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    ‘Sustainability’​ is dead. Now it’s time for something completely different

    By James Southwood, on 21 March 2017

    ‘Sustainability’ is dead and much of its language should be buried and replaced.

    To just ‘sustain’, will always fail to capture the people’s imagination, just as ‘remain’. If I go out for drinks, I want to do more than ‘sustain’ and ‘survive’ the evening, I want to thrive and connect.

    ‘Environmental protection’ is no different. This mantra of sustainability doesn’t work because it is fundamentally restrictive, applying the brakes on ambition. And for the flag of ‘sustainability’, well, we have all seen how those 3 separate, yet interlocking circles have failed to capture people’s imagination.

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    Could it be that once we realize we are not separate from the planet, our problems will be solved? Let’s fundamentally alter the way we talk about ‘sustainability’ towards proper environmental endgame that is not premised on ‘loosing less’ but based on the principles of life itself.

    To move beyond the sluggish sustainability progress we have seen in the past, we are going to need:

    1) A long term outlook with the environment at the centre.

    2) A positive and inspiring vision of how to move forward

    3) To transcend the language of reduction with a new vocabulary of ambition

    Keeping these 3 pointers in mind, let’s go back to the drawing board and reconnect with how nature actually works in the first place.

    Well most importantly, ‘sustainability’ is in fact a reality of nature, rather than a conceptual meeting point between 3 interlocking circles. After all, there is no waste in nature, rather continuous re-use of elements and resources. All waste in nature becomes new growth. Take for example the carbon cycle where there is life in death and the waste of one is the food of another. This is simply fact of life.

    Perhaps we could do the same?

    In practical terms this means bringing to life that old saying that one man’s trash can be the treasure of another. This is more than just recycling as there is up-cycled added value in old waste being the input for something entirely different. We have to change the thinking along these lines.

    For sustainability to be more than an afterthought or at best, modest gains around efficiency, we need to re-connect with the natural circular approach. In doing so, we properly integrate ecology into the economy.

    After all, resource constraints are driving businesses to seek alternatives to traditional production and manufacturing processes. There is huge potential to create circular economies that generate wealth from waste. Just look at the EU’s circular economy strategy or any Ellen McArthur report.

    So what would happen if we aligned our infrastructure with the circular system we see in nature?

    In essence, we would have an uncompromising and clear headed view of ‘environmental protection’ because it would be built into the very DNA of the city.

    People are already thinking about how we can join the dots and apply circular thinking to old problems. Take the coal fired power plants in Australia where the CO2 waste is used as the food for Algae which produces energy through biogas. This is one of a raft of new innovative, interconnected approaches which promise to change the sustainability paradigm. (For more evidence of these new projects just watch any Youtube Video by Guter Pauli.)

    Rather than ‘sustain’, I suggest for the future of sustainability and indeed our planet, we duel ecological principles and innovation to ‘ecovate’. This means interdependent product design and interdependent action between communities, practitioners, regulators and academics.

    Ecovation promises to transform the sustainability paradigm' Credit to Charles Vincent charles@vincent-luxembourg.lu

    Ecovation promises to transform the sustainability paradigm’
    Credit to Charles Vincent charles@vincent-luxembourg.lu

    It means dumping the meaningless language of sustainability and instead taking advantage of life’s evolutionary learning curve and emulating it’s tried and tested circular strategies. The new language of ‘sustainability’, must be one of vast and thriving interconnections between and within both people and nature.

    By thinking in circles we can finally end the enduring era of the throwaway society. Turning old waste into new growth through new design + retrofit promises to transform our urban environments.

    In doing so, we can inspire towards a future where our society is premised nothing less than the ecological reality of the planet. I propose this should be the environmental endgame that sparks the public imagination, this is a place we all want to live.

    Out here in the Berlin green innovation scene, I have noticed that young entrepreneurs will settle for nothing less than 100% circularity because, in the long run they recognize it is not negotiable. The achievement of circularity is absolutely necessary; our only choices are in the route we follow to get there.


    James is an MSc Environment & Sustainable Development graduate (2015-2016), who has recently moved to Berlin to explore the green innovation industry.
    He is currently designing a new innovative platform which aims to use ecovatation to bring academics, communities and practitioners together.  If you are interested in collaborating, get in touch at james@dycle.org

     

    Imagining a Social Enterprise Model for the Provision of Pro-poor Housing Solutions in the Philippines

    By David Hoffmann, on 7 December 2016

    In November 2013, super typhoon Yolanda hit the Philippines in full swing. Fragile shelter structures across the archipelago’s coastal areas did not withstand the strong winds and storm surges brought about by Yolanda. In the aftermath of the disaster, the government launched an emergency programme with the mission to ‘build back better’ [1]. The government was supported by the international humanitarian community, whose swift response matched the scale of the disaster in its scope and ambition. Yet serious funding challenges were said to hamper recovery.

