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Community savings: mobilising for secure tenure and housing in Davao

Laura JHirst7 April 2015

Barangay Payatas, a Quezon City neighbourbood, is home to the Philippines’ largest landfill site, where up to 500 truckloads of waste are dumped daily, and on whose slopes hundreds of people live and work, many of them scavenging for recyclable waste.

It’s here that the foundations of HPFPI were laid in the early 1990s, by Vincentian missionaries who initiated social initiatives with the waste-pickers or mangangalahigs (so-called ‘chicken-scratchers’). This included a savings programme, and as participant numbers in Payatas grew, so too did news of its success.

HPFPI Davao orienting community associations on the savings process. © Laura Hirst

HPFPI Davao orienting community associations on the savings process. © Laura Hirst

Mobilisation through savings

Other communities from cities across the Philippines visited and formed savings groups back home and in 2001, the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines (HPFPI) was incorporated. Today, the savings programme still underpins HPFPI’s community-driven interventions; whenever a group is organised, the first group project is savings.

The idea is that mobilisation through savings can develop communities’ financial capacity to invest in and plan their own developments, through for example negotiating and managing land acquisition, relocation, or on-site upgrading. As a social mechanism, savings brings community members together regularly for support, to exchange ideas and strategies and over time build capacity to negotiate with the state, private sector or other stakeholders to gain secure tenure.

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Urban challenges in Davao

Davao, where I am currently working, is the primary city of the southern island of Mindanao. Geographically, it’s very different to Metro Manila, mainly thanks to its low population density and relative greenery. However, it’s still highly urbanised, and with a quarter of the city’s population classed as ‘urban poor’, many of its inhabitants are subject to the same urban trends that proliferate in the National Capital Region.

Davao has a severe lack of affordable land and housing options for low income families, resulting in the spread of informal settlements, often on hazardous land, illegally, with minimal service provision, and at risk of eviction. The huge housing backlog is being addressed at a painfully slow rate by local government, making the work of community-based organisations like HPFPI and the Philippine Alliance vital.

From individual to federated savings groups

Since I’ve been in Davao, I’ve witnessed how savings groups become part of the federation in a number of ways. Some approach the federation directly, encouraged by word of mouth, but also driven by imminent threats to their security. We were recently contacted by community groups in the Ma’a neighbourhood who, having heard of the federation’s work, requested a savings orientation. They are facing eviction from the private land they are occupying and want to mobilise to search for and acquire a relocation site.

A similar eviction threat to the Arroyo settlement (home to 3000 + households and located close to the HPFPI office), has mobilised federation members to encourage their neighbours to start saving in order to be ready to respond to any future plans for the land. Savings here have previously paid for legal fees to fight similar eviction orders.

The federation also reaches out and extends support to areas which have experienced natural disasters, as well as encouraging savings groups, as in Arroyo, which has suffered fatal floods in recent years. Additionally, partnerships between local government and the alliance can pave the way for the introduction of savings and community mobilisation.

HPFPI Davao orienting community associations on the savings process. © Laura Hirst

© Laura Hirst

Current projects of the Philippine Alliance

The Alliance is currently constructing houses as part of a large relocation project at a site called Los Amigos, which has initiated a new group of savers. We are also facilitating community mapping of a number of informal settlements in an industrial area of the city, for community planning purposes, supported by a progressive local government unit.

We hope that this will act as a catalyst for these communities to create savings groups, supporting the planning process with increased social and financial capital. The strength of the savings programme has also allowed communities in Davao to access funds through the ACHR Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme for upgrading projects to address problems of land, infrastructure and housing at scale, often in partnership with local government.

These have included bridges (including the now world-famous, and rather beautiful bamboo bridge in Arroyo), flood defences and structure upgrading across a number of communities.

Models of community saving schemes

The federation’s model of savings comprises several different funds, amounting to five pesos (about 7 pence) a day; an Urban Poor Development Fund (loanable, for projects to develop the area) and group savings (withdrawable anytime for emergency use) are kept by the community, whilst a monthly contribution to a city fund helps HPFPI to sustain its activities, and build a revolving loan fund at the city level.

Each group is also encouraged to save 150 pesos a month for future land purchases. Groups meet weekly and there are rules about the collection and storage of money for transparency and accountability.

Whilst the model appears straightforward, as with any community mobilisation work, challenges arise from group to group. During my first month here, each Saturday we visited each of the HPFPI affiliated community associations in Davao to assess and understand their current situation and any problems they were experiencing.

