Category Archives: Guest blogger

Guest Post: Painting Slums

The following guest post by Noll Tufani, the Haiti Country Director for Build Change, opens our minds to how we can share our experiences working in housing and informal settlement upgrading with both intellect and creativity.


Cerfs Volants

As a humanitarian professional implicated in slum-upgrading projects, I’ve come to realize that slums are key revelators of the challenges facing modern cities, of the broader development challenges facing entire countries or regions, and of a universal condition that humanity has been facing through the ages.

The economic, social, political, environmental and ethical implications of our times can all be found in the slums.

I realized that slums had rubbed-off on me when I began to feel this urge to draw and paint them. At first representing the slum itself was important to me, but then I started to give-in to an even stronger urge to render the slum as relative as it is to the very slum dwellers and as inconspicuous as it is to the ruling classes. The best way to do this was to merge three concepts:

  • The slums are everywhere: whatever the product one consumes, someone from a slum somewhere has had something to do with that product. And this is also true for the products we discard as trash. Whatever the location in the world, there is a slum of sorts, hidden from the mainstream, but very much intertwined with it. Whether a Brazilian favela or a squatted run-down building in the heart of Paris, ignoring the existence of slums is simply failing to fully understand the world we live in.
  • Slums are not slums in the eyes of their residents: slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations and their moments of joy beyond the contingency of the slum. They are able to create this reality that renders the hardship of the slum relative and as a result, they transform the slums into welcoming and heartwarming places from which they project themselves into their dreams and life-plans.
  • Slums evoke hardship and suffering: although slum-dwellers project their life-aspirations beyond the slum, they are very much aware of the daily hardship of living in the slum. From lack of comfort, to exposition to crime, disease and natural disasters, slum-dwellers wish they were living elsewhere, and non-slum-dwellers wish the slum were not there!
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Bidonvuille en bordure de mer











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Inequality in India’s Development Dreams

By: Stephanie Tam, AHI Volunteer, Canada

In unspoken agreement, individuals melted into a crowd and closed ranks at one end of the Sabarmati Riverfront promenade. A reverent murmur rippled across: “The Chief Minister is here”. The sky clouded over with raised hands hailing Narendra Modi, the state of Gujarat’s Chief Minister since 2001 and India’s Prime Minister-elect as of May 16th, 2014. A feverish undercurrent threatened to bubble to the surface with a few shouts ripping through the silence. Modi’s trademark all-white attire became blinding under the sunlight, and the crowd hushed with awe when he began to speak.

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Modi speaking on the Sabarmati Riverfront promenade during the National Festival, August 2012.

Labeled as India’s most loved and most loathed politician, Modi has polarized politics nationally in the few years that have elapsed since that afternoon on the Sabarmati. His supporters claim that his Gujarat model of development will launch the country into a new economic era, while his opponents accuse him of inciting the communal riots that slaughtered thousands of Muslims in 2001. Modi’s landslide election victory shows that his platform of secularized development prevailed over misgivings about his right-wing Hindu roots. However, it remains unclear what development means for the 14 million households living in identified slums across India[1].

Throughout Modi’s electoral campaign, development has meant improved built infrastructure and industrial expansion. Gujarat’s major urban centers boast well-paved roads, few electrical outages, and a flourishing upper class that enjoys air-conditioned malls and luxury cars[2]. Enacted in 2004, Gujarat’s Special Economic Zone (SEZ) legislation has attracted foreign investors and industrial tycoons by doing away with taxes and offering up cheap land, thereby increasing wealth according to development measures that focus exclusively on market growth, i.e. GDP.

Development in terms of employment and consumption, on the other hand, reveals stagnation. Atul Sood et al. show through a series of studies that there is “poverty amidst prosperity”[3], revealing increased reliance upon contract workers and casual labourers, as well as overall wage growth that lags behind the all-India wage increase. This correlates to Gujarat’s slow growth in monthly per capita expenditures: with little increase in household profits, there is little capacity to spend. In short, industries are making a lot of money, but those profits are not benefiting the average worker.

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Civil Society and Nongovernment Organization development in Brazil: can a powerful tradition shift to embrace new models of social business and investment?