     

    Budget shortfalls are one of the most pervasive barriers to the successful implementation of recovery programs and a constant challenge faced by traditional development models. The idea that social enterprises could offer an answer to this issue has gained traction in the past years [2]. Social enterprises are organisations set up as revenue-generating business with social objectives, which allows them to be financially independent. As part of DPUs Junior Professional Programme, I was lucky to work closely with one of them.

     

    Founded in 2014, LinkBuild is a young Housing Development Enterprise (HDE) whose mission is to scale up innovative, low-cost, and sustainable shelter solutions and programs for and with the poor. LinkBuild was set up as the latest addition of the Philippine Alliance, a grouping of 5 organisations that has a long history of successfully mobilising communities around savings groups in order to achieve secured land tenure. Given the current housing context in the Philippines, the need for this kind of program has never been more urgent.

     

    The Housing Context in the Philippines

     

    A new day begins in Quezon City, one of Metropolitan Manila’s 16 cities. The streets have been buzzing since the early morning hours, the traffic slowly pulsating through their aching junctions. As I work my way through the streets, I walk past busy informal settlements. Some are squatter settlements, the result of spontaneous and unplanned occupation of land. Others are informal subdivisions. The residents here live on a surveyed plot and they usually have proof of ownership or land-lease rights.

     

    Flooded downtown Manila during rain season.

    Flooded downtown Manila during rain season.

     

    In Metro Manila, one out of every four people resides in informal settlements, often within disaster-prone areas. As an alternative, several shelter programs are being implemented by government and non-government actors. Yet the delivery of these programmes has been unable to cope with the rocketing demand for affordable housing. Driven by natural population growth and rural to urban migration, the main urban areas in in the Philippines are growing at a breath-taking pace. The country is projected to be 80% urbanised by 2025 [2] – an increase of 30 points from 2015. Moreover, officials are talking of a housing backlog of 5.7 million houses of which 60% are believed to be economic and social housing [3].

     

    Most worryingly, some of the latest government’s efforts to deliver shelter programs have been proven to be counterproductive. A recent operation plan that aimed to relocate over 104,000 informal settler families out of danger zones in Metropolitan Manila, relocated 67 per cent to off-city sites [4]. The programme beneficiaries call these off-city sites the ‘death zones’. They feel effectively disconnected from their earlier life as they struggle to deal with the loss of their livelihoods and networks. Reports show that up to 60% of individuals that were relocated out of Metro Manila eventually return to the city [5]. If given the option, many ISF would rather remain in the old site despite the immediate risks they face instead of moving outside of the city.

     

    Informal subdivision in Valenzuela City, Metro Manila.

    Informal subdivision in Valenzuela City, Metro Manila.

     

    At the same time, the private sector has recognised affordable housing as a potential growth market, yet it is struggling to set foot in the sector. From a purely financial perspective, affordable housing provision is a cut-throat affair. In Metro Manila, developing affordable housing amounts to ‘financial suicide’, as a local housing developer recently put it. The high land prices, as well as the additional costs of building in a congested city mean that selling houses for less than 7.500£, the maximum unit price at which they are considered to be affordable, can only be achieved at a loss. Even the supply of houses within the ‘economic housing’ brackets, at a unit cost of no more than 19.000£, is a hard trick to pull off.

     

    The fundamental problem with these government and private programmes is that they treat informal settlers as an issue that needs to be dealt with, or an opportunity that ought to be exploited. What they fail to see is that informal settlers can be actors in the housing delivery process.

     

    Imagining a Social Enterprise Model for the Provision of Pro-Poor Housing

     

    As a social enterprise, LinkBuild is set as a revenue-generating business with social objectives. This distinguishes it from traditional NGOs that rely on international aid and funding to run their programmes and operations. Historically, the Philippine Alliance members have operated as traditional NGO’s. However, the donor landscape is shifting as it tries to make its beneficiaries’ programmes more investor-friendly. As a result, donors increasingly treat capital disbursements to partners as an investment, which has important implications for organisations like LinkBuild. This new trend is pushing LinkBuild to imagine a business model that sits comfortably within the highly competitive real-estate sector while staying true to its vision of reaching and mobilising the marginalised communities.

    These units were built on an in-city relocation site identified by the local government. It also facilitated negotiations with the landowner and landfilled 6.5 hectares of land. Seventeen (17) of these plots were allotted to one of the communities associated to the Philippine Alliance

    The units pictured above were built on an in-city relocation site identified by the local government.  Local government also facilitated negotiations with the landowner and landfilled 6.5 hectares of land.

     

    To achieve financial sustainability, LinkBuild’s latest wave of housing projects is being conceived as mixed-income developments. The idea is to make a part of the 670 units fit for middle-income clients. The units, which will be more spacious, will be sold at a price surplus, effectively subsidising the construction of the more affordable units. While this new approach seems like radical change in direction, it does have a compelling argument in its favour. It offers a possibility for the organisation to become financially independent over time.