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Mobilisation through community mapping, Barangay Ilang. © Laura Hirst

Community organisation is complex

Mobilisation depends greatly on the huge commitment of voluntary time and effort of the HPFPI ‘mothers’ and coordinators; during the early days of a group’s formation members need orientation and training in record keeping.

In the long term groups also need to be sustained and encouraged; groups can succumb to savings fatigue, and become discouraged about slow progress and gains. Some associations in Davao are comprised of members who have mobilised for land acquisition but are spread living across different sites, which brings practical problems in terms of regular savings collection and meetings.

Leadership issues, schisms within associations and mismanagement of savings do occur, and in these cases, the mothers need to employ huge sensitivity and diplomacy to navigate community politics, histories, relationships and individuals to maintain strong community associations that can continue the struggle for secure tenure.

How can emerging challenges be overcome?

In light of our visits, we’ve been discussing ways to address some of these problems. We hope to start piloting a few changes to the model with new groups, such as rotating responsibility amongst all members for collecting savings on a weekly basis, so that everyone feels included and responsible for the group’s financial status.

Community and leadership exchanges between stronger and weaker groups are planned, to strengthen the situation of those currently struggling through sharing learning and successes across the city.

We hope that at the same time we can build on these activities to reinforce and deepen the (often challenging) ambition of the alliance to develop a strong, organised and engaged citywide platform for communities to discuss, plan and build their way to secure tenure and housing.


Laura Hirst is currently working in Davao City with the Philippine Alliance as part of the DPU-CAN-ACHR junior professional internship programme. She is an MSc Social Development Practice graduate and a former Graduate Teaching Assistant for the programme. Her interests include participatory urban governance and social diversity, gender justice, participatory processes and methodologies and photography. She has previously worked at the UCL Urban Laboratory as well as for Leonard Cheshire Disability, PhotoVoice and One World Action in the UK, civil society organisations in Peru and Cameroon and on action research projects in London, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia.

This contribution is the latest in a mini series of posts from our interns in the Philippines. Read blog 1, on the Philippine Alliance and blog 2, on Community Mapping in Metro Manila.

Experiences in community mapping

MariangelaVeronesi24 March 2015

The Philippine Alliance, where I am currently interning for 6 months as part of TAMPEI, has been involved in community mapping since 2013, when the first pilot project was conducted in the city of Valenzuela within Metro Manila. You can read about this in the Grounding Knowledge booklet produced by the 2013 DPU interns.

The purpose of participatory mapping is for the community, in partnership with the Alliance’s technical assistance team, TAMPEI, and the Homeless People’s Federation, to gather detailed physical and social information about an area. This reliable data serves as the basis for further planning, design and negotiation for upgrading or for relocation.

It can also initiate mobilisation, increase awareness over local issues and allow the community leaders and members to build up technical and organisational skills. This video about mapping by CAN/ACHR is worth having a look at!

Interviews with community members and settlement mapping training in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

Interviews with community members and settlement mapping training in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

Creating a Base Map

TAMPEI assists on the technical side of the process, while the Homeless People’s Federation oversees the community engagement component of mapping. A Core Team is established, usually made up of community leaders and representatives of various local institutions, and is trained by TAMPEI in spot mapping (creating a map outlining streets and landmarks), photo documentation, GPS boundary/landmark mapping and interviews.

These methods are then used by the Core Team to carry out an ocular visit of the areas to be mapped, which permits the collection of a first layer of information for the creation of a base map and brief description of the settlements. It is also a great way to start interacting with the wider community and its members, to explain the purpose of mapping in preparation for the steps to come.

Muntinlupa Core Team involved in GPS mapping during the ocular visit

Muntinlupa Core Team involved in GPS mapping during the ocular visit

Collecting Information at Household Level

The next phase actively involves the community in mapping out individual structures and collecting information at household level. The community representatives introduce the idea to the other members, the structures are mapped out on the base map, allocated a number, and the household survey forms (demographic data and housing information) are then filled out according to the structure numbering.

Within this phase, a focus group with the leaders and/or the elderly is conducted to create an in depth Settlement Profile (characteristics, issues, state of housing and infrastructure, access to services, employment opportunities, etc). Once this stage is completed, the Core Team encodes the data and a complete map is created to be presented to the community for validation.

Collection of structure and household information in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

Collection of structure and household information in Muntinlupa, Metro Manila

The mapping procedure follows the CAN/ACHR methodology, although it is adapted along the way to fit with each specific context.

