Jockin Arputham

Shack/Slum Dwellers International (SDI)
Year founded: 
South Africa

SPARC works to empower the urban poor in India to gain access to the resources they need to upgrade and formalize their settlements.

Focus: Land Security, Housing, Infrastructure
Geographic Area of Impact: India
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 750,000 (2008-2009)
Annual Budget: US$ 1.2 million (2008-2009)
Percentage Earned Revenue: 5%
Recognition: Schwab Fellows of the World Economic Forum

India has one of the world's largest urban populations, with about 350 million people living in cities. The percentage of people living under the poverty line in urban areas is higher than in rural areas, and these numbers are rising. Because cities are poorly planned, most poor people live as squatters on private or public lands and have inadequate access to basic services. This has a significant impact on their health, education and income. Slum dwellers are constantly threatened by eviction and treated as non-citizens who have encroached on cities that need their labour, but are unwilling to accommodate their housing needs.

Innovation and Activities
SPARC forged a three-way alliance with the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) and Mahila Milan to tackle housing and infrastructure issues for the urban poor. NSDF organizes and mobilizes the urban poor to articulate their concerns and find solutions to the problems they face, while Mahila Milan supports and trains women's collectives to administer and manage their community's resources and participate in NSDF activities. SPARC provides the administrative, financial, policy, documentation and other support necessary for these processes to be successful on the ground.

For 20 years this alliance has developed a strategy to achieve its goal of ensuring secure housing and infrastructure for the urban poor. This involves setting up community area resource centres, encouraging communities to join a savings and credit programme that builds trust within a settlement and strengthens the financial assets of participating families, and demonstrating through pilot projects the housing and infrastructure models that work for the poor as well as the city.

These initiatives and strategies are geared towards strengthening bonds between poor communities and building their financial, managerial and organizational capacities so that they can take on not only housing and infrastructure projects, but also participate in larger issues of city redevelopment and management.

SPARC has challenged existing practices of service deliveries by the government and has engaged agencies in relating directly to communities. With state support SPARC seeks to create institutional arrangements where communities own and control organizations and institutions that provide services to the poor. It has demonstrated that partnerships between NGOs, communities and government can and do bring change. Today the alliance works in about 70 cities in India and has networks in about 20 countries.

The Entrepreneurs
Born in Mumbai, Sheela Patel has worked since 1974 with urban poor communities, focusing on women and children. She realized that even efficiently delivered welfare does not produce real change for the poor, and organizations working on poverty issues required new ways to address these problems; thus, with other like-minded peers she founded SPARC. She is the Board Chair of Shack Dwellers International, a recipient of the 2009 David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award and the 2000 UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award.

Jockin Arputham is from the southern Indian state of Karnataka. He ran away from home as an adolescent and lived in the streets and slums of Mumbai. He has worked for more than 40 years in India’s slums and shanty towns, building representative organizations to partner with governments and international agencies for the betterment of urban living. He is president of NSDF, which he founded in the 1970s, and of Slum Dwellers International, which networks slum dwellers from over 20 countries. Arputham received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Peace and International Understanding in 2000.