     

    In the short run, LinkBuild’s operations would still heavily rely on the access to a starting capital. LinkBuild has therefore partnered with Real Equity For All (ReAll – former Homeless International), one of the few investors who are venturing into the housing market at the bottom of the pyramid. The capital enables LinkBuild to cover the costs of ‘hard investments’ such as purchasing and developing land, as well as the construction of the housing units; and thus, LinkBuild cannot be thought of as a stand-alone organisation, at least not for the time being.  However, in the medium run LinkBuild is hoping to achieve financial sustainability sustaining through the profit generated by the sales of surplus houses.

     

    Chart 1: LinkBuild’s Social Enterprise Model

    Chart 1: LinkBuild’s Social Enterprise Model

    Strong Communities Make a Difference

    In line with the tradition of community-oriented organisations like the Community Architects Network and the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, LinkBuild works closely with the communities that it seeks to reach. The Philippine Alliance is the main enabler of this process. Each organisation in the Alliance plays a strategic role in delivering LinkBuild’s housing projects, as their active networks and expertise allows them to mobilise and engage communities through participatory processes. For example, through the Homeless People Federation Philippines, Linkbuild is able to link with strong communities (see Chart 1) in different regions. After connecting with the communities,  LinkBuild conducts market research and hosts workshops with clients and communities to ensure that it is able to reach target clients; that it meets their specific needs; and that the project is financially viable. In the end, the gathered information directly feeds into the architects’ final project design.

    Chart 2: What defines a Strong Community?

    Chart 2: What defines a Strong Community?

    Moreover, the close ties of the Philippine Alliance with the local government units help to navigate the hurdles that land acquisition and development may pose. For example, in Mandate City, local government identified land and facilitated the negotiations for acquisition. Given the competitive nature of the sector, this form of support is crucial.  Least but not last, LinkBuild also follows international best practice of developing in-city projects. By purchasing land that is centrally located, the organisation hopes to deliver projects that actively contribute to the integration of marginalised communities to the existing city fabric.

     

    Participants of the Bago Gallera Site Planning Workshop in Davao City last September.

    Participants of the Bago Gallera Site Planning Workshop in Davao City last September.

    All of the above factors allow LinkBuild to distinguish itself from the traditional housing developers that tend to have a top-down approach to housing delivery and are primarily concerned with meeting sales objectives.

    Ultimately Linkbuild’s model still remains to be tested since the mixed-income housing projects are yet to be completed. As the organisation enters unexplored waters with the Philippine Alliance, it will continue to learn by doing. And there remains a lot to be learnt. Given the housing sector’s state of permanent emergency, planning for the future of the countries’ urban poor is crucial. Despite the scale of the problem, there are only few organisations bold enough to offer an alternative. As it paves its way to sustainability, LinkBuild might well be leading the path towards the ‘imaginative reformulation of the systems by which we manage change’ [7]. And it is leading the change by asking the right question – how do we build forward better?

     

    References

     

    [1] National Economic and Development Authority, 2013. Reconstruction Assistance on Yolanda:  Implementation for Results. [online] Available at: http://yolanda.neda.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/RAY-2.pdf

    [2] Overseas Development Institute, 2013. Why and how are donors supporting social enterprises? [online]. Available at: https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/8894.pdf

    [3] The World Bank, 2016. Closing the Gap in Affordable Housing in the Philippines: Policy Paper for the National Summit on Housing and Urban Development. [online] Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/547171468059364837/pdf/AUS13470-WP-PUBLIC-Housing-Summit-Policy-Paper-has-been-approved-P155561.pdf
    [4] Lorenciana, C.R. (2013). Philippine housing backlog is 5.5M SHDA targets to build a million units by 2016. [online]. Available at: http://www.philstar.com/cebu-business/2015/07/13/1476445/philippine-housing-backlog-5.5m-shda-targets-build-million-units

    [5] The World Bank, 2016. Closing the Gap in Affordable Housing in the Philippines: Policy Paper for the National Summit on Housing and Urban Development. [online] Available at: http://documents.worldbank.org/curated/en/547171468059364837/pdf/AUS13470-WP-PUBLIC-Housing-Summit-Policy-Paper-has-been-approved-P155561.pdf

    [6] Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council. 2014. Developing a National Informal Settlements Upgrading Strategy for the Philippines (Final Report). [online]. Available at: http://www.hudcc.net/sites/default/files/styles/large/public/document/NISUS%20Final%20Report_July2014.pdf

    [7] Sumsook, B. 2016.  Cities for People and by People. [online]. Available at: https://unchronicle.un.org/article/cities-people-and-people

     


     

    David Hoffmann is an alumna of the MSc Urban Economic Development and a participant of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professionals Programme. He currently works at LinkBuild, where he is involved with the design and implementation of organisational development strategies. Amongst others he organised workshops to encourage the knowledge exchange between community associations in Cebu and Davao.

     

    *All pictures taken by D.H.

