Grounded development: Reflections on community-based practices in Sri Lanka and Myanmar

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GROUNDED DEVELOPMENT Reflections on community-based practices in Sri Lanka and Myanmar EDITORS / COORDINATORS OF INTERNSHIP PROGRAMME Dr. Catalina Ortiz Dr. Barbara Lipietz CONTRIBUTORS Ruchika Lall Saptarshi Mitra Shoko Sakuma London, 2018

PARTNER ORGANISATIONS The Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) Community Architects Network (CAN) Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, Sri Lanka (Sevanatha) Women for the World, Myanmar (WfW) This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. To view a copy of this license, visit by-nc-sa/4.0/ or send a letter to Creative Commons, PO Box 1866, Mountain View, CA 94042, USA.

ISBN 978-1-9993124-1-1

GROUNDED DEVELOPMENT Reflections on community-based practices in Sri Lanka and Myanmar


Women for the World

“Cities are the sites of intense struggles between disparate interests and multiple stakeholders, whose ideas, influences and actions together ultimately shape today’s urban realities.” - Fran Tonkiss


Yangon 16.8661° N 96.1951° E

SRI LANKA Colombo 6.9271° N 79.8612° E

Fig 1.  Yangon, Myanmar and Colombo, Sri Lanka

Foreword by Dr. Catalina Ortiz and Dr. Barbara Lipietz

The DPU/ACHR/CAN internship programme aims to generate opportunities for young professionals to engage with practices of people-centred development in the Global South. The programme enables processes of immersion, aimed at supporting reflexive learning amongst participants on the opportunities and challenges raised by community-based practices. It also provides a fertile ground for reflecting on and practicing alternative development paradigms. This volume captures the interaction and learning processes of three DPU alumni with local institutions as generative spaces for reflective practice. Located for the first time in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Yangon, Myanmar, the interns worked respectively with Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre and Women for the World. The depictions of the context, institutions and interns’ lived experiences harness our understanding about grounded development, community-based practices and a search for scale. Community-based mobilisation and advocacy are an imperative in the context of Sri Lanka and Myanmar, two countries facing different trajectories of democratic transition. Our partner institutions have built different organisational strategies for navigating complex urban governance settings. They work with different collectives to enable the recognition of the multiple knowledges pertaining to housing, socio-material infrastructures and livelihoods that shape Yangon and Colombo. The booklet highlights diverse and locally embedded tactics for putting knowledge into action and tackling key concerns raised by Colombo’s verticalization process and Yangon’s expansive self built settlements. It reflects in turn on the trans-local learning enabled by the simultaneous presence of interns in both cities, allowing for a comparative reflexion and exchanges across the experiences of Sevanatha and Women for the World. v

Contents iii

Foreword by Dr. Catalina Ortiz and Dr. Barbara Lipietz

viii ix xi

Acronyms List of Figures Acknowledgement


Introduction Background of this publication Key Objectives Structure Community-based practices leading Grounded Development


Grounded Development Community-based practices Search for Scale Strategic Partnerships Co-production Cross Learning Advocacy 11

Community-based practices in context: Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre and Women for the World



Urban development in Colombo, Sri Lanka Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre - organisational overview Urban development in Yangon, Myanmar Women for the World - organisational overview Context of ACHR


Addressing the search for Scale in Colombo and Yangon

35 49

Housing and Dwelling Housing Practice and Policy – Sevanatha, Colombo Community-led housing project – WfW, Yangon



Socio-material Infrastructures Community-led Municipal Waste Recycling Programme – Sevanatha, Colombo The FISONG Project – WfW, Yangon


Challenges in the search for Scale : a cross learning account


On development and Institutional Approaches On Strategic Partnerships and Balance On Scale 115

Afterword A word from ACHR/CAN Perspectives from ACHR partners Our thoughts About us



Fig 2.  workshop involving children in a community in Colombo



Action Aid Myanmar Asian Coalition for Community Action Asian Coalition for Housing Rights All India Institute of Local Self Government Agence française de dÊveloppement Community Architects Network Community Based Organisation Community Bithukar Platform Community Development Council Community Livelihood Action Network Programme Colombo Metropolitan Region Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia Municipality Development Planning Unit Department of Urban and Housing Development Green Lotus Household Certificate Japan International Cooperation Agency Million Houses Programme Myun Sur Par Lau Municipal Waste Recycling Programme National Building Research Organisation Non-Governmental Organisation National Housing and Development Authority National League for Democracy National Residential Card Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre Strategic Urban Development Plan for Greater Yangon University College London Urban Development Authority Urban Development Planning United Nations Development Programme United Nations Human Settlements Programme Urban Poor Coalition Asia Urban Regeneration Programme The United States Agency for International Development Union Solidarity and Development Party Urban Settlements Improvement Project Women for the World Women Saving Group Yangon City Development Committee Yangon Regional Government

List of Figures All images, maps, tables and illustrations are by the authors, apart from those mentioned below. Fig. 1

Workshop involving children in a community in Colombo | courtesy MSc UDP DPU field trip 2018, hosted by Sevanatha

Fig. 11

Map showing the location of underserved settlements in Colombo (classified as fully upgraded, upgraded, underserved, and extremely poor) | Sevanatha, 2012

Fig. 19

A temporary identification card usually seen in informal settlements | from Group H students of MSc BUDD, DPU-UCL fieldtrip to Yangon, 2017 hosted by WfW

Fig. 26

DPU field trip hosted by Sevanatha in Nawagampura | JosĂŠ Campana Loza

Fig. 34

Taw-Win community-led housing project | by Tomoko Matsushita

Fig. 35

Community led housing projects supported by WfW in Yangon | based on WfW data

Fig. 36 - Fig. 44

Process of Housing project (series of 9 photographs) | WfW

Fig. 46

A street in the Taw Win community-led housing | by Tomoko Matsushita

Fig. 47

Learning exchange with regional government staff at the Taw Win community-led housing project | WfW

Fig. 49

Women Saving Group Housing Meeting | WfW

Fig. 60

Beach Cleaning, Rathmalana | Sevanatha, MWRP

Fig. 80

Drone image showing the morphology of Ward 67 | courtesy DPU_UCL during MSc BUDD fieldtrip to Yangon, 2018 hosted by WfW

Fig. 88

The first step of the participatory survey was a series of workshops that helped make the community members comfortable to the idea of survey using GPS devices | WfW

Fig. 95

Students and community members at Ward 67 | courtesy DPU_UCL during MSc BUDD fieldtrip to Yangon, 2018 hosted by WfW

Fig. 96

The closing session of the workshop (MSc BUDD DPU fieldtrip) held at YTU | by Tomoko Matsushita

Fig. 101

Sevanatha team | Sevanatha ix

Acknowledgements We would like to express our gratitude to all the partners of the fourth wave of the DPU/CAN/ACHR internship programme. Many thanks to DPU for this opportunity and for the financial support. We are particularly grateful to Dr. Barbara Lipietz and Dr. Catalina Ortiz for your strategic support and guidance. We hope that the experiences of this year can help shape future iterations of the programme. Thank you to ACHR and CAN for enabling this network, for fostering a partnership of regional cross learning and reflexivity for us as young practitioners, and for community based practises in Asia. We would like to express our gratitude to Women for the World, Yangon and Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, Colombo. Thank you for hosting us, sharing with us your process and passion. At Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre Thank you to Mr. Chularathna for sharing your experience, and for being such a wonderful mentor. Thank you to Ayesha, Manori and Chathurika for all our discussions, sharing learnings and challenges and for making Colombo feel like home. Thank you to the entire field team of MWRP - Ms Olgani, Ms Jinani, Dinali, Ayesha, Tharu, Gauri, Samanmalee, Priyangini, Chamila, Janaka, Thissara, Kehliya - for your patience, translations, sharing your thoughts so freely, and openness to suggestions while working together.

Fig 3.  (facing page) a women’s saving group member during a participatory workshop in Yangon

At Women for the World Thank you Lizar for always leading by example, and being such a wonderful friend, guide and critique. Also thank you Wah Phaw, Eaint Eaint, Hanni Kyaw, Aung Kyaw for being both our colleagues and our family in Yangon. Together, it was a great team, and we cherish everything from difficult days in the community to lunch at the office. We also wish to thank all our friends at the Community Bithukar Platform for your presence, your patience, and your willingness to work together. Finally, we wish to thank all the communities and individuals we had a chance to work with in both Colombo and Yangon. Thank you for your trust, your friendship, your tolerance and your time. Thank you for being true inspirations. -

Ruchika Lall, Saptarshi Mitra, Shoko Sakuma xi

Grounding Knowledge reflections on community-driven development in South-East Asia 2014 knowledge_24.2.14_new

Grounded Planning people-centred urban development practices in the Philippines 2016 full_text_finale

Grounded Planning people-centred strategies for city upgrading in Thailand and the Philippines 2017 people-centred_st

Fig 4.  publications part of DPU/ACHR/CAN Young Professional Internship programme


Background of the Publication This edition is the fourth in a sequence of publications from the Young Professional Internship Programme coordinated by the Development Planning Unit (DPU) in association with the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) and the Community Architects Network (CAN). As such, this publication has been preceded by a wealth of experiences, knowledges and learnings from past interns, local and regional organisations who have worked on community-based development processes across the Asian context. The focus of the internship is to provide an on-ground education to young professionals in the field enabling a bridging of the gap between education and reality (ACHR, 2014). This year, three interns from DPU had the opportunity to work with Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre (Sevanatha) based in Colombo, Sri Lanka and Women for the World (WfW) based in Yangon, Myanmar. Both organisations have long associations with the ACHR network and are engaged in improving the conditions of the poor, the vulnerable and the disadvantaged through community-led processes of change. By working with various communities on real projects, interns had the chance to develop and test new tools and methodologies in practice. They also were engaged in facilitating and contributing to the overseas field trips as part of the MSc Building and Urban Design in Development and the MSc Urban Development Planning courses held in Yangon and Colombo respectively. Finally, by virtue of the networks and connections these organisations have nurtured, the interns had the opportunity to engage with and learn from diverse skill-sets, backgrounds and experiences of people they met and interacted with. 1

Key Objectives This publication documents and demonstrates some of the work that the two organisations are doing and articulate this work in context of peoplecentred, community-based practices. A comparative understanding can help expand on the tools and methodologies of community-based practices and enable a platform for institutional cross learning and dissemination. This is also an opportunity to reflect on the larger issue of the role such community-based practices play in shaping trajectories of development that is grounded in the realities of a place, is inclusive, and just. Finally, this publication presents an opportunity for the interns to articulate and share experiences, learnings and reflections amongst each other, with young practitioners and a also a wider audience. This can contribute to the body of knowledge already created and highlight the roles, responsibilities, challenges of development practice in context of prevalent socio-spatial realities.