As part of the Metro Manila team, I’ve mostly been involved in mapping in the city of Muntinlupa: located along the Laguna de Bay lake and characterised by several high risk zones and widespread insecurity of tenure. So far it has been a very insightful experience terms of seeing the mapping being carried in practice and in furthering my learning on working with communities.

Lessons learnt during the process so far

One aspect I have found really interesting is the importance of flexibility, the ability to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, the capacity to modify plans, tools and methodologies while maintaining clear objectives and ensure they are met. Basically, at times things don’t seem to really go as initially planned… and that’s ok! It really is. As long as the process comes together and the goals are reached, it is ok to adapt and change plans.

Both small and big lessons are accumulated through time, and can help improve the process for the next mapping exercise. For example, some of the materials used to create the maps turned out to not be so user friendly and had to be rethought (at times sticking symbols for landmarks seems to be better than writing directly to avoid being confronted with undecipherable handwritings!).

These methodologies and lessons are shared across the regional offices. One occasion was during training that took place in Davao, Mindanao in March, where the Metro Manila team had a chance to share but also to learn from a specific local context that was quite different the capital. Key distinctions identified were working with different religious communities, language barriers due to difference in dialects, and on average lower income levels.

Community mapping in Ilang, Davao

Community mapping in Ilang, Davao

Clarity in communication

The importance of communication with the Core Team and with the community has struck me as eessential, especially in terms of clarifying the objectives and purposes of mapping, and of avoiding misunderstanding, misplaced expectations or conflicts.

For example, if communication is ineffective one of the recurrent issues we encountered is community members believing that by flagging up their house they might either be able to obtain a new one for free, or might be faced with eviction… The real objective was simply to collect data! This misunderstanding can lead to people refusing to engage in the activity, or signaling more houses than they actually own…

Another aspect that caught my attention is how the process varies according to many factors such as the actors involved, the type of incentives created to participate , and the trade-off between participation in the activity and other engagements, thought to the size of the community, the urgency of the need for a new plan for the neighbourhood and other considerations such as the layout of the community.

These changed from one place to the other, and even within the same areas varied significantly. Juggling between all these different considerations has possibly been the most challenging but stimulating aspects so far!

The goal of the mapping process

The ultimate goal of mapping is to inform planning and design, so that the solutions that TAMPEI and the communities elaborate together can truly respond to local needs. The organisational capacity, skills and data that results from this process guarantee greater power to the communities when it comes to engaging as an active group and pledge for change.

It is a fascinating process which brings many issues to light, but still remains a challenge: sometimes there is a pressure to move onto more ‘tangible’ aspects such as land purchase, access to loans, planning and design. I will be looking forward to see how this ties into the next steps and hopefully, since in the case of Muntinlupa it is being carried out at city-wide level, how this translates into more comprehensive and holistic development for the area.

Mapping training in Ilang, Davao

Mapping training in Ilang, Davao


Mariangela Veronesi graduated from Environment and Sustainable Development in 2012 and has since been working on the World Habitat Awards for sustainable and innovative solutions to housing issues (www.worldhabitatawards.org) at the Building and Social Housing Foundation. She is also the co-founder of Bugs for Life (www.bugsforlife.org), a non-profit organisation for the promotion of edible insects, both in the UK and in West Africa, as a sustainable option contributing to global food insecurity. She is currently working in Metro manila with the Philippine Alliance National Team as part of the 6 months joint DPU-CAN-ACHR internship programme. Her interests also include gender issues and informal economies.

The Philippine Alliance: collaboration for planning and design

JessicaMamo17 March 2015

In January this year, three DPU alumni travelled to the Philippines to work with the Philippine Alliance as part of the DPU-CAN-ACHR Junior Professional programme for six months. This blog kicks off a four-part series from the interns, serving as an introduction to the work of the Alliance.

The next posts will explore and reflect on different aspects of its work; community mapping (as told by Mariangela Veronesi, based in Metro Manila), community mobilisation (thoughts from Laura Hirst, in Davao) and settlement planning and design (from Jessica Mamo, in Mandaue). This first post gives a brief overview of the history, structure and different partners in the Alliance, along with how they work with the urban poor in the Philippines.

Community mapping in Barangay Ilang, Davao City, March 2015. © Laura Hirst

Community mapping in Barangay Ilang, Davao City, March 2015. © Laura Hirst

The Philippine Alliance: a brief background

The Philippine Alliance works with the urban poor living in informal settlements across the Philippines. They also work with other vulnerable groups, such as communities living on land susceptible to natural and man-made disasters or those facing the threat of eviction. Through partnerships with local government and other stakeholders they provide sustainable housing solutions for the urban poor.