     

    Urbanisation, smart cities and the future of energy

    By Vanesa Castan- Broto, on 20 September 2016

    The Seminar on EU-India Cooperation on Sustainable Urbanization took place in Pune, on the 15-16th September 2016 in a cooperative and multi-disciplinary atmosphere. The workshop was organized by the Global Relations Forum from Pune and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Academic Foundation and it was supported by the European Union’s Delegation to India and Bhutan. During the two days, delegates discussed what is smart in the territorial and demographic transformations associated with urbanization in India.

    ‘Smart’ is a multidimensional promise for better services, better environments, more educated people. The discussions suggested that, in many ways, smart is nothing else than a variation on the preoccupations about the shortcomings of the city in the twenty-first century: Eco cities, sustainability, future proof cities… are all labels that indicate a will to improve the livability of our cities. They all have something in common: an interest on the simultaneous possibility of technological and social transformations. Yet, focusing on characterizing the city as smart, low carbon, green, or ecological may distract from actually thinking through practical solutions to address the challenges of urban life.

    IMG_20160916_142240

    In my talk I focused on two questions which I think are, specifically, useful to understand the urban energy transition in India. The first question is: why does energy matter to city dwellers? It is a way to also ask: what is the lived experience of energy in each city? The second question is: what kind of interventions can bring about an energy transition?

    With regards to the first question, my insights draw from my project ‘Mapping Urban Energy Landscapes’, funded by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, which aims to understand from a comparative perspective how energy is embedded in everyday existence. The first insight from this project is that social and material relations with energy in any given city are unique. They belong to its city as they depend on the local culture, on the specific history of infrastructure development, and, given the political character of energy, on the way in which energy politics are played at the local level.

    For example, some of the case studies I have been comparing have been Hong Kong, Bangalore and Maputo. Of the three cases, Hong Kong is the only one which has a homogeneous energy landscape, based upon traditional models of fossil fuel electrification. In contrast, Mozambique’s population relies mostly on charcoal and other biomass fuels, with electricity covering only 8% of the total energy consumed. The energy landscape of Bangalore is characterized by its diversity. All manners of energy sources and means of provision coexist in the city. Energy needs are as unequal as unequal is the society of Bangalore. Generally, the intermittency of energy services characterizes the energy landscape. In conclusion, each of these cities has to be looked at independently, in relation to different problems. In Bangalore, we know that increasing the availability of electricity alone, for example, is not improving the reliability of the system, let alone facilitating energy access to the urban poor. We need context-tailored solutions, in which attention is paid to the specific factors that shape the provision and use of energy in every city.

    IMG_20160916_142328

    My second question is thus, where are the possibilities for action: not just what to do about global energy challenges, but also who should do it and how. Past research on global climate change action included the review hundreds of climate change innovations, concluding that experimentation is a key means to create positive action all over the world, Europe, India, you name it.

    This means appreciating the value of localized, context-specific, scale-appropriate alternatives which respond directly to the needs of urban dwellers. Here, I am particularly interested on what is the role of planning? In Bangalore, for example, there is an urgent need to understand the interactions between the system of urban planning and that of delivering energy services, as they both operate in a completely uncoordinated manner. Planning has a big role to play, not necessarily in a spatial sense, but rather, as a means to facilitate partnership building and build up collaborative institutions. Planning is a key instrument whereby local needs can be met by bridging different forms of knowledge, bringing together top-down and bottom-up approaches, and, ultimately, making possible strategies for co- designing livable cities.

     

    Further reading:

    A survey of urban climate change experiments in 100 cities by Vanesa Castán Broto and Harriet Bulkeley


    Vanesa Castán Broto is a senior lecturer and co-director of MSc Environment and Sustainable Development at the DPU. Her work spans a range of issues in developing cities, including disaster preparedness, climate change adaptation and energy supply.

    Development Administration and Planning – Understanding how development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, Uganda

    By Lilian Schofield, on 20 June 2016

    Over the last two decades, Uganda has attained a remarkable record of delivering development in the areas of growth and poverty reduction. The country has also seen a significant increase in the involvement of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) in the development process. The MSc Development Administration and Planning field trip to Kampala was focused on exploring how development intervention is planned and implemented in Kampala, Uganda, as well as examining the role of the practitioner and observing the tools and approaches that are used to conceptualise, design, manage, monitor and evaluate development interventions.

    Kampala

    Kampala

    Kampala city tour

    The field trip commenced with a guided city tour of Kampala, which was organised not only as an introduction to the environment but also to elicit and encourage observation and reflection in terms of spaces in the city, forms of social and cultural life.

    Kampala is the biggest city and the capital of Uganda. It is also the administrative and commercial centre of the country.  Kampala has undergone changes within the last few decades and with rapid urbanisation and population growth, the city has had to deal with challenges congruent with urbanisation. Kampala, a city, which was originally built on seven hills, has now expanded to one on more than 21 hills.  The town formerly designed for 500,000 is said to now have a population of more than 2 million with migrants coming in from outside Kampala to work and find work in the city. This appears to have had a huge impact on the infrastructure.