Structure The publication is divided into the following sections.

Fig 5.  saving members are preparing snacks for the community during a learning exchange workshop in Rakhine

The first section elaborates on key themes that underlie the focus of the reflections in the booklet – centred around the concepts of grounded development, community-based practices and a search for scale. It is followed by a discussion on the necessity for diversifying and scaling-up alternative approaches to development, through an overview of the two countries, the organisations, their vision and their work. The following section uses examples of projects carried out by Sevanatha and WfW to discuss how community-based practices engage in projects pertaining to housing and dwelling, and socio-material infrastructures. The next section brings these together for a comparative reflection on what it means to scale up community-based practices, in relation to the way we see planning, development and the city. The final section elaborates on the Internship from the perspectives of the partner organisations, and the interns reflections about the time spent with the organisations. 3

Community-based practices leading Grounded Development

Grounded Development Development at its core, is for people – it can be seen as a process that expands the “real freedoms that people enjoy” (Sen, 1999, p. 3). Freedom here is a measure of quality of life that people are able to achieve. Development in its holistic sense must thus be equitable and must represent the needs and desires of the entire population. However mainstream development trajectories in Asia, also seen in Sri Lanka and Myanmar present several challenges to equity - especially concerning issues of visibility, recognition and inclusion for the informal city. A section of the city and its people thus remains excluded from mainstream development process, which entrenches both social and spatial inequity. The publication argues for a need to reframe development by grounding it in the social context of a place. This can be done by placing otherwise leftout people at the core of the development process. They are not just passive observers or beneficiaries – but they have agency and are able to catalyse the development process. This makes it possible to recognise the existing capabilities1 of people - their skills, desires and commitment as valuable resources2 to envision development that is equitable, inclusive and just. Fig 6.  (facing page) the mix of diverse spatial types in the central business district of Yangon

1 The capabilities approach elaborates on “capabilities as a way to function, i.e. what a person can do or be” (Sen, 2000). 2 This view is substantiated by ACHR and finds grounding in its practice, for more details see ACHR: About Us (ACHR, 2013).


Community-based practices The publication refers to community-practices as practices that emphasize people-centred processes to engage stakeholders directly in the design, implementation and monitoring of a project. Most often, such practices drive development projects that engage with groups who have been excluded from mainstream development in the city. By virtue of being people-centred, these practices recognise existing capabilities and mobilise participation. Methodologies employed bring together diverse people united by common goals to catalyse processes of positive action in low-resource, low-infrastructure, challenging conditions. Instead of perceiving people as passive recipients, they are recognised as agents of active change and strengthened to form a thriving, vibrant collective agency. Finally, community-based practices open up a space for negotiation and create an opportunity to set precedents and mobilise to reframe mainstream development discourse. This can lead to a possible grounding of development.

Fig 7.  members of the San Thit Sa community-led hosuing project during a co-production workshop for drainage provision

Search for Scale Though community-based practices create the opportunity to open up a space of negotiation, these practices are often contained within the sociospatial domain of the informal city. The question of how to scale-up this negotiation - to recognise people’s right to the city, their agency and their capabilities becomes significant. Scaling up has to be thought of as a political process – as issues of inequality, recognition and exclusion are inherently political. Hence, scaling-up needs to move beyond the idea of quantitative scale and needs to start addressing systemic, institutional and political change. Scaling up becomes “multiscalar, multi-sectoral and multi-dimensional” (Fiori, 2014), and necessitates a wider systemic approach that is accompanied by qualitative shifts in institutional structures, methods of engagements, policy and a transformed dialogue between the people and the other actors involved in the process of development.

Strategic Partnerships Community-based practices working with informality often work with intersecting challenges. This necessitates the adoption of strategies that require the involvement, participation and support of a diverse actor group. People and their agency lie at the centre of these strategies. The strategies incorporate aspects of equity, inclusion and recognition and often conceptualise quantitative as well as qualitative outputs that tread into the blurred domains between what is accepted and allowed, and what is termed as a-legal/illegal. The core strategy that is employed revolves around creating and expanding on the room for manoeuvre (Levy, 2015) - a space for dialogue and negotiated action between different actor groups that tries to create precedents for alternative approaches. This is done by cultivating a series of strategic partnerships. These cut across local, regional and international geographies. These are created amongst the various communities (horizontal); and also, the state, national and international stakeholders (vertical). These partnerships capitalise on existing opportunities and build on the unique conditions (as a result of the uniqueness in positionality, strengths and opportunities within each partner) to make possible a certain set of actions that would otherwise not have been possible. A successful partnership therefore enables certain outcomes, but also becomes an enabler for subsequent partnerships. Together, these 7

partnerships continuously expand the room for manoeuvre, which leads to opportunities for political transformation. This is a pathway towards scalingup community-based practices that encompasses not just increased service delivery, but an increased recognition of the agency and capability of people to manifest in the development processes of the city. Three key forms of strategic partnerships have been identified, and are elaborated below:

A | Co-production In informal settlements, there is limited state presence in the provision of access to goods and services. This is an issue of both governance, and recognition. These together create conditions where other grassroots organisations (NGOs, CBOs) have stepped in and taken over some of the responsibilities of the state (Appadurai, 2001; Roy, 2009). There are two ways to do this, one is through top-down provision of services, and the other involves the active engagement of stakeholders to collaborate to achieve desired outcomes. The latter encourages a space for negotiation through a process of co-production. Mitlin (2008) expands on this notion of co-production from that of interinstitutional linkages with the community to further service delivery; to that of a more fundamental political process, in which “citizens both seek an engagement with the state (to secure redistribution, reduce free riders, etc.) and also are oriented towards self-management and local control over local provision in areas related to basic needs (i.e. services with development significance)” (p. 347). Thus, the potential of co-production does not lie in its outputs but is rooted within the process itself. The scalability of coproduction is thus the potential for building up a collective political voice and creating precedents that impact urban institutions and state actors beyond the domain of the project.

B | Cross-learning At the core of this strategy lies an understanding of knowledge as being social - “produced through practices, and both spatially and materially relational” (McFarlane, 2006, p. 287). This means that knowledge is situated in the socio-spatial context of a place. This is essentially a departure from the way knowledge in development is generally viewed, as a static, linear process of transferable solutions and best practices.

Community-based practices employ methodologies for cross-learning, producing knowledges through partnerships between the community and various institutional actors. By involvement in practices (which utilise the agency and capability of people and create social interactions), knowledge is thus created and translated, which enables learning that is grounded in the realities of a place. This learning is fundamentally a process of “transformation rather than transmission” (McFarlane, 2006, p. 300). It puts the knowledges of the informal city at the centre of development, dissolves traditional hierarchies between experts and beneficiaries, and builds up a body of processes and evolving strategies that are political and have relevance beyond the immediate scale and scope of the partnership itself.

C | Advocacy Community-based practices engage in strategic partnerships to further processes of co-production and cross-learning. These work together to develop a set of methodologies and practices, and at the same time create and strengthen knowledge production through people-centred processes. Advocacy, by disseminating these knowledges and practices through partnerships with larger institutional and state actors - can scale up impacts of such processes and lead to “improved outcomes from the state through a political process” (Mitlin, 2008, p. 353). This can influence more relevant policies and strategies employed by the state in how informality and the invisible population of the city are included in the trajectory of development. The potential for advocacy initiatives to create scalar impact lies not only in its ability to influence and make possible certain actions, but in its ability to compound a larger political voice driven by an assertion of, and a claim to basic rights. Advocacy thus creates a pathway for challenging existing power structures to envision an alternative, equitable discourse of grounded development.



