Netherlands Institute for the Study of Crime and Law Enforcement
The uniqueness of this initiative lies in a set of sustainable interlocking goals and activities concerning community development: strengthening the community, Connecting communities in other settlements and forming partnerships may prove to be crucial in the chain of development.
The proposed project aims to legally empower local communities in informal settlements in developing countries by setting up community centres in these settlements and providing them with an internet infrastructure and developing a web resource that holds legal information in an accessible form to enable these communities to become aware of their rights and to invoke them.
The community centres will have a multi-purpose function that aside from helping local communities to organize themselves and strengthening their legal knowledge, also provide employment and education opportunities for residents. As the centres can simultaneously function as an internet café, they can be self-sufficient and hence sustainable. By effectively using information technology to strengthen slum communities’ capacities in articulating and defending their rights and organise themselves, the proposed project offers these communities the opportunity to significantly contribute to the social and economic development of their neighbourhood.
1. Can you briefly describe the innovative idea, in terms of the problem(s) it tries to solve and why is it necessary?
Knowledge regarding one’s rights and the ability to effectively invoke them is asymmetrically divided in developing countries and so is the access to and knowledge of information technology. Developing countries are not so much characterised by a ‘lack of’ law, nor is there a formal impediment to find out what one’s rights are, the missing link is the ability to turn the black letter into practice.
By effectively using information technology this project aims to strengthen slum communities’ capacities in articulating and defending their rights. Disadvantaged groups are thus given the opportunity to contribute to the social and economic development of their neighbourhood.
The project does so by addressing three core issues:
- To present, in a simple and accessible form, information with respect to rights that is now only available to a limited group of professionals but can be shared by a wider community.
- To empower slum residents so as to enable them to form an equal party in negotiations with local, regional and national governments and donor organisations.
- To enable them to use computers and the internet to make the information accessible as well as to share and spread this information between communities.
To address the above issues, this project proposes to empower urban communities and to organise village and slum residents by providing them more efficient and inclusive access to the use of information technology. By gaining knowledge concerning land rights and by articulating and defending their rights, they will be able to take their fate into their own hands more effectively and to actively engage with local government and other institutions on improving their living environment.
2. What makes your innovative idea unique?
The uniqueness of this initiative lies in a set of interlocking goals and activities concerning community development: strengthening the community, enhancing legal certainty, promoting and providing education, and creating employment opportunities. This is how a single, well-designed intervention may serve multiple purposes. Furthermore, settlements are not only connected to the internet to reduce the knowledge gap of their residents, but are also to connect communities in other settlements. In doing so they can be mutually supportive in finding solutions to shared problems, and form partnerships that may prove to be crucial in the chain of development.
3. What triggered the innovative idea?
The idea surged during talks and discussions among the applicants (all legal academics) who turned out to have similar experiences when researching issues related to informality and poverty in very different developing countries.
For example, one of the applicants, working on land tenure-related matters in informal settlements in Buenos Aires, found how small local NGO’s in collaboration with community-based organisations had made very informative manuals regarding land rights and legislation to help residents better understand their situation and be effective in their dealings with local governments. While this was very helpful for these residents, the information did not reach its full impact in a broader sense because the information did not reach most other informal settlements in the city. The idea of building a web resource that contains this information and which facilitates contacts between settlements would help not only increase knowledge but also to empower local communities. Best practices can be added and experiences shared on the web site. Additionally, information can be provided regarding legal aid, i.e. such as who to turn to in case of conflict, what specialised lawyers work pro bono in a particular and what NGO’s can assist? etc. It became also clear to the applicant who important community organisation and empowerment is for advancing the goals of the community and meeting its necessities.
The next step was to find a way to make this initiative sustainable. As the community centres will have the necessary internet infrastructure, the idea of allowing it as an internet café surged. This is turn would generate income to sustain the initiative but could also help with the employment of locals.
In sum, the struggle of informal communities in managing their daily affairs, the power and knowledge asymmetries that exist between them and local governments and powerful elites, and the increasing availability of information technology were triggers for the solution offered.
4. Which persons and organisations came up with the innovative idea and what role do they play?
The applicant group is made up of legal professionals with extensive experience in research and development issues regarding land rights in developing countries, and collaborate in a network called the International Alliance on Land Tenure and Administration (IALTA), based in the Netherlands, see www.ialtanetwork.org. This network is responsible for the researchers network within the Land Portal, see: www.landportal.info, the international reference point on information on land, supported by FAO, IFAD, Norad, Omydiar Network and a lot of other IGO’s and NGO’s.