    Kampala faces a number of challenges, which is typical of urbanised cities in developing countries – aside from improving basic necessities; these challenges also include the lack of infrastructure and population increase. NGOs in Kampala are seemingly filling in some of the gaps in government provisioning such as being involved in service provisioning. The upward trajectory of NGO prevalence seems to demonstrate that NGOs in Kampala will continue to be involved in service provisioning as the city continues to grow and government struggles to fulfil their responsibilities.

     

    Field site visit

    The students were divided into eight groups with each working with one of our eight partner development organisations in Kampala. The students spent two weeks visiting their partner organisations and observing first-hand the processes and tools involved in carrying out development projects. Through employing research strategies and appropriate methodology, students utilised various theoretical frameworks and research methods to explore and understand the phenomenon under investigation.

     Field site visits were also organised for all the students to observe development projects in action. One of the field sites visited was a project supported by Shelter and Settlements Alternatives (SSA) called ‘Decent Living Project’. SSA is a Ugandan based NGO involved in advocacy and sharing information for better housing policies, programs and practices towards sustainable improvement of human settlements in Uganda.

    Decent living project

    Decent living project

     

    Decent Living Project – Kwafako Housing Cooperative

    The Decent Living Project, which is one of SSA’s projects, supports its beneficiaries by providing affordable and eco-friendly houses as well as improving the lives of people living in informal settlements in Kampala. One such beneficiary of this project is a group of individuals living with HIV and formerly inhabiting an informal settlement. They came together and formed their own cooperative called the Kwafako Housing Cooperative. The students were introduced to some of the beneficiaries of the housing project and were also briefed about the history of the housing cooperative, which was said to be the idea of one of the beneficiaries known as Madam Betty. She was said to have noticed the lack of help for people living with HIV within her settlement and convinced them to come together and seek help. The cooperative is currently made up of 34 members who are mostly women, except for four males who upon the death of their spouses became members automatically due to the cooperative’s policy which states that once a female member dies, their husbands become members.

    Machine used in making the interlocking bricks

    Machine used in making the interlocking bricks

    SSA supports this community group through advocacy, providing capacity building through workshops. The members of the cooperative group were trained in the art of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick used in constructing their houses. Strategies used by SSA in meeting objectives include transferring affordable, sustainable and environmental housing technology.  For example, the materials used in making the interlocking soil stabilised brick are dug from the same soil found within the housing project environment. This ensures maximum utilisation of land, keep costs at a minimum and affordable whilst also being environmentally friendly. They also encourage making bricks without the need of burning wood which they explained was not environmentally friendly and as such not supported by one of their funders.

    The project which has 24 units which are almost completed is said to be also partnering with Water Aid who plan to provide water facilities to the project. Madam Betty stated that they participated in the design of the houses as well as making the bricks and helping with the building construction.

    The members of the cooperative demonstrated how the interlocking stone brick technology is made. This gave us the opportunity to observe the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised bricks as well as encouraging deeper understanding of the capacity and hard work involved.

    Housing engineer demonstration the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick

    Housing engineer demonstration the process of making the interlocking soil stabilised brick

    Apart from the quotidian activities which involved field site visits, collecting data and frequent group meetings, the students prepared presentations of their findings to tutors, peers and the partner organisations.

    The above picture shows demonstration of how the bricks are interlocked

    The above picture shows demonstration of how the bricks are interlocked

    Reference:

    Golooba-Mutebi, F., & Hickey, S. (2013) ‘Investigating the links between political settlements and inclusive development in Uganda: towards a research agenda’ (No. esid-020-13). BWPI. Manchester: The University of Manchester.

    Lambright, G. M. S. (2014), Opposition Politics and Urban Service Delivery in Kampala, Uganda. Development Policy Review, 32: s39–s60. doi: 10.1111/dpr.12068

    Matagi, S. V. (2002) ‘Some issues of environmental concern in Kampala, the capital city of Uganda’, Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 77(2):121-138


    Dr Lilian Schofield is the Graduate Teaching Assistant for the MSc Development Administration and Planning (DAP). She joined the students on the overseas field trip to Kampala.  Each year, the MSc Development Administration and Planning students embark on an international research field trip. In recent years, the MSc DAP students have visited several countries including Ethiopia and Uganda.

    What can alternative technologies contribute to sustainable development?

    By Jorge Ortiz Moreno, on 6 August 2015

    A few weeks ago the NGO Shelter Global announced the winners of its first annual “Dencity Competition”, focused on fostering new ideas on how to better handle the growing density of unplanned settlements while spreading awareness about this global issue.

    The first-placed project, Urukundu: Slum Factory consists of the creation of a small community-managed construction materials factory for the physical improvement of an informal neighbourhood that is now being partially demolished and replaced by high-priced private housing. All in the name of “enhancing” the city image of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda.

    Among the main features of the project is its use of local materials, local technologies and local construction systems like rainwater harvesting, clay filters for water purification and biogas micro-production systems (biodigesters) in order to stimulate the future sustainable growth of the neighbourhood.

