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close this bookVolunteer Participation in Working with the Urban Poor (UNDP - UNV, 64 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentNote on terminology and abbreviations
View the documentSummary
Open this folder and view contentsI. Urbanisation: recognition and response
Open this folder and view contentsII. Insights derived from community-based programmes
Open this folder and view contentsIII. Towards a community-based strategy for VSAs
Open this folder and view contentsIV. Programming concerns for VSAs and UNV
Open this folder and view contentsV. Principles and characteristics of volunteer use
View the documentEpilogue: follow-up, 1995
View the documentAnnotated reference list
Open this folder and view contentsAnnex: Excerpts from background papers


This Programme Advisory Note was written with the view of catalysing a comprehensive response among international aid agencies, especially volunteer-sending agencies, to the concerns and existing self-help efforts of low-income urban communities. The explosion of population growth in the urban sector, and the consequential demands and needs of communities in these settings, makes it mandatory that development agencies, as well as governments, focus greater attention on meeting these needs in an appropriate manner.

The consequences of rapid urbanisation are vast, especially in developing countries. It is estimated that nearly half of the absolute low-income groups in developing countries are urban inhabitants, largely concentrated in the slums and pavements of the inner cities, as well as periphery squatter settlements and shanty towns. Governments and municipalities have been unable to meet the enormous pressures of resource scarcity, social service requirements and infrastructure needs, such as housing, transportation, utilities and services. Consequently, it has been the self-help initiatives of these low-income groups which has ensured their survival.

Unfortunately, the response has not kept pace with the growing demands of rapid urbanisation. Methods to address the needs of the urban sector, as well as government policies and programmes, have been fragmented and incomplete. On the whole, international organisations have likewise given low-priority to the low-income urban sector, although this bias is changing. The most active response to the needs of this sector has been from the communities themselves. Urban associations are springing up throughout developing countries to fill the void of external assistance, and to address a wide variety of concerns at different levels. Governments, coming to terms with their own capacity limitations, have recognised that the bulk of the effort required to provide housing and services to low-income urban groups will have to come from these groups themselves and from the private sector.

International organisations and VSAs are increasingly recognising that development initiatives with which they could be associated must evolve from within the community. Well-versed with their own problems and needs and well endowed with existing forms of organisation, the impetus for development initiatives is more genuine, appropriate and sustainable if it comes from within communities, rather than from outsiders attempting to act on their behalf. A community-based approach to working with low-income urban groups is not new; many organisations most of them PVOs and NGOs, but also an increasing number of UN and other bodies, have been supporting a range of such programmes in several cities of developing countries. These endeavours have provided a wealth of case studies which VSAs may draw upon to chart their own strategies.

The community-based approach is highly labour-intensive in skilled and committed individuals, whether they work as community animators or technically-qualified professionals in a training capacity. There are several advantages which VSAs bring to their work with low-income urban communities commitment to strategies of development which emphasise participation and empowerment; experience in working at the community level and with local co-workers; relevant technical, managerial and organisational experience, as well as work experience with low-income urban communities of other countries: and the ability and desire to understand and work within the local institutions, cultural and linguistic characteristics of low-income urban communities.

How can the VDW contribute to community-based initiatives in a durable, yet dependency-avoiding manner? To begin with, have the ideas and design emanated from, or with full involvement of the community? This relates to the VDW assignment as well. If the role includes organisational strengthening, animation work, technical and managerial training, and providing access to resources and policymaking, then local partners - team members who either belong to the community or have a lasting relationship with it (as part of an NGO) - are key. This provides the sustainability, continuity and commitment to an on-going process of development. Financial support may also be necessary, and included in the programme design. Flexibility in timeframe and project design are imperative as well.

There are four main criteria for successful volunteer involvement in urban interventions: flexibility; continuity; sustainability and self-reliance. The focus on needs assessment by the communities themselves necessarily calls for flexibility in setting project objectives. In addition, development processes take time to root. Once priorities are set, initiatives are necessarily long-term. The exact time frame, however, would depend on local community capacity to manage without external support. There should be an emphasis on participation and local capacity-building (organisational and technical) which would lead to empowerment of the. community and act as a check against engendering dependence. This needs to be consciously promoted as far as possible, through the use of local resources (in terms of both skills and money), enlisting the participation of the community at every stage, and providing training and resources, where necessary, to either reinforce the community's own efforts or to initiate new activities. The importance of this approach is illustrated by the experience of many projects, heavily dependent on external inputs, which could not be sustained once external support was withdrawn.

A three-tiered structure of personnel support may function well in a variety of situations. This could include local organisers from within a CBO or local NGO, VDWs, and more specialised or higher-level personnel (from local governments, or from project teams supported by international aid agencies). In cases where immediate government links are not required, the three tiers could be the CBO, the NGO and the VSA. Within this framework, the potential functions of VDWs could include organisational and animation work, training, resource mobilisation, and acting as an intermediator to create greater links between CBOs, NGOs, governments and international organisations. In these roles, VDWs would work at community, municipal and national levels to support schemes of intervention, build upon existing "self-help" efforts, and augment community, municipal and national capacity to address the concerns of low-income urban groups.

Within the framework of support suggested above, UNV seeks to take a more proactive role in responding to the needs and demands as articulated by the developing countries themselves. UNV has launched several pilot projects in the areas of health and HIV/AIDS prevention, water and sanitation, solid waste disposal and other environmental concerns, meeting the concerns of street children, and housing and infrastructure development which build upon communities' own initiatives in addressing their concerns.

In order to bring the major concerns of low-income urban groups into the regular programming mechanisms of the UN system, including those of UNV and UNDP, it ~~ necessary to promote greater joint programming initiatives among the international agencies (such as bilateral aid agencies, international development banks, PVOs and VSAs) working in a given country. This could include collaboration on situation analyses of selected low-income urban settlements in the country; and joint evaluations on methodology of participant and project implementation. Pooling resources would allow for more efficient use of time and resources, and yield a wider and more comprehensive extension of support to communities. UNV, in cooperation with ILO and HABITAT, has recently embarked on such a joint programming effort in Tanzania. The aim of the project is to assist low-income communities in Dar-es-Salaam to build upon their self-help initiatives. At the same time, city authority capacity to address infrastructure and service-related needs will be strengthened.

In reviewing the past experience of international development organisations in working with low-income urban groups, it becomes clear that there is no one effective strategy which can guide work in this area, nor is it possible to develop a universally applicable "package" for addressing the wide variety of concerns in the urban arena. Every local situation has its own particular characteristics, and interventions must be tailored accordingly. There are, however, certain conditions for success; an essential component of which is the identification of needs and the setting of priorities by the community itself

In reviewing responses to urbanisation, this study has focused on the urban informal sector, micro-enterprise promotion, housing and infrastructure, health and HIV/AIDs prevention, non-formal education and functional literacy, and addressing the concerns of women and children. There remains, however, enormous scope for work in areas beyond these selected areas, such as in water and sanitation and other environmental concerns. This study does not attempt to be exhaustive in scope or definitive in prognosis. Instead, it seeks to evoke a continuous discussion among international development agencies, NGOs and governments to find more creative and coordinated responses to urbanisation.