this movement —
— is creating new urban spaces that are this century’s focal points of conflict and change — centres of febrile settlement that will reshape our cities and reconfigure our economies. These Arrival Cities are where the next great economic and cultural boom will be born, or where the next explosion of violence will occur.
For most, this process is chaotic, unplanned, and fraught with risk, hardship, poverty and stress; yet, because so many are also able to dramatically improve their life chances, many millions will continue to follow this path.
The speed of urbanisation makes the question of how to build liveable cities increasingly urgent. A new book hopes to help people get closer to solutions to these vexing problems.
Cities for All: proposals and experiences towards the right to the city, published by Habitat International Coalition (HIC) in Santiago, Chile, and co-edited by HIC’s Ana Sugranyes and Charlotte Mathivet, was launched during this year’s World Urban Forum in Rio de Janeiro, and highlights ways in which urban residents across the South are defining how they would like their cities to evolve, refusing to accept social exclusion and demanding a “right to the city”.
“A lot of social initiatives based on the right to the city are coming from these ‘new cities of the South'”, says Mathivet. “The book highlights original social initiatives: protests and organising of the urban poor, such as the pavement dwellers’ movements in Mumbai where people with nothing, living on the pavements of a very big city, organise themselves to struggle for their collective rights, just as the park dwellers did in Osaka.”
“Another innovative experience came from the children’s workshops in Santiago, aimed at including children in urban planning in order to make a children-friendly city.”
The cities of Africa and Asia are growing by a million peole a week. If current trends continue, mega-cities and sprawling slums will be the hallmarks of this majority urban world. In sub-Saharan Africa, 72 per cent of the population lives in slum conditions. And by 2015, there will be 332 million slum-dwellers in Africa, with slums growing at twice the speed of cities.
“The consequences have produced a deeper gap between the city and countryside, and also within the city between the rich and poor,” said Mathivet.
Cities for All details African experiences from Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana and South Africa. Mathivet believes “one common topic affecting these countries is the problem of forced evictions, due to the rural exodus and growing urbanisation. It is therefore very important for the right to the city to include a perspective of linking the struggle between rural and urban movements, because problems in cities and the countryside are closely connected, especially in Africa.”
And the current surge to cities in Africa raises the issue of what type of development will occur. The book argues that cities aren’t automatically a solution to the plight of the poor. Cities need to be worked on, and many of the problems faced by the South’s fast-growing cities stem from a power imbalance.
“A very important thing to realise is that a city life is not a synonym for a better life or a miracle solution for poor people, nor for the ‘capitalist’ way of life,” says Mathivet. “African nations and their people have to find effective solutions on their own to overcome poverty — which they are doing — without copying development models from the North.”
“In my understanding, urban growth is not haphazard or poorly planned in ‘developing’ countries. Rather, I think that urban ‘planning’ or lack of planning is done with a goal of generating more benefits for powerful interests and fewer benefits for poor people.”
The book argues for a two-way relationship with the people who make up the majority of these fast-growing cities. And it says each city will have to customise its solutions.
“It is very difficult to apply social innovations to other countries without understanding the history and the social, economic, cultural and political context,” says Mathivet.
“Hope comes from learning of different experiences. For example, if a social movement in South Africa succsesfully avoided an eviction from a slum, it may help another social movement in Brazil to strengthen its own strategy. One of the book’s goals was to articulate the various South-South experiences and enhance the links between different regions.”
In one chapter, contributor David Harvey argues that “the right to the city is not simply the right to what already exists in the city; it is also the right to transform the city into something radically different.”
“The right to the city itself will not stop the over-whelming phenomenon of urban growth,” believes Mathivet. “The consequences produced by implementing this collective right would rather change people’s daily lives by achieving more equality in cities as well as in the relationship between the city and coutnryside in regards to growing urban populations.”
Cities for All highlights the existence of ‘cities without citizens’: the vast numbers of slum dwellers and the poor who live mostly ignored by authorities (unless they are in the way of commercial development).
“The expression ‘cities without citizens’ means the exact opposite of the right to the city proposal,” Mathivet says. “This alternative to the present global paradigm proposes to allow people to participate in the process of creating the city in terms of urban planning, decision-making, budget, public policies, etc. It is possible for people to influence their own lives and the community.”
“There is no miracle solution, and the right to the city is a banner around which people can organise themselves to articulate their struggles and demand social justice.”
The book concludes by arguing for the advantages of a ‘slow city’ approach. But how does this work in fast-growing urban areas where people are looking to quickly escape poverty, or are seeking rapid improvements to their quality oflife? Would they not find a slow city approach frustrating?
Mathivet believes a leap of imagination is required: “Cities for All is not intended to be a recipe book. The slow city experience was chosen as a conclusion to the book in order to present a different approach, but not to propose a clear solution to follow. Concluding with the slow city experience, which is radically different and difficult to apply in African and Asian cities, where the spread of urbanisation is uncontrollable and leads to major problems, emphasises that the fight for the right to the city involves imagination and the desire for another possible city …
“Moreover, slow city experiences have been developed otuside of wealthy European countries, for example in some small Argentine and South Korean cities.”