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    Out of 300 entries from 50 different countries that sought to “rethink life in slums”, the winner represents a great example of how design can sustainably empower communities. However, what I want to point out here is the relevance of alternative technology to improving living conditions in informal settlements.

    Evidence from many regions of the Global South is showing that more and more successful initiatives are including the implementation of decentralized, locally-managed and sometimes labour-intensive technologies for infrastructure improvement and socioeconomic development.

    As well as the “Appropriate Technology” movement, popularized in 1973 by Ernst Friedrich Schumacher through his influential book “Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered”, Urukundu: Slum Factory is characterized by a strong “people-centred” approach.

    Urukundu: Slum Factory board

    Urukundu: Slum Factory board

    Many different conceptualizations have arisen around the alternative technology movement during the last 50 years. Recently, for example, the concept of “grassroots innovations” has been proposed for technologies that come from processes of innovation that are inclusive of local communities, in terms of the knowledge, processes and outcomes involved.

    There are strong research groups in the UK at Sussex University and University of East Anglia that are exploring the role of “grassroots innovations” on sustainability and social justice issues.

    Melissa Leach and her colleagues from the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex suggest that ambitious Sustainable Development Goals are now required along with a major transformation in modes of innovation to meet them. In an article published in the Ecology and Society journal in 2012 they suggest the Appropriate Technology Demonstration and Training Centre (CEDECAP, is its acronym in Spanish) as an example of such “transformative innovation”.

    Rainwater harvesting system and their users, Mexico

    Rainwater harvesting system and their users, Mexico

    This organization works with local communities in rural Peru to identify their priority uses for electricity and then to develop energy schemes that those communities control, run, and benefit from. Furthermore, CEDECAP develops, trains, and pilots alternative forms of renewable energy distribution, focusing on low-cost technologies with low environmental impact, and fostering local research and capacity.

    In Mexico, accompanied by a group of researchers, students and consultants from the Institute of Research on Ecosystems and Sustainability of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) I have been studying and working on another alternative technology approach called “ecotechnology.”

    This refers to technologies that promote a positive relationship between their users and the environment, and are linked to a specific socio-ecological context. In our recent book “Ecotechnology in Mexico”, we describe several initiatives that have been providing small-scale ecological alternatives to meet basic human needs such as sanitation, water, energy, housing and nourishment in rural and urban areas.

    Woman cooking with an improved cookstove of Patsari Project, Mexico

    Woman cooking with an improved cookstove of Patsari Project, Mexico

    From experienced NGOs to recently launched social entrepreneurship initiatives, there are a wide range of actors that are innovating in order to to reach the poor and meet the needs that neither the private sector nor the governments have been able to.

    Some examples of this are the Patsari Project, a participatory and multi-institutional initiative that promotes a sustainable model of firewood consumption by distributing improved cook-stoves in rural areas, and the Isla Urbana Project, which aims to provide sustainable access to water by implementing low cost rainwater harvesting systems in the peri-urban interface of Mexico City and other isolated localities of the country.

    As it is illustrated by the examples given, alternative technologies are playing an important role on development and they should be kept in mind as a vehicle for community empowerment and sustainability in the Global South. A better integration of the research done is needed and, of course, more attention on the issue is fundamental.


    Jorge Ortiz Moreno is an independent consultant with experience in grassroots innovations, clean technologies and peri-urban dynamics. Nowadays he coordinates a program about “Clean technologies and sustainable development” at the Eco-technology Unit of Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM). He graduated from the DPU’s Urban Development Planning MSc programme in 2014.
    Although most of his work has been done in Mexico, Jorge has participated in research projects about housing in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the Olympic Legacy in London, UK, and urban infrastructure in Medellin, Colombia. He is interested in how social entrepreneurship can foster well-being and environmental justice for the peri-urban poor and the role of grassroots innovations as tools for sustainable development in Latin America.

    Building Partnerships for South-South Cooperation

    By Daljeet Kaur, on 29 July 2015

    Considering the increased focus on South-South Cooperation development dialogue and India’s long standing presence in assisting development in various regions of the world, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is implementing a new model of cooperation support in India.

    DFID India’s Global and National Team (GNT) is at the centre of delivering the transition from an aid-based UK-India development relationship to a mutual partnership for global development, in line with the vision set out by the Former Secretary of State in his Emerging Powers speech at Chatham House in February 2012. Enhanced policy engagement with India on national and global issues through programmes like the Knowledge Partnership will be at the heart of this transition.

    The Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP) with which I am associated as a Senior Programme Manager from the last two and half years will be completing its pilot phase in June 2016.

    Women Development Group Members in Oromia region of Ethiopia

    Women Development Group Members in Oromia region of Ethiopia

    IPE Global, where I work, is implementing the programme on behalf of the UK Department for International Development (DFID). The programme aims to produce and disseminate high quality research and analysis products, share Indian and global evidence on policies that impact development outcomes and support advocacy towards strengthening policy design and implementation.