Poli�cal Form


’48 Independence ‘50s

‘56 Sinhala Only Act ‘58 Riots ‘60s

‘70s OPENING OF THE ECONOMY ‘77-’89 Premadasa as PM


Ceiling of House Property Law

‘72 Name changed from CEYLON to SRI LANKA ‘75 Jaffna Mayor assassinated ‘76 LTTE formed ‘77 Riots ‘78 UDA established ‘79 NHDA established

‘78-’84 Hundred THousand Houses Programme (NHDA) ‘85-’89 Million Houses Programme

‘89-’93 Premadasa as President

‘83-’09 Civil War


‘89 SEVANATHA established ‘90-’94 1.5 Millions Houses Programme

‘93 President Premadasa assassinated

‘95-’06 REEL Programme

‘00s ‘04 Tsunami

‘10-’15 Rajapaksha Dictatorship ‘15Maithripala Sirisena Presidency

‘15 Democra�c Elec�ons

UDA falls under Ministry of Defence

‘05-’10 Rajapaksha Presidency

‘07- ’10 USIP Programme ‘10Urban Regenera�on Programme

Community-based practices in context

Urban development in Colombo, Sri Lanka Sri Lanka is an island country in the Indian Ocean with a population of more than 20 million, as per the 2012 national census. It is home to multiple ethnicities and religions3. The country has always been of strategic importance along trade routes in the geographic region and was subjected to consecutive colonial occupation by the Portuguese, Dutch and the British. In 1948, Sri Lanka was declared independent, with universal franchise, and as a Democratic Socialist Republic. Development trajectories in post-colonial Sri Lanka have been shaped by and in turn shape the socio-political and economic complexities of the country.

Fig 8.  (facing page) timeline of events, Sri Lanka and Sevanatha

Sri Lanka has a history of state subsided education and healthcare. A 2016 UNDP report highlights the country as one among others with a high Human Development Index. The country opened its economy in 1977 and the past few decades mark its transition from an agriculture-based to a service-based economy, with a current focus on growing as a knowledge-based economy. 3 including Sinhala, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher


Fig 9.  The landmark 250m tall Lotus Tower in the central business district of Colombo is symbolic of its world class city ambitions of post conflict urban development, rooted in majoritarian politics.

In parallel, the country has also been challenged with majoritarian politics, and three decades of civil war with communal roots4. The civil war saw brutalities and human rights violations with large civilian losses. In 2009, the civil war ended, and was followed by a five-year long dictatorship. In 2015 a democratically elected government was re-established. This government continues a post-conflict vision to reclaim Sri Lanka’s global positioning, and champions Colombo as a world class city. Colombo was Sri Lanka’s legislative capital until 1982. Decades later, the city remains Sri Lanka’s largest city, commercial capital and is home to a population of 2 million5 . The Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development’s vision ‘from Island to Continent’ aims for the Colombo Metropolitan Region (CMR) to bridge and compete with Singapore in the East and Dubai in the West, inviting foreign investment for development projects. These projects often operationalise exclusion in terms of who these projects are prioritised for, and how they are developed. For example, The Port City Development in Colombo reclaims 269 hectares of land from the Indian Ocean to develop a premier residential, retail and business destination on a 99-year lease of 15000 acres to China. The economic impact of this exclusive project is expected to trickle down, with concerns for the infrastructural and ecological burden on the city. Simultaneously, the central business district in the city of Colombo is also attracting foreign investment seeking to develop projects on high value land. This has led to the relocation of settlements under the Urban Development Authority’s (UDA’s) Urban Regeneration Programme (URP), into high-rise apartments. Significant to this current vision for Colombo, is how its projects and programmes deviate from previous people-centred policies of the 80s. Sri Lanka was recognised as a pioneer for housing programmes such as the Million Houses Programme (MHP 1984-89) that recognised the agency of people, with the state as a facilitator. The MHP recognised people as a resource, and 60-90% of the housing cost was raised by people through either work or finance. The state provided a range of small loans for the upgrading and building of houses, water supply, sewage and drainage. The programme followed a close collaboration between administrators, politicians and people, incorporating feedback into the programme with community-based 4 These roots of the civil war can be traced back to colonial governmentalities of divide and rule, and the post independent inception of the Sinhala only act – that declared Sinhala as the national language, and the separatist movement in the North that turned into the LTTE, and the military response to it. 5 2012 census (WRMPP, 2016)



Indian Ocean

Colombo District

LEGEND Fully Upgraded Upgraded Underserved Extremely Poor Roads Water Bodies Railway District Boundary Ward Boundary

approaches that included community action planning, community building guidelines and community management. Fig 10.   a typical ‘watta’ along a canal in Colombo. Watta is the colloquial term for informal settlements in Colombo. It translates as ‘garden’ in English.

Fig 11.  (facing page) map showing the location of underserved settlements in Colombo (classified as fully upgraded, upgraded, underserved, and extremely poor)

These pilot approaches were also scaled nationally - as a result of which, in the last few decades more than 90 percent of the classified underserved6 settlements in Colombo have benefited from some form of (self or state supported) incremental upgrading7.

However, in a distinct move away from the earlier programmes, the current 6 the term underserved settlements is specific to Sri Lanka’s classification of areas identified in the late 90s as low income settlements with various constraints of access to basic services and tenure. 7 As documented by a survey in 2012 by Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre, Colombo Municipal Council and Homeless International.


URP disregards years of on-site upgrading. The URP aims to relocate 50,000 families from underserved settlements, in high-rise apartments. Families are relocated to standardised apartments at a state subsidy – such that each family pays one third of the housing development cost. The UDA justifies the programme on the premise that low income households do not have the capability to improve housing, and with assumptions that the programme will result in social benefits of environmental clearance and reduction of drug use. The URP has its roots in the period of the dictatorship when the Urban Development Authority was under the Ministry of Defence. While the military is no longer involved in the evictions, the programme continues in principle to relocate settlements to high-rise apartments to liberate land for private investment. A number of people are excluded from compensation during the relocation, and the relocation scheme itself raises several concerns of design, maintenance and ownership status. The ‘liberation’ of 9% of the city land, to relocate 50% of the population (Perera, et al., 2017) raises significant questions of whose right to the city matters, and what development is defined as.

Fig 12.   a typical high-rise apartment for relocation under the URP

Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre

Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre (Sevanatha) was founded in 1989 as a local NGO in Colombo, Sri Lanka, by a group of human settlement activists led by Mr. K. A. Jayaratne with the aim to assist urban poor communities to improve their shelter and livelihoods. Since 1989, Sevanatha has been active in Colombo and across major cities in Sri Lanka, with the vision to be a dynamic agent of change for transforming lives of the urban and rural poor to be self-reliant and empowered members in Sri Lankan society. While improving its own skills and capacity, Sevanatha is committed to revitalise and enhance the creativity and capacities of urban and rural poor in Sri Lanka. Sevanatha was founded with the mandate to facilitate partnership between urban poor communities, local authorities and other stakeholders. Its founders recognised the need to establish an intermediary organisation to facilitate community-based approaches during the Million Houses Programme. Sevanatha was initially formed as a community mobilisation support centre – for information sharing, training and networking among community groups and organisations on ways to approach the government. Recognising the agency of people, Sevanatha facilitated Community action planning and management approaches, recognising people as a resource within development rather than an object of development. Sevanatha facilitated workshops for community members, with state representatives to discuss issues, solutions and action plans. These were further converted into community contracts for construction and management, supported by the establishment of Community Development Councils. These were set up as intermediaries between settlements and state agencies – to form a space of cross learning, and to build towards a collective for advocacy. Sevanatha looks to scale such community-based approaches by influencing policy through demonstration projects and raising awareness on participatory development models. It shares ACHR’s principle belief of ‘people are a resource’, and is structured to facilitate resources for community based approaches - at an institutional level for ‘supporting shelter’8. The organisation structured itself as an Urban Resource Centre in line with other urban resource centres promoted by UNDP in Asia (Karachi and Dhaka), to support community-based organisations. 8 The word Sevana means shelter – and Sevanatha means ‘support for shelter’




Regional Homeless Interna�onal/ Reall






Women’s Development UNDPCoopera�ve Society Sanasa UNCHS Local Regional University of Sarvodaya Moratuwa UN-HABITAT Sarvoday University of Movement UN ESCAP Na�onalColumbo

World Bank

City Net

meless erna�onal/ all



Women’s Development City Net DPU, UCLCoopera�ve Society University of Kelaniya Sanasa Local University of Sarvodaya Moratuwa Na�onal Ins�tute Local ARI, Japan CBOs of Social Work Sarvoday University of Movement Columbo

Urban ResourceADB Centre CMC Local NGOs


World Bank







Help-O UniversityNBRO of DFID/ IHS, Peradeniya UK Aid University of Neitherlands AIILSG NHDA ICSC Canada University of Kelaniya Jayewardenapura JICA UDA CMC Loughorough Grameen Bank, Na�onal Ins�tute Local CBOsUniversity, UK Dhakha GTZ of Social Work Waste Concern CDC Local JBIC Consultants, Dhaka NGOs

ough ty, UK


Urban Resource Centre

University of Peradeniya University of Jayewardenapura

Waste Concern Consultants, Dhaka


Prac�cal ICSC Canada Ac�on,UK

AIILSG Grameen Bank, Dhakha Prac�cal Ac�on,UK


CBOs/NGOs/INGOs Transna�onal Networks Academia Donor Agencies Public Authori�es Microcredit Organisa�on Fig 13.   Sevanatha - network and partners