5. What kind of resistance do you expect to encounter and how do you plan to overcome it?
We expect resistance to be limited as the project builds principally on the strengthening of communities and lacks a clear political component. However, complex relations between local communities and other parties, such as local government, could trigger resistance from the latter. Furthermore, due to power relations and inequalities within the community itself, the possibility of conflict cannot be excluded. In general, all those who perceive their interests to be threatened might resist against any action from the poor who seek to improve their situation. This is of course inevitable when the rule of law is put into practice, especially in developing countries.
To deal with this potential resistance, proper institutional and stakeholder analysis will be conducted well in advance to map out their different interests and suggestions on the action framework. And community leaders will be identified to act as focus points of support for the implementation of this initiative.
Furthermore, it is crucial that the project be implemented in areas in which there is already some level of community organisation and development. High community involvement in the project in combination with active monitoring on the part of NGOs and legal professionals is also a requisite for success.
6. How do you make the goals of your innovative idea realistic and attainable, and when will quick wins be available?
The project will start out with a pilot in a limited number (2-4) of settlements. These will be selected on the bases of existing contacts with the applicants and partners and the estimated potential for success.
In the first phase, in collaboration with local NGO’s and legal experts, existing information and manuals will be inventoried and further developed. Furthermore, a website will be developed where this information is available and which hosts a forum on which residents can communicate. Considering the existing contacts, this phase is expected to take no longer than 3 months.
Simultaneously, the community centers will be constructed. It is possible that structures that can serve as community centres are already in place and only need to be adapted for the present purposes (e.g. a new storey or large room added to an existing building).
Subsequently, a number of young adults from the settlements receives a basic training in information technology and computer maintenance. They then carry the responsibility for managing the centreand the (logistical) organization of courses and other activities for residents. Children from the area, who rarely have computer and internet access at their own schools or homes, can be trained in the use of information technology. The center can also provide computer-assisted education, thereby increasing their chances on the labour market. The internet café and (minimal) course contributions from residents can take care of the costs of maintaining the buildings and computers, so that the community centres will be sustainable and self-sufficient. The experts who work on the proposed project will deliver substantive input and expertise.
The project does not aim at ‘quick fixes’ but instead aims at gradual, self-supporting and sustainable community development.
7. Will the innovative idea affect other organisations in the chain and if that is the case, how will it affect them?
8. How will the development of the innovative idea be funded and what would be the reasons for the financing organisation?
NGOs who aim at improving living conditions of the poor should be interested in the project. The main reason to support the project lies in the opportunities of the model, not only with regard to legal issues, but also other issues like spatial planning, public education, health and environmental issues. Where appropriate, private investors such as real estate companies and technological companies with stakes in the land sector will be involved in project design and implementation, and their financial contribution will be of great added value.
9. Can you name 3 to 5 characteristics of the innovative idea that are most essential to make it work?
- Active participation and organisation by the beneficiaries
- Support from local NGOs and aid from local legal professionals and paralegal organisations
- Availability of technical infrastructure appropriate for local use
- Linking appropriate information technology with local needs
- Linking the social, economic and political aspects of rights with law and administration
10. How do you measure whether the innovative idea has turned into a successful innovation?
Success is measured by the actual improvement of the living conditions of the communities as a direct result of this project. One could sum up the action that has been made possible by this project and to which changes it will lead through the monitoring and evaluation of project implementation. Appropriate methods for measuring the effectiveness and impact of the project will be developed, the results of which will be disseminated to local users for their verification and collecting comments and suggestions.
11. How many people or organisations could potentially benefit your innovation now and in the future?
The project provides a framework that can form a blueprint for other cities and countries. In this respect the number of people that benefit is indefinite but most likely very large.
12. Can you quantify the financial benefits? Cost savings, additional income or otherwise.
Since the project aims at improving the living conditions of communities in informal settlements, it is difficult to quantify financial benefits or cost savings. Providing legal information and tools to the poor will help them to improve their living conditions. These are the benefits this project provides them. In this respect, the benefits are enormous.
13. Will the innovation be financially viable and sustainable and if yes, how?
The innovation aims at sustainability through self-sufficiency. After a start-up subsidy to build a community centre (or adapt an existing one to the needs of the project) and provide vocational training to the people running the center, and the internet café in it, the revenues of the latter will ensure its sustainability.
14. Did you receive any recognition?
The project is new, yet a pilot project supported by Terre des Hommes based on the framework of this project has been conducted in Jakarta, Indonesia.
15. What lessons did you learn so far that could be useful to others?
We know that lack of information in legal matters is one of the key problems in developing countries to improve the living conditions of the poor. This is one of the major reasons why the law in practice is different from the law in the books.