The Alliance itself is a partnership between five organisations; Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines Inc. (HPFPI), Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives Inc. (PACSII), Technical Assistance Movement for People and the Environment Inc. (TAMPEI), Community Resources for the Advancement of Capable Societies (CoRe-ACS), and LinkBuild. Each of these organisations has a particular role, and work together throughout the process of acquiring land tenure and providing new housing solutions for the urban poor.

Homeless Peoples Federation Philippines Inc

The work of HPFPI started in the 1990s with the creation of savings groups among waste-pickers living on a garbage dump site in the barangay (neighbourhood) of Payatas, in Quezon City, Metro Manila. Originally addressing immediate needs, the programme evolved to tackle issues of land security and eviction. Its successes in Quezon City, in addition to local and international networking and exchanges, encouraged the federation to intensify its work and expand across the country.

Today HPFPI is a national federation of community associations and savers pursuing community-led housing and upgrading processes.

The main role of the federation is to promote and facilitate savings among member-communities, as a way of building their financial capability to invest in their own development. This mobilisation aims to uphold the aspirations of its members to secure their own land, maintain decent living conditions, break the cycle of poverty, and protect their dignity and human rights.

Diagram 1: The Philippines Alliance; Partners and their main responsibilities

Diagram 1: The Philippines Alliance; Partners and their main responsibilities

Philippine Action for Community-led Shelter Initiatives Inc

PACSII is a non-profit NGO, registered in 2002, and serves as the intermediary support institution to HPFPI, coordinating the Alliance’s programmes across the various regions, providing overall guidance in their mission.

PACSII provides extensive assistance on legal and financial matters, finding resources, serving as a legal holder for these resources, but most importantly giving the federation the space and opportunity to genuinely develop as a community-driven institution.

Technical Assistance Movement for People and the Environment Inc

TAMPEI is the technical support unit of the Alliance, supporting the federation in community-led technical processes, specifically through the design of low-cost incremental housing, community upgrading, community mapping and planning initiatives at different scales; from community to city level developments.

Community Resources for the Advancement of Capable Societies and LinkBuild

LinkBuild and CoRe-ACS are newly-formed social enterprise and micro-finance institutions which support the communities that form the federation. LinkBuild provides development finance and builds houses while Core-ACS provides end user financing for low-income families through accessible loan systems.

LinkBuild was formed in order for the Alliance to deliver sustainable housing to scale for HPFPI members, affiliates and partner community networks. HPFPI and TAMPEI are directly engaged in the project planning and implementation processes in order to ensure community preparedness and involvement.

Surplus and cross-subsidy projects are being explored as means to sustain the programs and make housing affordable for very low-income families. Houses constructed by Linkbuild are sold to CoRe-ACS, which is then responsible for handing over the houses to households who have been assessed and approved to receive a housing loan, and administrating and collecting these loans.

Diagram 2: The methodology adopted by the Philippine Alliance, and associated partners involved in each stage

Diagram 2: The methodology adopted by the Philippine Alliance, and associated partners involved in each stage

How the Alliance mobilises member-communities

Although the process varies depending on the context, the starting point for the federation has historically been the mobilisation of communities through the promotion of savings. As communities become mobilised, the aspiration of securing their own land becomes progressively more realistic. Another important stage is the collection of relevant data regarding the community, referred to as community mapping.

If the community has already been organised by HPFPI, the mapping process can represent a crucial step before moving onto planning and design. Nonetheless, mapping can also be used in communities that are not yet organised or involved with HPFPI.

In fact it is often used as a strategy to start interacting with a community and to then introduce the concept of organising and saving to find housing solutions. For large projects, such as housing development, mapping is an important stage which profiles the settlement.

Taking a participatory approach, data is gathered at the household level (for example the number of families, occupations, building structure and facilities), on physical characteristics (such as the boundaries of the settlement and the communities present) as well as on the historical development of settlements.

Once the data has been gathered, verified, analysed and synthesised by community members, it is presented to the wider community, to be used as a tool in the next stage of community land acquisition, planning and design.

What are DPU interns doing?

Throughout our time here we hope to be working in different capacities on all stages of the process in order to support the Alliance in its work and to learn from their experience.

Look out for the three forthcoming posts about our work and experiences in the coming weeks.


Jessica is an architect and has recently completed the MSc in Building and Urban Design in Development at the DPU. Currently, she is working in the Philippines, as part of the DPU-ACHR joint internship programme. Her interests lie primarily in community-led upgrading, particularly with regards to housing and service provision.