    To date we have promoted sharing of Indian evidence, best practices and expertise with Low Income Countries in order to facilitate evidence-gathering and uptake.

    Priority Areas

    Since its beginning, the programme has prioritised the following areas for engagement: (a) food security, resource scarcity and climate change; (b) trade and investment; (c) health and disease control; (d) women and girls; and (e) development effectiveness.

    The aim is to step up collaboration around ideas, knowledge, evidence, accountability, technology and innovation between UK, India and the developing countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia. The work my team and I carry out, focuses on Indian policy and practice with the explicit intention of developing India-Global networks, strategies and sectors to promote knowledge exchange through south – south collaboration.

    Recently, we were able to facilitate a partnership between, Kudumbashree, a state led mission in India and Ministry of Women, Children and Youth Affairs Ethiopia, on the theme – women economic empowerment.

    Delegates with Kudumbashree SHG members - women construction workers

    Delegates with Kudumbashree SHG members – women construction workers

    What can Self Help Groups contribute?

    Today, the MFIs in Ethiopia are motivated to extend the frontier of financial intermediation to those traditionally excluded from conventional financial markets, the Poor, and especially the poor women. At the same time, various studies point out that the Self Help Groups (SHGs) can act as a tool for advancement and empowerment of women in India.

    The microfinance movement through the SHG model in India has also been considered an effective development tool to enable women SHG members to graduate to microenterprises and in turn, to address poverty. The Indian experience of empowering marginalized women through formations of SHGs with institutional linkages and the growing demand for microfinance development in Ethiopia created an ideal situation for us, at the programme, to promote collaboration and cooperation between the two countries.

    In my opinion, this India-Ethiopia alliance on SHGs represents a success story of mutual cooperation between two nations. It reiterates the potential for knowledge based cooperation and collaboration between nations in the global south to set their agenda and achieve sustainable development.

    Indian SHG Group Leader and Ethiopian SHG Group Leader

    Indian SHG Group Leader and Ethiopian SHG Group Leader

    Progress towards SDG Goal 17

    As development processes become ever more complex, I see a growing demand for knowledge and analytical products that can provide evidence and learning for policy changes and reforms. Informing and influencing policies are hence critical aspects of inter­national development and I believe, together we can bring a change by focusing on advocacy along with service delivery.

    By adopting the new Sustainable Development Goals, countries are also committing towards achieving the Goal 17 – to strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.

    More specifically, countries will promote multi-stakeholder partnerships that mobilize and share knowledge, expertise, technologies and financial resources to support the SDGs. In addition, these collaborations will encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships.

    These two targets 17.16 and 17.17 are banking on the existing North-South cooperation and the emerging South-South, and triangular cooperation.

    Ethiopia Delegates; Kudumbashree Executive Director; Chairman Dr.M.K.Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayat & Social Welfare; IPE Global Team

    Ethiopia Delegates; Kudumbashree Executive Director; Chairman Dr.M.K.Muneer, Hon’ble Minister for Panchayat & Social Welfare; IPE Global Team

    India’s role in the post-2015 development agenda

    In the post-2015 era, India plays a critical role in sharing learnings it has accumulated in the process of gradually upgrading from a low-income to a middle-income country. I hope partnerships based on knowledge will support effective and targeted capacity building in developing countries and help achieve common objectives.

    Through activities undertaken and studies supported by the programme, we hope to engage more with policymakers and key stakeholders. By providing informating their choices through evidence-based advice, we hope the effectively influence the policy environment and reforms in India.

    At the same time, we through the KPP are also aiming to strengthen India-UK partnership and significantly contribute to global development opportunities across the developing world.


    Daljeet Kaur has a double Master’s degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the DPU and Environmental Planning from School of Planning and Architecture, New Delhi. She has worked as a qualified planner and an architect for more than eight years at a variety of organisations.

    At present she is working as a Senior Programme Manager for the DFID funded Knowledge Partnership Programme (KPP), implemented by IPE Global. The programme has established more than 50 partnerships to date with a wide range of partners in a number of sectors, including IDS (Sussex), UNDP, FAO, and Governments of Ethiopia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Kenya and Malawi. For more information about the programme please visit www.ipekpp.com.

    Watching the World Disappear: Reflecting on the Anthropology of Sustainability

    By Charlotte Johnson, on 19 February 2015

    “Anthropologists are used to working with people who are watching their world disappear” joked Bruno Latour, as he opened the inaugural conference of UCL’s Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability (CAOS). He was making the point that Anthropology is a good discipline to house a discussion over the forms of research needed to understand and act on ecological crisis.

    The Emergence of the Anthropocene

    With charismatic flair, Latour took us through his thesis of ‘we have never been modern,’ [1] updating the arguments from his seminal work with those relevant to contemporary environmental instability. The ‘people’ who are watching their world disappear are not ‘them’ – ‘the premoderns’ who inhabit a remote world and are being dragged into a global modernity where nature and culture are separated and structured by capitalist relations. The people Latour refers to is us, the moderns, the ‘we’ who think of the world in these categories.

