Sheela Patel has worked with urban poor communities, with a particular focus on women and children since 1974. She realized that welfare does not produce real change for the poor, and organizations working on poverty issues needed new ways to address these problems. Thus, with other like-minded peers, she founded the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) which seeks to create institutional arrangements where communities own and control organizations and institutions that provide services to the poor. 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.
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- National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF)
- Areas of Impact
- South Asia
National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF)
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.