By Gláucio Gomes, Institutional Development Manager for Atelié de Idéias, Brazil


Friendship Park in Vitoria, Brazil: Volunteers turn garbage into gardens under the program “Good Effort – Valuing the place where we live” conducted by Ateliê de Ideias, Community Forum – Bem Maior, and CISV International, with the support of the City of Victoria and other partners. Photo: Olga Saxén – CISV Finland.

Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Brazil emerged from a distinct period in Brazilian history. Social movements developed as instruments to seek democracy, human and civil rights during the military dictatorship. These NGOs were born when the main focus of Brazilian society was on the big issues: freedom, free elections and free speech.

Most of the social movements came from the rural interior of the country, where land rights and basic social and political reforms were the main issues. Almost all of the local cells of those movements were born inside the Catholic Church, mobilized by community priests. As such, the origin of our non-profit and NGO sector was very politicized and religious. This sector is based on charity, following the principle that the government is a provider from which society must expect the absolute guarantee of all its rights, with no additional fee. The Brazilian constitution of 1988, which was built with the strong participation of social movements, accords with this view.

Organizations slowly formalize and receive funding from international sources.  Most of these social movements started to become formal organizations in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, when they needed to raise funds and hold contracts with foundations and governments.  In the 1990s, all the great militants and left-wing leaders, who were in social movements during the dictatorship period, started to work in NGOs and to help local communities to start their associations, cooperatives, etc. These militants and leaders were great intellectuals, artists, political minds, and community organizers, with the knowledge and skills to mobilize people. However, they were not managers, administrators, or practical leaders with the necessary skills to take care of organizational development and sustainability. Their organizations struggled with the many managerial tasks that international cooperation agencies required of them. In the early 1990s, nearly 95% of funding to non-profit and NGOs in Brazil came from international development aid agencies and foundations such as USAID, GTZ, Oxfam etc.

The public sector becomes a funder. Later in the decade, these international organizations and foundations began to reduce their funding to Brazilian non-profits.  The election of Luis Inácio Lula, our first leftist president (according to the Brazilian political thermometer), took the relationship between civil society organizations and government to another level. Federal and local governments filled the void left by international organizations, building strong partnerships with social movements and beginning to financially support non-profit and nongovernmental organizations. During the 2000s, about 50% of the money to civil society organizations came from governments (federal and local), 40% from international foundations and agencies, and 10% from the private sector.

Government funds enable NGOs to reach an entirely different scale. Now, a small organization from Pernambuco (a state in Northeast Brazil) can become the partner of a ministry or a local government and receive amounts in the order of US$ 250K to develop a social project in its community. That same organization, fundraising with companies and foundations (private sector) could raise, with a lot of difficulty, US$ 50K –but only if the organization had the communication skills to get approval in public selection processes to which more than a thousand other organizations also have applied. In the rural area of Pernambuco it is very hard to find a company willing to fund a local social project.

Independent or merely a conduit? Still, the challenge remains that resources coming through governmental programs have to be implemented using government methods, strategies and approaches. Essentially, those organizations are working as tools or operational means for government policies. We are now debating the main impacts of Lula’s administration. The political and economical relationship model with social movements produced a period of participative public policies, however it has installed some managerial vicious cycles, which threaten the sustainability of these very social organizations. Currently, the problem is that civil society organizations lack the skills in order to develop as sustainable organizations capable of functioning in the “real world”.

The future: moving toward a new model of social business? Prior to the election of Lula, in São Paulo, Brazilian companies had begun to think about social accountability and social investment. However, since Lula’s presidency, no significant private sector participation with social and nongovernmental sector has occurred.

We at Ateliê de Ideias have a different relationship between social organizations and communities/society. Most social organizations are outraged by the idea of building business relationships with communities, embracing self sustaining practices instead of charity, private sector participation in social programs.  Communities are also not prepared to be approached in that way by social organizations, yet. What social investors who want to work in Brazil must know is that there is a previous step – education –   to build the foundations of a new sustainable development model that is in accordance with our political culture and social history. There is place, opportunity and real need for change in this culture.

Gláucio Gomes is a strategic planner for Ateliê de Ideias in Brazil, a social organization producing solutions for urban and local development. Among its many services, Ateliê de Ideias provides access to finance and housing for the citizens of Vitória in Southeastern Brazil. Their flagship program is Bem Morar, an integrated package of services to promote access of low-income families to sustainable and affordable houses.