Sevanatha’s association with ACHR dates back to the 1990s. Post the 2004 Tsunami, ACHR, Sevanatha Urban Resource Centre and the Women’s Cooperative started to work closely together on community driven housing, livelihood and upgrading projects. In 2008, The ACHR/ACCA programmes9 were started in Sri Lanka, in continuation of this partnership, to establish CLAFnet (Community Livelihood Action Network Programme) - as a revolving loan fund with seed capital from ACHR and collaboration with the World Bank and other savings groups. This programme aimed to strengthen community-based organisations, with a city-wide strategy in mind - that linked savings, city surveys and mapping by communities and representation at City Development Committees. As an organisation positioned as an intermediary, working in partnerships, networks and learning alliances has been key to Sevanatha’s journey. This includes working with micro-credit organisations (Women’s Bank, Sanasa, Sarvodaya), government bodies (NBRO, NHDA, UDA), donor agencies (UNDP, World Bank, Un-Habitat, USAID), local and international universities (University of Moratuwa, University of Colombo, University College London) and regional partners (AIILSG, Grameen Bank) and regional collectives (ACHR, CityNet). Sevanatha’s values of sharing information, transparency and cultivating lasting relationships with diversely positioned stakeholders are key to its journey of almost three decades, and incorporates the ability to navigate changing political climates and urban dynamics. The current context of Colombo is challenging, as housing policy has shifted away from on-site upgrading processes of the time of Sevanatha’s inception, to the URP – relocation in high-rise housing. Sevanatha is navigating this shift by intentionally engaging with the state to negotiate and advocate for participatory approaches. Its current team of almost 50 people focuses on pressing urban issues in addition to housing - such as water and waste management. Sevanatha continues to promote participatory approaches within these projects - advocating the long-term sustainability of projects that include stakeholder consultation, to create a space for negotiation.

9 The Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme is a three year programme of ACHR. People organize themselves into savings groups, and contribute towards Community Development Funds (CDFs) in partnership and the support of local government. Since 2008, ACCA has been implemented in over 165 cities and 19 countries.


Fig 14.  Colombo, a view from the top


Fig 15.  Yangon, a view from the top


Poli�cal Form - 1948 Bri�sh Colony

1948 - 1962 Independent Republic




‘47 First Cons�tu�on


- ‘60s Self Housing

Expansion to the North Growth of Satellite towns

‘51 Na�onal Housing Development Board

Rich in natural resources Rice and Oil export HH: 6661


‘60s-90s Self Housing Contract System 2-6 storey RCC

1962 - 1988 Socialist Government

Na�onaliza�on of Industries Closed Economy Rise of Central Powers

HH: 11030

‘74 Second Cons�tu�on


‘82 Ci�zens Law ‘84 renamed as Yangon ‘85 YCDC established ‘88 Student-led protest/Coup D’etat - Closure of many universi�es - Restric�on of Civic Ac�vi�es

‘90 DHSHD established


Expansion to the East and West Growth of new townships ‘90 City of Yangon Development Law

‘80s-90s Unit Sharing Housing Project High Rise RCC ‘89-’93 Site and Service Project Relocated 200,000 people from IFs to new town

1988 - 2010 Military Government

Economic Aperture Ethnic Crisis Interna�onal Scru�ny

‘94-’00 From Squatter to Apartment Project Relocated 12,600 HHs from squa�ers to public apartment


‘97 Sanc�ons from US and EU

‘04 Women for the World established ‘05 the capital city was relocated to Nay Pyi Daw

HH: 51649

‘08 Cyclone Nargis ‘08 Third Cons�tu�on

2010sDemocra�za�on Economic Liberaliza�on Foreign Investment

‘11 Thein Sein’s government ‘12 New Foreign Investment Law ‘15 NLD comes to power ‘15 New Na�onal Land Use Policy

HH: 65416 HH : Total number of housing delivered by the country

‘12 JICA&YCDC started working on master plan ‘13 Zoning plan by YCDC 598.75sqkm

‘16 Urban and Regional Development Planning Law ___ sqkm : Area of Yangon city limits

‘10s Housing Project Mixed-use Development High Rise / Mass Housing

Fig 16.  timeline of events, Myanmar and WfW

Urban development in Yangon, Myanmar After the independence from British Burma in 1948, Myanmar had been known as one of the South-East Asian countries rich in natural resources (rice, gemstones, timber, etc). In 1962, Ne Win’s socialist government was established, and he immediately tried to transform Burma into a ‘socialist state’ and isolate the country from the rest of the world. In 1988, a massive coup d’état triggered the establishment of a Military government. While trying to open up the economy, it also created exclusionary humanitarian procedures and resulted in international economic sanctions. Democratization began in 2010, when the first multi-party elections took place. The Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won these elections. In 2011, the new government by Thein Sein10 undertook a series of political reforms including some deregulation of the censored media in the country and the release of many political prisoners. After witnessing the strategic directions for democratization and economic reform of the new government, the international society gradually lifted their sanctions. In the 2015 general election, National League for Democracy (NLD) led by Aung San Suu Kyi11 was victorious, with a majority of seats. The previous record and work of both the party, and its leader Suu Kyi, raised expectations for Myanmar’s political and economic transformation from both national and international society12. As of 2018, the estimated GDP Nominal per capita of Myanmar is USD 1,338 which is the lowest amongst the 10 ASEAN countries (IMF 2018). Still, the country is looking to further encourage foreign investment targeted towards infrastructural and industrial reformation. The urban scape of Yangon has been influenced by these political transformations and has been inequitably shaped by development trajectories. After the independence in 1950s, the city started to expand within the area bounded by the Yangon and Hlaing rivers. The Department of Human Settlement and Housing Development (DHSHD) 10 Thein Sein used to serve as a general in the Myanmar Army and served as 8th President of Myanmar from 2011 to 2016. His moderate approach was considered to contribute to country’s reformation. 11 Aung San Suu Kyi has been an instrumental political figure for Myanmar and has been leading the democratic movement in the country since the late 1980s. She had been detained under military watch and house arrest since 1989. As of 2018, she works as the first state Council of Myanmar. 12 However, from 2016, the offensive attitude towards Rohingya and undemocratic policy for some journalists and activists by Myanmar government has led it under international scrutiny with economic and political sanctions.



Shwe Pyi Thar

Hla R ing

North Dagon

r ive


North Okkalapa

East Dagon HlaingTharYar

Ngamoeyeik Creek

South Dagon Dagon Seikkan

South Okkalapa Thaketa



oR Bag

CBD Yang o

n Riv er

Expansion of Yangon before 1988

Expansion of Yangon a�er 1988

- Main growth was in the northern part of the CBD. - Hlaing River, Yangon River, Ngamoey Creek disturbed further growth. - Services and ameni�es were concentrated in CBD.

- City expanded to the east and west, beyond the rivers through new bridges. - Services and ameni�es were decentralized.

was in charge of housing provision, especially for the low-income families. However, in reality, the provision was limited to certain privileged groups such as government staff. Under the military era in 1990s, new bridges and roads were built, and the city expanded beyond these two rivers. These new towns, which consists of almost 60% of the city today, mostly developed as industrial zones. From 1989 to 1993, around 200,000 HH from informal settlements were relocated to rental lands provided by DHSHD in these new townships (Dagon, Shwe Pyi Thar and Hlaing Tharyar). From 1994 to 2000, DHSHD promoted relocations from squatter to decent apartment and provided rooms in apartments to 12,670 HH of urban poor (Japan Housing Finance Agency 2013). The development of these satellite towns also required labour forces for constructions, and the new jobs further encouraged immigration. In May 2008, Cyclone Nargis hit the Irrawaddy delta and caused mass immigration and internal displacement of people into these new townships of Yangon. The rapid growth of the city, and its expansion into nearby villages and new townships, vastly expanded the responsibility of the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC). In fact, the population is expected to increase by 100% by 2040, which places immense pressure on government institutions to provide for housing and service delivery to an increasingly larger population. Discursively, the current government promotes a policy including the urban

Fig 17.  the growth of Yangon

Fig 18.  a typical informal settlement, with DHSHD/ DUHD apartments in the background

poor and addressing urban population growth. Yangon Chief Minister Phyo Min Thein has declared support for investing in low-cost housing projects for squatters (Eleven Myanmar 2018). Accordingly, Department of Urban and Housing Development (DUHD) is planning to provide 1 million houses by 2030. However, their current scheme of low-cost housing does not match the reality of urban poor people’s standards, in terms of selection process, price and physical structures. The government also tries to encourage easier purchase of housing by providing two-step loan schemes. However, these are limited to certain classes, and excludes the majority of people who are in need. Since 2012, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has been working on the Strategic Urban Development Plan for Greater Yangon (SUDP) with the YCDC. The SUDP promotes ideas such as “Eco-green city”, “Transit oriented development” (JICA 2014). The new townships are positioned as “opportunity zones”, areas where it is possible to capitalise on vacant lands for expanding industrial and residential use. The development strategy also mentions urban governance; however, its focus is only around organising roles and responsibilities to increase the capacity of institutional authorities. The driving vision is a renewal of the city to attract more investment by private companies. Development in Myanmar has thus been planned and carried out through 27