And with the coming decade unfolding, what will cities in the South be like? Are we on the cusp of a new, dark age akin to the misery of Europe’s cities during the industrial revolution?
Mathivet acknowledges that “we can see a dark future where the interests of the most vulnerable will not be the priority. However, looking at the experiences by and for the people, we cannot consider them poor, but rich of knowledge, cognitive capital, and with courage to change their lives and their communities, through self-management and autonomy.
“Cities for All aimed to show this richness … the challenges are for civil society to deepen links between different movements to build a stronger global strategy, during events like the next World Social Forum in Dakar, February 2011.”
David South is an international development consultant and writer. He writes the Development Challenges: South-South solutions e-newsletter for UNDP’sSpecial Unit for South-South Cooperation. He led the Communications Office for the UN in Ulaanbaatar from 1997 to 1999 and has worked for the UN in South Africa, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.
The Special Unit for South-South Cooperation is mandated to promote, coordinate and support South-South and triangular cooperation on a global and UN-systemwide basis.
This story is adapted from a piece in the July 2010 edition of Development Challenges.
Bonn, Germany: “The training allows us to learn about western theories of journalism,” says Mr. Nyamjav, editor of the Erkh Choloo (Freedom) newspaper. A UNDP project in Mongolia has brought journalists from Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, to run an investigative journalist training programme for their colleagues in the rural community of Moron. The programme introducing investigative journalism to students consists of a workshop and various field assignments. Here, I report on day two of the training.
Eleven student journalists and the two trainers, Ms Oyunsetseg and Mr. Batbold from the Press Institute of Mongolia, quickly run through the day’s schedule. The journalists will spend the next two hours interviewing subjects for their stories. All the journalists say this is the first time they’ve explored in detail this sub-category of journalism. Not all the students are experienced journalists, but this is made up for by the quality of the two facilitators, both of whom keep the workshop lively.
The debate begins over the choice of stories. One team has chosen to look at poverty alleviation projects at the Bak (local government) level. They want to write a story looking at poor accountability for loans, the practice of nepotism and the ability of recipients to start small businesses. The team investigating power black-outs wants to conduct further interviews with the poorest people affected by such interruptions.
Back at the offices of the Erkh Choloo newspaper, editor Nyamjav discusses the week’s news with his graphic designer. The skills of the staff impress me. While they have only one computer and barren offices, the paper won an award from the Press Institute for being the best local paper in 1997. The newspaper will be cut off from local government subsidies for printing at the end of this year and is already making plans to find other sources of revenue. Nyamjav is pleased with the results of the UNDP project, saying: “It has noticeably changed our stories – I know how to criticise reporters and push them to be more investigative.”
Outside Ulaanbaatar a petrol shortage has hit hard. At a Moron filling station drivers patiently wait for new supplies to arrive or to receive their ration. Not only is there no fuel, there is also no electricity. On a field assignment the journalists investigating the power black-outs interview Mr. Sukhbaatar the power station director who says 3,500 households owe the utility Tug 27 million (US$27,411). It is the poorest households that are unable to pay in the Ger districts. A Ger is a Mongolian felt tent. Without payment, their power is cut off.
I am asked to conduct a one-hour discussion of my experiences as an investigative journalist in Canada and England. The debate afterwards is lively. A common question is how to deal with pressure from government and corporations to alter the content of stories. The difficulty the regional journalists have in distributing newspapers to remote communities is a common complaint. They ask how international donors could help in this matter, pointing out that in the past the government subsidised newspaper distribution to a greater extent. They would like to be linked with international journalists in some way, preferably through an association.
Good ideas are plentiful, but how to fund life-improving projects has always been a thorny issue. Judging how effective a project is can also be fraught with debate and contention. Over the past two decades, the number of NGOs in the global South has exploded (http://lboro.ac.uk/gawc/rb/rb144.html). The best of them offer the local knowledge and understanding required to make development gains. But unlike NGOs in the North, many lack the powerful fundraising capabilities of the big global NGO brands.
An exciting new initiative based in Germany, but already featuring hundreds of projects from across the South, is using the power of the internet to directly connect projects and donors.
Joana Breidenbach, an anthropologist, author and co-founder of betterplace.org (www.betterplace.org), says NGOs are emerging in India and other countries of the South to challenge the big Northern global NGOs.
“Why wouldn’t you want to donate to these Southern NGOs? There are more entrepreneurs and local approaches which are better.
“Betterplace gives local institutions a platform to express themselves.”
Started in 2007, betterplace is an online marketplace for projects to raise funds. It is free, and it passes on 100 percent of the money raised on the platform to the projects. The foundation that runs betterplace supports its overheads by offering additional services that people can pay for if they wish. It works in a way similar to the online marketplace eBay (http://www.ebay.com): NGOs post their project, set up an account, blog about their achievements and successes and needs, and receive donations direct to their bank account when they come in.