    The epitome of this modernity is the idea of the Anthropocene, which a recent geologists’ paper claims began on 16th July 1945 with the first nuclear bomb. This is considered the point when human processes made an indelible mark on the earth’s geological record but, Latour continued, just as the moderns reached this height of mastering nature, we lost faith in our ability to know and control it. We entered a period not of only environmental instability, but also of scientific crisis, with debates between warring camps about what is or is not real, knowable and true.

    Bruno Latour discussing the nature culture divide and its relevance to academic imaginings of sustainability

    Bruno Latour discussing the nature culture divide and its relevance to academic imaginings of sustainability

    A Call to Action

    Latour’s point was more than an exercise in academic ingenuity, it was a call for action to move beyond denial or paralysis in the face of ecological crisis. The route forward is to abandon the idea that there is one mode of science that can know nature. In the way that modernist ideas of the universality of humanity have been replaced with understandings of cultural diversity, the task now is to recognise a diversity of nature, and find alternative forms of knowing.

    Themes from Latour’s lecture echoed throughout the conference, which had brought together speakers to reflect on what an anthropology of sustainability could be. Some main ones were:

    1. Escobar’s concept of the pluriverse [2] and the need to understand the multiplicity of nature
    2. Materiality and a focus on the specificities of places and the communities who live there
    3. Allowing the inanimate world to speak, and including such perspectives in research
    4. Complexity, c(h)aos and accepting the need to work with uncertainty
    Focusing on the worm: CAOS' logo signifies the need to decompose academic hierarchies and build new research

    Focusing on the worm: CAOS’ logo signifies the need to decompose academic hierarchies and build new research

    How do you say ‘sustainability’ in Swahili or in Masaii?

    CAOS, which has as its logo a worm decomposing the world in order to release nutrients and give birth to new life, aims to critically engage with different traditions of sustainably. It seeks research collaborations that will take the anthropological understanding of specific local culture-nature systems into a broader mode of academic intervention in the world.

    The need for such collaborations was clear in comments such as Katherine Homewood’s that ‘there’s no word for sustainability in Swahili or in Masaii’. Her research on ‘sustainable conservation’ in East Africa provided a comparative analysis of two programmes of community conservation. It showed the inequalities and degradation produced through a sustainability agenda which is imposed through specific evaluation metrics and processes of territorialisation. These agendas require academic scrutiny and a commitment to learn local idioms of resource management.

    The Need for Ethical Reflection

    Bill Adams spoke about a different form of language learning and system adoption. Focusing on conservationism and the discourse of efficiency he argued that environmental NGOs have been adopting corporate methods to maximise their impact. They rank net benefits of intervening in ‘hotspots’, but, he argued, these such methods are used without adequate philosophical or ethical reflection, and risk standardising the mode of operating in the world.

    This concern was raised later by Jerome Lewis, a co-leader of CAOS. He commented that “carbon, the stuff of life, is now the stuff of international trade” and urged the audience to reflect on what a universal currency for life could mean for the pluriverse.

    Corporatisation of environmental NGOs:  a cause of concern for Bill Adams

    Corporatisation of environmental NGOs: a cause of concern for Bill Adams

    A Critique of Political Ecology

    James Fairhead turned a similar critique onto Political Ecology, arguing that the framework prioritises capitalism as the explanation for socio-environmental relationships over other causal relationships. Henrietta Moore identified a different way to move analytically from local environmental change to global flows of power. She pointed out that communities constantly reflect on their own interventions in the world and do so in reference to other communities. She argued for research that analyses how these connections between communities produce change.

    Concluding the conference, Jerome Lewis urged the audience to ‘resist the one world project’, but also to go beyond Latour’s ‘assemblages of objects’. He advocated for ‘a community of subjects’ who are actively engaging and reflecting on new ideas. The conference demonstrated a compelling range of approaches for this re-imagining of sustainability and for producing knowledge about the relationships between social worlds and the environment. These included artistic interventions, discourse analysis, ethnographic methods and cross disciplinary collaboration.

    New Ways of Making Sense of Nature and Culture

    One conclusion was that an Anthropology of Sustainability is one which is committed to listening to, working with and learning from the local. Other disciplines share this commitment and CAOS promises to be fertile territory for research collaborations which abandon the world of academic certainty and look for new ways to understand nature/culture and empower agents of change.

    Notes:

    [1]Latour, B. (1993 [1991]). We have never been modern (translated by Catherine Porter). Harlow: Pearson Education ltd.

    [2] Escobar, A. (2011) ‘Sustainability: Design for the pluriverse’ in Development vol. 54, no. 2, pp137–140

     

    Charlotte Johnson splits her time between the DPU and the UCL Energy Institute. She has a PhD in Social Anthropology and more recently has been engaging in a project to map UCL’s research expertise in urban sustainability.