top-down approaches for a long time. Although democratization started in this decade, there is substantial work required to promote ideas of grounded development that acknowledge people as active agents. The past political transitions are manifested in a complex system of governance. The communication channels between the different governmental bodies are not clear. This results in overlapping roles, long and uncertain procedures, data gaps, incoherent policies and time-consuming process. The capacity of governance - in terms of their technical literacy, mechanisms and archiving systems are slowing down and further complicating the process. This situation can be observed from unclear land ownership. It is not possible to legally ‘buy’ or ‘own’ land in the country, and these terms usually mean that the land has been ‘leased’ for a period of time (60 years or more). All land belongs to the government, and its various ministries. There are also some lands which are still owned by the military. There are several attempts by the government to regulate land ownership, such as the zoning plan by YCDC (2013) , Draft of Urban and Regional Development Planning Law by Yangon Regional Government (YRG, 2016), National Land Use Law by the Union Government (2016). However, it is still not clear who owns land or who have the power to change the land type. In the absence of any clear rules and regulations, various oppressive, exploitative and exclusionary practices are commonplace. Land-grabbing, forced eviction are rampant usually leading to very insecure conditions for the squatters and the informal settlement dwellers in the city. Another such example can be seen in the complexities of ID cards. In Myanmar, there are two types of important certificate to verify legal status; National Residency Card and Household Certificate. Without these cards, people cannot get access to local services and are deemed illegal. However, in reality, there are many who lost, or do not have these IDs because of natural disasters and migrations. The authorities often don’t keep records. As a result, many people, especially those in informal settlements cannot afford long and costly processes and do not own formal ID cards. They instead rely on informal IDs such as temporary household IDs, slum IDs, etc. These temporary IDs are not accounted for in official surveys and consequently, there exists no detailed data about informal settlements in Yangon. It is believed that 10-40%13 of population are living in informal conditions, however, there is discrepancy between different sources. 13 It varies according to the survey agency- 430,000 (YRG, 2016), 600,000 (Frontier Myanmar, 2015), 440,000 (DUHD, 2017), 10-15% (International Growth Centre, 2017), 40% (Women for the World).

Despite these accumulating challenges, this period of transformation can be an opportunity where small changes or alternative approaches can happen and can influence the development process. Although not reflected in policy, democratization encourages practices of people on the ground. In fact, in Yangon’s urban planning sphere, there are some civil society organisations who have managed to scale up their activities to engage with authorities from citizen’s side, such as Yangon Heritage Trust and Doh Eain. Data archiving and sharing systems, such as Myanmar Information Management Unit and One Map Myanmar have also been initiated. The practices and interests of diverse actors contribute to expansion of room for manoeuvre to increase the opportunities for people to participate in the development process. Thus, this juncture reveals an opportunity to promote grounded practices in shaping city which reframe people as agents in development.

Fig 19.  a temporary identification card usually seen in informal settlements


Women for the World Women for the World (WfW) or Pyo Mae Eain14 in Myanmar, is a national civil-society organisation operating in Myanmar since 2004. Their aim is to lead the country to a more balanced society which is built on the rights of each person to self-determination and to live in dignity. Using methodologies of practice that are community-based, WfW have been working to address the gaps in land ownership and housing in Yangon and other parts of Myanmar. In the initial years of WfW’s body of work, the focus was on empowering women and youth to lead processes of positive change in the country. However, there was a shift in the organisations focus in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis (May 2008) – which caused widespread destruction of natural and man-made assets and affected the lives of a significant number of people. Many of these people were already poor and vulnerable as a result of the prolonged economic and political instability in the country. The existing government was reluctant to let in foreign aid, and there was a big void between the extent of the calamity and the measures for relief and aid that was undertaken. In fact, it was the Myanmar local organisations who were the first responders to this national crisis. It was in this context that WfW became involved in the post-disaster reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. A lot of these efforts followed conventional post-disaster aid methodologies. But according to Daw Vanlizar Aung (founder, WfW), there was an innate need to increase efficiency and effectiveness of these methods, which necessitated a people-centred, collaborative approach that utilised the agency and capabilities of the affected people themselves. Hence, WfW adopted the internationally wellestablished procedure of collectivising women savings groups (WSG) through savings and ‘safe loans’. These WSGs and the collective savings became the starting point from where various collective activities could be subsequently carried out. This was first tested in practice in collaboration with the ACHR’s Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme in the Kuchankone township and in three other townships in Yangon. At its core, WfW has positioned itself as a community-based practice. By community, they mean a group of people who come together to enable collective, co-produced processes of change. The role of a communitybased practice becomes that of an enabling agent – which supports and amplifies this change process and creates people centred systems. 14 Can be loosely translated to mean home for single and married women

At present, WfW works in the fields of women’s human rights empowerment, livelihood, income generation, food security, land and housing development and community infrastructure. WfW emphasizes the necessity to respect ethnic diversity, to promote multicultural and multi-religious communities – including promoting social cohesion in communities and amplify the voice of oppressed and marginalized people. WfW have also been working to support informal settlement dwellers to access housing, improve literacy and numeracy skills as well as technical skills leading to small-scale businesses and income-generation. Their methodologies for engagement are constantly tested, refined and updated through practice. At present, WFW is working in Yangon, Mandalay, Irrawaddy, Kayin, and Rakhine states and is associated Interna�onal with a number of community-based partner organizations. WfW is a small organisation (the staff comprises of 7 people) with a large Regional UN-HABITAT network, which enables AFD strategic partnerships and creates a pool of resources and expertise they can draw from as required. The network spans YRG state and institutional actors. It not only the community but also involves GL Localand is spread across the encompasses both the formal and the informal, local, national and international geographies. Township DUHD Office Interna�onal Mennonite Ward Central Commi�ee IWCP Office Regional


Local Local Communi�es DUHD

Purin Mennonite Founda�on Central Commi�ee

Community Networks Transna�onal Networks Young Professionals Academia Community Networks Donor Agencies Transna�onal Networks Public Authori�es Young Professionals NGOs/INGOsAcademia Donor Agencies Public Authori�es NGOs/INGOs

Purin The Founda�on


Women for the Township World Office

IWCP Local Communi�es

Asia Founda�on

Women forWSGs the World




Student Inte Volunteer



UCPA Student Interns, Volunteers







Other Local Universi�es

Other Local Universi�es


WSGs The Asia Founda�on

Ward Office


Partners Asia

UCPA Partners Asia


Fig 20.   WfW network and partners


Fig 21.  a CBP gathering, with CAN Thailand and WfW interns

Community Bithukar Platform (CBP) WfW believes in creating opportunities and mentoring smaller organisations and initiatives. The CBP is such an initiative. The CBP is a Yangon based group of young professionals who promote and practice methods of engaging with communities. Ma Eaint Eaint, a member of both WfW and CBP, refers to CBP as a movement rather than an organisation. CBP initially started in 2013 and was facilitated by CAN. However, the platform was weak in the beginning. In 2016, the movement gained momentum through a group of young local architecture students who came together in their quest to find alternative methods of engaging with people. WfW supported this momentum by providing opportunities such as community facilitation, workshops, fieldwork, etc. This was beneficial not only for CBP, but also for WfW – and at present the two entities are working collaboratively on various initiatives. However, CBP is still young and there are still lots of possibilities to explore.

Community network: Currently, WfW’s work has created a network of WSGs that include 4000 women in 5 regional areas, 32 townships and 70 communities. WfW’s associations and work in the Rakhine State resulted in the formation of the Indigenous Women’s Coalition for peace (IWCP) in 2014 (52,000 members in 11 states in Rakhine). These community networks are both the output, and also the basis of further work in these areas. Partner network: WfW have a long-standing association with ACHR. In Addition, WfW’s partner networks span across several sectors and scales, ranging from state actors (Department of Urban Housing and Development, General Administrative Department), local and international NGOs (Green Lotus, Action Aid Myanmar, Urban Poor Coalition Asia, Slum Dwellers International), civil society organisations (Community Architects Network, Association of Myanmar Architects), multinational development agencies like UNHabitat and educational Institutions (Yangon Technological University, University College London).

Context of Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) For more information about ACHR and its partners, please visit:

ACHR is a transnational development network working on promoting people-centred urban development planning and design. It is a coalition of Asian professionals, NGOs and community organisations who are trying to find ways to make changes rooted in their countries. The shared experiences of these groups manifest a substantial understanding and possibilities of grounded development wisdom in Asia. After linking together as a coalition in 1989, ACHR has been exploring the way to strengthen such grounded practices through collective initiatives: housing rights campaigns, fact-finding missions, training and advisory programs, exchange visits, workshops, study tours, projects to promote community savings, community funds and citywide slum upgrading. ACHR’s linkages with local organisations starts through different ways. Its association with Sevanatha, dates back to the 1990s. ACHR later partnered with Women’s Cooperative15 and Sevanatha post the 2004 Tsunami. The ACCA programme contributed to facilitate the CLAFnet programme. With WfW, the linkage started after cyclone Nargis in 2008, when WfW started mobilising WSGs. Then in 2010, ACCA programme supported communityled housing project. These attempts did not only support actual projects, but also built networks between other organisations across Asia to share knowledge and learnings. 15 The Women’s Co-op is a country wide network of women’s savings groups in Sri Lanka.