Breidenbach points out up to a third of any NGO’s income is spent on fundraising. In Germany, that represents more than Euro 1.3 billion out of over Euro 4 billion in private donations – money that could have gone directly into the hands of the people needing help.
With betterplace, donators can surf through the projects and pick the one they want. Already, more than 100 large corporations trawl through betterplace seeking projects to fund to meet their corporate social responsibility (CSR) obligations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Corporate_social_responsibility).
“I find it very exciting to introduce a good and innovative NGO to a corporate sponsor,” Breidenbach said.
Breidenbach says betterplace’s ultimate goal is “to transfer the donation market online.” It hopes to change the rules in donation and charity in the same way blogs and the search engine Google changed the way people publish and search for information.
“This provides better transparency, feedback,” Breidenbach said. “Now (with betterplace) donors and organizations can cut out the middlemen. A lot of established organizations do not like this too much.”
Over the past decade, new concepts like social entrepreneurs and venture philanthropy have emerged to straddle the delicate line between social good and private profit. Betterplace joins this wave of new thinking about how to do development better.
In the 20 months since betterplace went online more than 1,500 projects have joined. They are now averaging between 20 to 35 new projects joining every week.
Betterplace is a simple open-plan office on the top floor of a Berlin warehouse beside the city’s Spree river. The small team (http://www.betterplace.org/about_us/team) work on laptop computers. A blackboard on the wall details in bright colours a running tally of the projects that have joined.
Breidenbach gives the example of a mother in Cameroon who is using betterplace to raise the school fees for her children. The mother blogs about the children’s progress and has been able to raise the fees for a year and a half.
“People are now directly connected to somebody in need.”
“Right now the functionality (of the website) does not allow people getting in contact publicly and we want to enable this knowledge transfer in 2010. If you want to build a well in Cameroon then you could search for the best technology and to contact other people who are doing similar projects to learn from them.”
Success on betterplace is by no means certain. “The experience of the project managers has been as varied as development work is – some have done really well, raising thousands of Euros over the website – others have received no funding at all,” Breidenbach said.
But betterplace provides tools to give the projects the best chance possible. “Projects can present their work, breaking it down in a transparent way (in order to let supporters know exactly what is needed for their realization), there are sound payment processes in place and project managers can give feedback through their project blog, supporters can download project widgets etc., all supplied free of charge.”
Breidenbach has other tips for making betterplace work for a project: post details in English when creating a profile, break down the project into much smaller, low-cost goals (few people are willing to make large donations) – this also has the advantage of receiving payments straight away when they are small. Tell a good story about the project, and try and use actual testimonials from the people affected. Blog and update regularly with photos and videos to keep people engaged. Also avoid copying and pasting text from a previous grant application.
“We have the numbers to show that projects which give regular feedback and have a lively web of trust receive more donations than others, which are not very active.”
“Don’t think you can just go on to betterplace and the money starts rolling in,” said Breidenbach.
The betterplace platform places all projects seeking funds on the same level, allowing individuals and small NGOs to compete equally with the big, branded global NGOs with their websites and sophisticated fundraising operations.
“All the big NGOs have their own websites,” continues Breidenbach. “But it is the small initiatives that often don’t have a website or know how to use Pay Pal etc. (http://www.paypal.com). We are very useful for smaller NGOs.”
“Another big advantage is that we are a real marketplace: whatever your interests (as a potential donor), you will find a project tackling this issue on the platform.”
But what about fraud and people seeing betterplace as a coin-making machine rather than a way to make the world a better place?
“We have a feeling for dodgy projects. We check the IP address. We have a number of trust mechanisms in place (and are currently working on enlarging them). Thus projects on betterplace can create trust through their good name … But we also include something which I would call network-trust: In our web of trust different kinds of stakeholders of an organization or a project have a voice and can publicly state what they think of it. Thus beneficiaries of a project can say if the project has done them good or has been counterproductive, people who have visited the project on the ground can describe what they have seen etc. … we hope to give a much denser and more varied impression of social work and give donors (a terribly badly informed group of people), the basis for a much more informed choice.
“If a contributor to a project is dissatisfied with the project’s outcome … she can either directly contact the project manager via betterplace, or openly voice her concern on the project page for other potential donors to see her views.”
For now, betterplace is still only useful to people who have access to the internet and have a bank account (necessary for the money transfers). But in the future betterplace hopes to have mobile phone interactivity and more features to expand who they can reach.
“We are also re-working our site to make it more intuitive and easier to use for people without computer skills,” Breidenbach said. “In the pipeline is also a knowledge backbone, enabling people to access knowhow about development and social innovation issues and exchange views and experiences. This will be very useful for projects in the South as so many people are working on the same issues without knowing about it. They could learn a lot from each other, without the “help” of the north.”
1) CSR Wire: This is a news service with all the latest news, reports and events and where companies announce their CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes and how much they are contributing. A great resource for any NGO looking to make a targeted appeal for funds. Website:http://www.csrwire.com/
2) Alibaba: Alibaba.com is an online marketplace started in China but is now global. It allows businesses from all over the world to trade with each other, make deals and find funding. Website:http://www.alibaba.com/
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.