Cover Image
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


Immense demographic shifts in recent years have transformed the urban arena in developing countries. The implications of these changes have been immense, and have forced international organisations to reassess their response to the problems of burgeoning cities. Even though the general response of Volunteer Sending Agencies (VSAs) and aid agencies seems to be converging, it remains necessary to explore, in greater detail, the lessons learned from urban development work, avenues of potential programme expansion, and the most appropriate means by which volunteers can assist in addressing the varied concerns of vulnerable groups in the urban sector.

Indeed, development agencies are aware of the "urban bias" prevalent in the political and investment agendas of most countries: cities receive the lion's share of public investment resources and services in addition to being the centres of political, administrative and commercial power. The neglected dimension within these urban areas, however, tends to be the needs and concerns of low-income groups. Nevertheless, most of the VSA poverty-oriented programmes of the past two decades have been directed towards rural rather than urban low-income groups - even though the population of the latter is larger and continues to expand more rapidly. Many volunteer development workers (VDWs) actually live in towns, cities and capitals, but this is largely attributed to housing availability and administrative convenience: their actual work is usually directed towards the countryside. The few urban development programmes that do exist tend to support nationally organised services and institutions whose structures are physically located in towns, and focus on urban housing and infrastructure projects which do not target specific groups within the urban setting.

During the course of consultations for its first Programme Advisory Note, "The Appropriate Use of Volunteers in Development," UNV was encouraged to make the volunteer contribution in the urban context the subject of a Special Consultation meeting in September 1990. The result was a forum for consultation between VSAs and other development institutions to synthesise their perspectives of the issue. It was necessary to understand what was being done, approaches taken and what was of direct benefit to the low-income urban groups. Key questions included the appropriate role of volunteer development workers in urban sector work, and the possibility of developing a "tool-kit" of ideas and methods to meet the vast and varied needs in this area.

Preparations for the Special Consultation meeting included questionnaires to and direct contacts with our VSA partners, development organisations and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Resident Representatives, a number of NGOs, brief country visits to Djibouti, Kenya, Brazil, Thailand, Indonesia, as well as a survey of the available material on the subject, which was synthesised into an informal discussion note for the conference entitled "Volunteer Participation in Working With the Urban Poor."

The day-and-a-half Special Consultation was attended by approximately 100 representatives of governments, UN specialised agencies, VSAs, national NGOs and Community-based Organisations (CBOs). Contributions to the meeting included an opening keynote address by Dr. Victor Tokman, Head of the International Labour Organisation's Employment Department, who focused on strategies responding to the needs and conditions of the "urban poor," as well as resource persons from Latin America, Asia, the Caribbean, Africa, UNCHS and UNDP Headquarters, prominent practitioners, analysts, programme managers, an ex-VDW who had worked in the slums of Rio for six years and a UNV-Specialist working with UNICEF in Kingston's slums.

Reactions of the participants to the meeting were consistently positive. Not only was there consensus that such a comprehensive consideration of the contribution and needs of the low-income urban sector from a community perspective was timely; there was a general convergence of opinion that appropriately structured action by UNV and other VSAs would constitute a significant element in the response of the international community, including the UN system, to the interrelated problems confronting vulnerable groups in the urban context. There was widespread endorsement of a volunteer role and a clear validation of UNV's "community-focused" approach, which is outlined in the following pages.

This present document on reaching low-income groups in the urban sector is a distillation of the pre-conference preparatory reports, as well as the comments which surfaced during plenary and working group sessions at the Special Consultation. Since the evidence pointed overwhelmingly to the lead role that the communities and groups in urban areas take themselves in their own development, the focus can only be one of volunteers playing a supportive role in the development work that is undertaken by urban groups themselves. By presenting the issues and suggestions outlined in this advisory note, we have not attempted to present an exhaustive list of the issues. Rather, we seek to provoke further discussion of how development agencies can address the long-term needs of the urban sector, and how responses could be framed to meet these demands through creative and appropriate programmes.