Fig 22.  the changing skyline of the city of Colombo

Addressing the search for Scale

Housing and Dwelling Housing Practice and Policy – Sevanatha, Colombo Urban housing policy in Colombo has changed significantly over the last 30 years – From the people-centred approach of the Million Houses Programme (MHP) of the 80s, to involuntary relocation under the current Urban Regeneration Programme (URP). Over the last three decades, Sevanatha’s role in housing and ways of engagement with housing has also changed as per the changing policy context of the country, with a focus on continuing to use strategic partnerships cultivated over the years to influence practice and policy. During the 80s, Sevanatha facilitated processes of co-production and cross-learning between communities and state institutions during the MHP. This era saw an institutionalisation of participatory processes that recognised the agency of people as a resource and built on their capabilities. Methods such as community action planning workshops, community contracting, and CDCs were recognised by state practices. With the changed institutional approach to housing, and the introduction of the URP, Sevanatha used their relationships (with various urban institutions and community-based organisations) built over time to highlight concerns about the URP. 35

As a result of Sevanatha’s advocacy, they were invited by the Urban Development Authority (UDA) to facilitate a participatory approach during one relocation project – Muwadora Uyana under the URP in 2015. Muwadora Uyana is a high-rise relocation scheme of four blocks, in which 5000 residents from multiple settlements were relocated in 872 apartments. Sevanatha facilitated a trial community engagement with 240 residents from a single settlement, who were relocated in two of the smaller blocks at Muwadora Uyana. While Sevanatha has advocated against the URP, the organisation chose to engage with the UDA at Muwadora Uyana, to suggest the possibilities of a community-based approach within the same model. The decision to engage with the UDA at this point of time was based on two priorities. First, it was a strategic choice based on an understanding that the URP is a programme that affects people’s lives, and hence its current framework needs to be expanded as much as possible – to include a community-based approach. Secondly, Sevanatha chose to engage with the policy and the urban institution responsible for it to continue its partnership - Having “a seat at the table” would allow the organisation to expand the room for manoeuvre.

Fig 23.  (facing page) - top Google earth image showing the informal settlements in 2010, the current site of Muwadora Uyana (2010) Fig 24.  (facing page) - below Google Earth image showing the Muwadora Uyana informal settlement after relocation (2017)

Sevanatha used the opportunity of working with the programme to suggest alternate processes to engage with the community before relocation and apartment allocation. It further suggested ways to modify the programme and apartment complex design to include adequate community space, to maintain existing community networks during relocation and to support community-based organisations within the apartments. The pilot approach as demonstrated by Sevanatha was however not continued by the UDA in other relocation schemes. The UDA expressed its constraints of limited time to engage with communities to be relocated. Working within the existing framework of the URP has thus been challenging, and Sevanatha has turned to alternate approaches of advocacy and cross learning to influence policy and programmes. As a long-term actor that has witnessed shifts of policy, and continues to work with communities through different projects, Sevanatha has cultivated several relationships with multiple stakeholders. Sevanatha thus has the opportunity to advocate for an alternate discourse that recognises the agency of communities. This is possible through building multi-stakeholder dialogue, to share the organisation’s learning from working with communities and by advocating bottom up alternative strategies to the government. 37

Fig 25.  Muwadora Uyana


Learning Alliances are one such space that Sevanatha is using to share learnings from community-based practices among multiple actors in urban development institutions (including state actors, NGOs, activists, universities and young future urban practitioners) – with a potential for scalable impact. In the summer of 2018, a student field research programme for students of the Bartlett Development Planning Unit (DPU) offered an opportunity to create a platform of learning. With a shared objective to facilitate cross learning between future practitioners on the challenges of housing and the significance of community-based approaches, Sevanatha hosted a field module for Urban Development Planning students DPU, UCL, to focus on strategies for social justice in settlement upgrading and relocation processes. The students worked with an interdisciplinary team of recent graduates from Sri Lanka. The student research built on Sevanatha’s long term engagement in both settlement upgrading, as well as the organisation’s more recent engagement on the significance of community-based approaches during relocation processes in the URP. The research was grounded through field work in three communities – Muwadora Uyana, Mayura Place and Nawagampura.

Fig 26.  DPU fieldtrip hosted by Sevanatha in Nawagampura

Muwadora Uyana


COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

Mayura Place

Fig 27.  the three settlements, Muwadora Uyana, Nawagampura and Mayura Place selected for research during the DPU fieldtrip


Fig 28.  (facing page) Muwadora Uyana Fig 29.  the corridors in the ground floor have very little natural light, and face challenges of maintenance at Muwadora Uyana

First, Building on Sevanatha’s engagement with the residents at Muwadora Uyana in 2015, the students investigated all four blocks in the relocation scheme. The research highlighted the challenges and assumptions within the URP. The student work also highlighted the need for community engagement, leading to variety of design typologies and maintenance systems.


Fig 30.  (facing page) Mayura place

Fig 31.  Mayura place

Second, In Mayura place, another relocation project under the URP, residents from an underserved settlement were relocated to an apartment complex built adjacent to the original settlement. Due to the nature of the long term political engagement between a single community and the urban development authority – this relocation scheme can be positioned as an upgrading project within the framework of the URP. The students highlighted the challenges of maintenance, finance and of sharing learnings of the URP and suggested strategies of community contracting and urban learning platforms to address these.


Third, in contrast to the relocation schemes, the students also engaged with communities at Nawagampura - a planned relocation settlement in the 80s. Sevanatha, in partnership with the CDC and the municipal council had previously worked through a process of community contracting in Nawagampura during a sanitation upgradation project in 2013. In spite of years of informal appropriation, incremental self and state supported upgrading, Nawagampura finds itself classified as an upgraded settlement amongst underserved settlements. The student work at Nawagampura challenged several of the assumptions of the URP, as to people’s aspirations and capabilities.

Fig 32.  the settlement at Nawagampura

Fig 33.  multi-stakeholder panel discussion at Moratuwa University

The learning platform for future practitioners opened a space for longitudinal reflection on housing policy, highlighting the shift in priorities and mandates of urban development institutions, and its impact on the ground. Through this learning alliance Sevanatha also facilitated a workshop and multi stakeholder panel discussion at the University of Moratuwa. This opened a shared space of reflection between government professionals, academia, housing rights activists and young future urban practitioners. The experiences and research from the ground was further shared back with various stakeholders, including the UDA. Key learnings on the URP included the diversity of experiences for community members, often different within the same family – as well as how each community used their agency differently. The experiences also provided evidence to challenge some of the assumptions and stereotypes of underserved settlements, to highlight the existing resourcefulness of people working towards their aspirations - through upgrading, remittances, education, and community. These learnings contributed to discussions to be continued by Sevanatha - on identifying opportunities to recognising the agency of people, to affect different approaches to design, community engagement, relocation and upgrading – to ground development interventions. 47

Community-led housing project – WfW, Yangon

WfW has been supporting community led housing projects since 2009. Although it is labelled as a project, actually these involve a continuous process of co-production which urban poor people get together as community, plan, design and start living by themselves with low-cost investment. The project showcases a real example as precedents of a new model of collective secure housing for and by the urban poor community. Secure housing is one of the basic rights for the people. It has been their common desire and priority for urban poor community, although it is not easy to achieve. While land issue is complex in Myanmar, current direction of urban planning does not fully consider the realities of urban poor, who live with limited infrastructure at risk of eviction or relocation. Under such conditions, a community-led housing project presents alternative approaches to address the risk of eviction and financial burden for paying rents.

Fig 34.  Taw-Win community led housing project

The first project, Pyit Tine Taung housing was developed in Hlaing Tharyar township (currently it is categorised as Htantabin township) with the support of small grant through the Asian Coalition for Community Action (ACCA) programme by ACHR. It was initiated by a small saving activity by some women who used to live in squatter settlements. They were tired of demolition, eviction and had to keep moving and rebuilding. The idea for housing had always been in these people’s minds, although not many of them actually believed that it would be possible to get a house. However, the small saving group had been trying to purchase some government land for their housing. Finally they found a small piece of agricultural land around their land of 144,000 sq.ft, which was enough for 20 families. They succeeded in negotiation and purchased the land together at an affordable price, with a loan from ACCA programme. The building of houses took just 3 months with a loan of $1,490 per family (including the cost of land and house). WfW supported the planning, designing and financial management along with community architects network. However, the central doer was the community. 49

Khit Thit San Eain Pan Thazin Taw Win

See Sein Sein

San Thit Sa

Moe San Pan Pyit Tine Taung Pyone Pan Thayar

N 0.5 0

2 1

km 4

Fig 35.  community led housing projects supported by WfW in Yangon (2018)

As of 2018, there are 8 community-led housing projects in Yangon, supporting more than 2,800 people. The cost of building a single house (including the cost of land) is around $1,500 to 2,000. Each resident has to repay around $20-2516 per month over a period of 5 to 6 years. The cost of these housing projects is very cheap as compared to the conventional, formal low-cost housing which are initiated by authorities. The project normally follows the process described below Fig. 32-40, although this may differ depending on the case. The communities collectively plan, design and maintain the housing by themselves with some technical support from outside. They often face some challenges such as internal conflict, or poor infrastructure from inappropriate planning. In such cases, they discuss together, check with finance or management team and find a solution. WfW often supports this process but basically encourages the community to try itself at first. Dealing with challenges are part of the system of communityled co-production. This can strengthen their autonomous capacity, problem solving skills and leadership skills as a collective.

How does the community build their own houses? STEP 01 | Before, they lived as squatters. Mostly they are renters, who had to pay 10,000 - 50,000 MMK per month.

Fig 36.   16 The average daily income of one family in the saving members is around 5000- 10000 MMK (3 - 7 USD) per day.


STEP 02 | Through verbal information or input training for certain projects, they know about saving. Then, they learn about saving group mechanism, concept of development by interaction with other WSGs.

Fig 37.  

STEP 03 | They start small saving groups, which slowly increase in number. These practices gradually build trust amongst the community. Though leaning exchanges, they know about housing project from their peers.

Fig 38.  

