Rapid urbanisation is a major global trend which will undoubtedly continue to have a significant impact on the future work of international civil society organisations (ICSOs). However, most ICSOs’ projects and initiatives still focus on rural areas rather than urban ones. To explore the specific challenges and opportunities of cities for NGOs, The Spindle and the International Civil Society Centre’s Scanning the Horizon invited four experts to contribute to a mini webinar series on ‘Urban Futures and Resilience’ – here you can read the key takeaways.
The size and urgency of the problem
The world is increasingly becoming more urban. By 2050, 68% of humanity will be living in cities. Already now, 1.6 billion people live in substandard housing and 1 billion people – which means 1 in 8 – live in slums. And these numbers are doomed to grow, with Africa and Asia being the fastest urbanising continents. The critical issue with these trends is the inability of cities to cope with the massive influx of people. In fact, in the Global South, there is a lack of jobs in the formal economy and wage employment is not easily accessible. Moreover, services and infrastructures in quickly growing cities are often already scarce by themselves. Accordingly, most rural-urban migrants – and especially the youth – do and will end up in the informal sector in conditions of poor and vulnerable employment. This, in turn, magnifies their social and legal insecurity as well as their difficulty to access housing and other services. As a consequence, inequality and informality in cities keep on increasing dramatically.
What makes the intervention of NGOs in cities even more challenging?
Cities present a number of specific challenges for the work of NGOs. First of all, in large urban contexts, the notion of belonging is less marked and “community” can mean different things, which makes the urban poor more fragmented. Moreover, certain urban groups are very difficult to identify or even invisible. Thirdly, NGOs struggle with the lack of appropriate, disaggregated data in cities, which makes programme design and management harder. In addition, cities are characterized by a larger and more complex set of stakeholders and parties that should be involved. Last but not least, very often there are considerable differences among the various neighbourhoods of the same cities – which requires a multitude of context-specific approaches.
Rethinking our approach: towards integrated and multi-layered frameworks
The first and foremost conclusion that can be drawn from this analysis is that development NGOs urgently need to rethink how they support the development of urban areas. More specifically, urban development approaches need to be comprehensive, integrated, multi-layered and collaborative. This means that development intervention in cities should:
- address all dimensions of poverty and exclusion;
- focus on multiple intervention areas (community, policy, market, institutional capacity)
- involve and engage all relevant stakeholders at all levels.
Moreover, all interventions should be designed by the local communities themselves in a co-creation process and on the basis of prior context analyses and needs assessments. Local ownership and local engagement are essential, which is why they currently form the core of – among others – Cordaid’s urban approach as well as Habitat for Humanity International’s urban programmes. Thereby, partnering in inclusive ways with the various local, urban stakeholders, groups and organisations is considered as crucial for impact, sustainability and scale of our development interventions in cities. Only this way it is possible to contribute to inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.
The main call to action that clearly emerged from this mini webinar series on Urban Futures and Resilience is for development NGOs to break the silos, come together and sincerely engage with the local communities and contexts in order to maximise synergies and create inclusive partnerships that can support the needs of the urban communities.
If you missed out on the webinars or want to know more, you can now read the reports (#1 and #2) as well as watch back the two sessions (#1 and #2).
Are you further interested in the future of cities and its significance for the work of NGOs? Join us in our next three Future Sessions on this topic!
- Tuesday, August 27: Economic Perspectives on Urban Futures and Resilience (Paula Nagler, IHS) – sign up here;
- Tuesday, September 24: Urban Metabolism (Metabolic)
- Tuesday, October 29: Urban resilience (Cordaid and AMS Institute).
Save the dates and keep an eye on our website to sign up as soon as registrations are open!