STEP 04 | They conduct survey to Identify numbers and members for their housing project. They also collect data of environment around the ideal area and land price to start looking for the land. This process is complicated, and can a take long time.

Fig 39.

STEP 05 | They consult with WSGs and together decide to initiate community-led housing. Then, they establish a housing committee to manage the project. This needs to be approved by Women’s Saving Group Network and WfW, and they offer support and guidance through the process.

Fig 40.


STEP 06 | Based on ideal size, price and location, they select, negotiate and purchase the land. These are mostly agricultural lands in suburb areas of the city.

Fig 41.  

STEP 07 | They plan and design their house, plot allocation and common assets with the support from WfW and CBP. People are very realistic and practical.

Fig 42.  

STEP 08 | They stake out the plot and construct the infrastructure and build their own houses. Generally, it takes only a few months. At the same time, they start setting rules and regulations for the new community.

Fig 43.  

STEP 09 | Finally, they can start living in their own house. They conduct weekly meetings for saving activities and maintain together. They estimate that these simple houses can last about 7-10 years, by which time they will be well enough to upgrade them.

Fig 44.  


Fig 45.  (three panels - left to right) a. pre-fabricated foundation b. wooden structure c. infill surfaces (customised)


Fig 46.  a street in the Taw Win community-led housing


The housing project functions as very effective media for learning exchange. For example, communities from different housing sites visit each other and learn from their success or failure stories. They are motivated and inspired by other’s success in owning a house, as they had come from a similar background. This often motivates other WSGs to initiate similar projects. In fact, there are other WSGs who are looking for lands to initiate similar housing projects. When they find an appropriate site and have a good foundation of the group, the WSGs who have previous experiences of housing projects and WfW support the process. Housing communities frequently support others who are planning for housing. Learning exchange can also happen between different actors. In May 2018, five local architecture students and one housing community worked together to upgrade their drainage, waste management system and houses. The community were able to get technical support and new ideas, while students were able to know how to work with people, how they maintain their daily life collectively with minimum expenses. Other INGOs,

Fig 47.  learning exchange with regional government staff at the Taw Win community-led housing project

Fig 48.  learning exchange at Pyit Tine Taung for between undergraduate architecture students and the community

donors, researchers and (very occasionally) authorities also visit to learn about the alternative approach. These processes have also strengthened the advocacy of WfW. Through these processes, WfW intends to promote the possibility embedded within these community-led housing projects to showcase an alternative model for housing. It shows the power of community and creates precedents for collective land ownership17. These tangible outcomes, which sustains their alternative stable life can provide benchmarks for the housing authorities to reframe current policies. In fact, these realities have been disseminated directly to the authorities. These processes are built on grounded knowledge and present a unique value on two accounts. First is the actual change through people’s ownership of their own houses, Second, the process of change itself creates unique value, which we term grounded knowledge. These projects are process oriented, not output oriented and thus the impact is incremental. The projects encouraged individuals to come together as a community and enabled them to build their own house with a robust system of community. The system of co-production created a space for further collective actions that can build on the existing grounded knowledge. 17 Under current national land use policy, collective ownership for residential use is not defined as legal or illegal.


Women’s Saving Groups (WSG) The housing project is a consequence of saving groups. Daw Vanlizar, a director and founder of WfW often describes saving groups as a mobilisation tool. These works trigger to get people together with a good balance of continuous small activities and a common objective such as development or more specifically, secure housing. The constant activities nurture trust and encourage opportunities to share issues and take actions. The ability to manage finance, can increase confidence of women and how they may be respected by others. The WSGs meet once a week at someone’s house or a community centre for their collective accounting activities, encompassing both savings and loans. This meeting enables them to discuss their collective issues, the way to use their common fund, who to give loans next etc. Each group consists of 20-30 members. They choose four representatives (key holder, box dealer, box keeper and accountant), who together share responsibility for safety and security of the collective savings. On an average, each member saves around 1000 - 1200 MMK per week. 80% of this is accounted as their personal savings and 20% goes to community maintenance. The savings group members can also take loans after some time (2-3 months) of participation. The interest of these loans is only 2-3%, which is much lower than other financial services (loan sharks 20%). They can use these loans to invest in their business, funerals or medical issues. Community funds are normally used for the betterment and upgradation of collective resources such as water, electricity and roads.

Fig 49.  (facing page) - top WSG accounting meeting Fig 50.  (facing page) - below WSG periodic workshop for collective brainstorming


Why capacity building? Inappropriate planning is one of the common issues in the housing project. For example, in the case of Pyit Tine Taung housing project which was built 6 years ago, the community didn’t have a budget to put in appropriate drainage. They later pooled their common fund and gradually improved the drainage system. However, as a result of limited knowledge and resources, the situation of drainage has remained poor till date. If the community had proper engineering knowledge from the beginning, perhaps they could have been able to implement a better performing drainage system with lower expenses. Capacity building becomes very important to support the community so that over time they can build adequate knowledge and skills. This is especially true in the case of WfW’s community-based practice, where the focus is on building up the community’s autonomy. One of the major implications of this method is in the iterative cycles of community implemented projects to deal with physical issues on site, with little or no reliance of technical experts. Rather than practical solution for better quality, this strategy seems to focus on encouraging the community’s gradual development from a modest beginning. Either direction involves risks to some extent. Externally motivated improvement might change community dynamics - and create internal conflicts. It might also increase their dependency on external knowledge. On the other hand, though community-led process results in many good results, it is limited in terms of efficiency and quality of implementation, takes a long time, and might even increase capacity to a very limited extent. Thus, the question still remains, what is a good balance between better quality and autonomous capacity? Finding a middle ground of these is difficult but can be navigated through practice. The key lies in both the community and the experts working together, acknowledging the difficulties, and developing soft skills and tools to find a good balance.

Fig 51.  (facing page) the condition of back drainage at Pyit Tine Taung housing


Fig 52.  Vesak Poya celebrations in Colombo Fig 53.  (facing page) bustling night street in CBD of Yangon


Socio-material Infrastructures Municipal Waste Recycling Programme - Sevanatha, Colombo The Municipal Waste Recycling Programme (MWRP) is a two year long transnational programme in Philippines, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, funded by USAID, to reduce plastic pollution of the oceans, In October 2017, Sevanatha started a Community Led MWRP in the Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia Municipality (DMMC) of the Colombo Metropolitan Region. According to the municipality’s estimates of 2016, the DMMC produces 242.4 MT of solid waste daily, and disposes 76% of this at growing landfill sites. A considerable remainder of the waste that does not end up in the landfill is either collected by informal waste collectors or is disposed in the city’s network of canals and ends up in the ocean. Sevanatha outlines programme deliverables of research and analysis, conducting awareness programmes in communities and schools, and enabling a network of waste collectors and recycling businesses to link with the municipality. Sevanatha has also identified priority settlements to work with. These are environmentally sensitive areas that are often marginal lands where informal settlements grow, trapping communities in the waste of the city. Due to their informal legal status – they do not receive adequate services from the municipality – including for waste collection services. These are often along stretches of canals, wetlands, and the coastal belt. Within these settlements, Sevanatha aims to set up community waste banks, inspired by learnings across regional platforms from successful iterations in Thailand and Indonesia.

Fig 54.  (facing page) Karadiyana landfill on the outskirts of Dehiwala and Mount Lavinia

Sevanatha’s aim for the long-term impact of the programme is to facilitate building a responsive society in partnership with the local municipality to address the challenge of waste. It aims to raise awareness on segregation of waste, for recycling and reuse, to promote the use of alternatives to plastic, and to build strategic partnerships between government, private sector and civil society organisations. In priority informal settlements, Sevanatha aims to establish community waste banks where different actors come together to enable co-production, through an actor network of waste collectors, recyclers, the municipality and the community. Communities can thus exchange recyclable waste for incentives in cash or kind and promote separation of waste and recycling right from the household level. The opportunity of this project is in to position ‘waste as a resource’ as an entry point that can build on the agency of people for community mobilisation. 69

Fig 55.  (facing page) at Auburn Side, a coastal settlement, plastic waste from both the formal city and the informal settlement ends up in the canal, spilling into the ocean

Starting the process for a community waste bank

Steps for starting a community waste bank in DMMC - involves a back and forth learning between approaches and experiences of working in different settlements

Fig 56.  the concept of the waste bank incentivises waste as a resource

STEP 01 | The team uses a survey to discuss the existing issues of waste at Auburn Side

Fig 57.  


STEP 02 | the community leaders identify sites to start a waste bank, one suggestion being near the temple

Fig 58.  

STEP 03 | there are challenges to start the waste bank at the identified site in Auburn Side. The MWRP team discusses the challenges internally and shares approaches across settlements

Fig 59.  

STEP 04 | on world ocean day, at Rathmalana, the community and the sevanatha team work together for a beach cleaning programme. The collected waste is separated and the recyclable waste is sent to the Badowita Waste Centre

Fig 60.  

STEP 05| two enterprising women have started collecting recyclable waste after the beach cleaning programme at Rathmalana to send to the Badowita Waste Centre

Fig 61.  


STEP 06 | Sevanatha starts a revolving fund to connect waste collections from the community waste bank at Rathmalana to the Badowita Waste Collection Centre

Fig 62.  

STEP 07 | the waste is weighed and accounted for at Badowita Waste Collection Centre. The team looks at this process as a model to start another waste bank at Auburn Side.

Fig 63.  

Sevanatha’s team has organised to focus on three informal settlements in the municipality – Badowita, Rathmalana, and Auburn Side. Fig 64.  map of DMMC region showing the three selected settlements for the MWRP

COLOMBO Municipal Area


Auburn Side

COLOMBO Municipal Area





Badowita: Badowita is a settlement in DMMC along a canal which is prioritised under the MWRP as the canal is polluted with plastic waste. The settlement is a relocation settlement from the 90s, where each family was given a plot of land, with a temporary title, a permit and loan to build. The houses had shared common toilets and shared taps, with no solid waste collection system. The relocation scheme was managed by the National Housing and Development Authority (NHDA) and the Sri Lanka Land Reclamation and Development Corporation (SLLR&DC). The DMMC did not get involved in the settlement until 1996. Sevanatha worked in the settlement with the community through the Urban Settlements Improvement Project (USIP), through participatory development approaches such as community contracting through a federation of CBOs called the Community Development Council (CDC). Later in 2000, a solid waste programme was started in Badowita with the partnership of the CDC, DMMC, USIP, SLLR&DC, Sevanatha, private sector stakeholders and JICA Volunteers. Through this programme, the CDC started a waste enterprise at a municipality owned waste centre at Badowita. The revenue of the waste centre was shared in the partnership between the DMMC and the CDC. The DMMC received compensation for management costs and the CDC for reinvestment of its share into community prioritised initiatives. However, over the years the system of sharing revenue with the CDC was stopped. This may be attributed to the city-wide decreasing autonomy of CDCs with the reduction of municipal funding for CDCs – and the municipality’s interest in optimising revenue from the waste for municipal determined priorities. In comparison to the engagement with the relocation settlement during the 2000s, the current priority of the municipality for the waste centre is to collect waste from formal parts of the settlement. The waste centre is now operated by two DMMC staff members, two women (also residents of the relocation settlement along the canal) who were also part of the initial CDC operating the community owned enterprise.

Fig 65.  (facing page) - top the Badowita settlement Fig 66.  (facing page) - below the Badowita waste centre

In an attempt to re-negotiate the settlement’s relationship with the waste centre through MWRP, Sevanatha’s field team uses door-to-door visits to encourage people to set up an informal waste system that connects them to the Badowita waste centre. As of now, one resident of the community has started collecting and receiving recyclables from neighbours at her own house, and she sells these to the Badowita Waste Centre. Sevanatha’s team also aims to link community waste banks in the other informal settlements in DMMC – Rathmalana and Auburn Side, as a means of co-production between the communities and the municipality. 77

Rathmalana: Rathmalana is a coastal informal settlement in DMMC, adjacent to a train station, and located on the beach side of the railway tracks. The municipal trucks do not collect the waste from the settlement, and people resort to burying the waste in the sand or burning it. In June 2018, Sevanatha organised a beach cleaning programme at the beach adjacent to the settlement. Several community members participated, and the municipality van collected the waste. The recyclable waste was separated and sent to the Badowita collection centre (discussed earlier). As a result of the initiative, two enterprising women have started collected recyclable waste in the settlement and are sending it to the Badowita waste centre, in exchange for money – a pilot variation of the concept of the community waste bank. Sevanatha is setting up a revolving fund between the community waste bank and the Badowita Waste Centre.

Fig 67.  the Rathmalana settlement

Auburn side:

Fig 68.  the south western coastal railway line divides Auburn side into 2 sides - the formal ‘land side’, and the informal ‘beach side’

Auburn Side is a settlement in DMMC, split into two ‘sides’, by the coastal railway line. These are the ‘formal’ and the ‘informal’, separated as the ‘beach side’ and ‘land side’. While several residents of the ‘beach side’ qualify for state-built apartments in another part the city, - they choose to live along the coast to continue their daily livelihood as a part of generational fishing communities. The informal categorisation of the ‘beach side’ however affects the level of municipal services that it receives. While the municipality waste collection trucks frequent the ‘land side’, they do not cross across the rail line onto the ‘beach side’. Further, a storm water drain from the city brings into the settlement a discharge of plastic waste from the formal city, into the informal settlement, before it spills out into the coast


Fig 69.  Google Earth image showing the differences in the morphology of the ‘land; and ‘beach’ side of Auburn side settlement (2018)


Fig 70.  (facing page) the informal ‘beach side’ is a coastal settlement with generational fishing communities

Fig 71.  Siris Fonseka is an inspiration. He collects almost 25 plastic bottles everyday from the ocean while fishing. He recycles them into useful objects and artefacts, and shares his perspective on plastic pollution with Sevanatha’s team.

At Auburn Side, Sevanatha’s project team is familiar with a few supportive community members who are conscious of how closely their lives are dependent on the ocean. An elderly fisherman is an inspiration - recovering almost 25 plastic bottles from the ocean every day. His home - a living museum of our ‘legacy’ of waste – is decorated with his craft of upcycling these bottles as ornamental lampshades. Similarly, a resident who grew up in the settlement is a newly elected member of the municipality and wishes to set up a waste collection centre.


Sevanatha’s association with Auburn side started at the onset of MWRP, when the field team used the method of a door to door survey of 200 households to understand the existing challenges of waste management and discuss the community’s interest in starting a community waste bank. The team further met various community leaders in the settlement (members of CBOs such as savings and micro credit unions, fishery associations, association for the elderly) to discuss possible sites to start the waste bank. It was challenging to find a space that suited the needs of the community, and also matched the legal requirements of the municipality, and the team decided to learn from approaches in other settlements before resuming its activities. By the end of six months of working with the community through a series of awareness workshops in the nearby preschool, and in a primary school in the municipality where children from the settlement studied at – the team facilitated setting up a children’s society in the settlement. Learning from Sevanatha’s experience at Rathmalana, In August 2018 the children’s society organised a beach cleaning programme at the beach side adjacent to the informal settlement– thus starting the process of setting up a community waste bank similar to Rathmalana.

Fig 72.  an upcycled flower arrangement from recycled plastic bottles

Fig 73.  Workshop with children and mothers at a preschool at Auburn Side

As discussed above, each settlement that is a part of MWRP has unique contexts. The team modifies its methods of community mobilisation, as per the strengths and challenges that are unique to each community. These methods range from door to door conversations at Badowita, beach cleaning programmes at Rathmalana, and working with children at Auburn side – building towards a system of co-production for the waste bank.


While approaches of community mobilisation may differ in each settlement, there are also shared challenges and cross learnings within the three settlements for the project team. This provides the project team the opportunity to iteratively learn from experiences and to consciously inform approaches in the other. For example - team discussions reveal that instead of enlisting ‘dos and don’ts’ for mobilising around waste, methods such as workshops on making cloth bags, and beach cleaning drives, recognise the agency of people, build capabilities, offer alternatives and build on the aspirations and dreams of people – to recognise people as a resource are more effective. In order to connect informal waste collectors to the municipality, and to larger waste and recycling businesses, Sevanatha also facilitated meetings between various enterprises of waste collection and recycling businesses. This provided Sevanatha and the municipality the opportunity to learn about the existing challenges of small scale waste collectors – such as issues of space, and legal permits. Further, Sevanatha tries to build strategic partnerships to connect these businesses to the waste centre at Badowita, and to one another. The project team further works with the municipality to facilitate review of canal cleaning, timings of waste collection trucks, and even sets up a project review committee as a part of MWRP— while this is a space of project review, it is simultaneously a space of advocacy, for Sevanatha to share learnings from the ground, and to influence municipal decisions. The organisation of the project in the three settlements of Auburn Side, Rathmalana and Badowita also creates an opportunity for Sevanatha to facilitate cross-learning between the settlements for scaling up. That is, if the enterprising women in Rathmalana were to engage those at Auburn side and Badowita, a collective cross learning platform could also be built, in a platform similar to the CDC which could also be used to leverage a collective voice for advocacy. The opportunity within MWRP for the settlements that are otherwise rendered invisible, thus goes beyond the scope of separating and recycling of waste. It creates opportunities for the settlement to negotiate with and be recognised by institutions such as the municipality. Fig 74.  (facing page) - top meeting of waste collectors and recycling businesses Fig 75.  (facing page) - below using existing municipal truck routing to facilitate possible linkages with formal waste collection systems


The FISONG Project – WfW, Yangon More information about the following organisations can be found at the following links: AFD AAM myanmar GL

The FISONG project is a three-year long programme (2017-2020), funded by the Agence française de développement (AFD), which attempts to engage in a multi-organisation collaboration between WfW, Green Lotus (GL, a French NGO), and Action-Aid Myanmar (AAM, iNGO). The main goals of the project are twofold. Firstly, it envisages the improvement of community resilience and empowerment of Ward 67, a precarious settlement in the south-east of Yangon. Secondly, it attempts to draw fundamental lessons from this experience to model and develop a methodology of interventions that are scalable across similar contexts and can be used to influence public aid and policy. Currently, the programme is nearing the end of the first year of activities. The project goals are to be carried out through three major trajectories of action - tailored to the strengths and past activities of each involved organisation. WfW is responsible for enabling and supporting the process of community capacity-building and democratic formation, AAM is in charge of spearheading disaster risk reduction and GL is responsible for economic innovation. There is an overarching fourth trajectory of monitoring, lobbying and advocacy to create relations with local and national authorities. WfW had already been present in Ward 67 as a part of a mapping programme supported by the DUHD in 2015. This project presents an opportunity for WfW to build upon a body of previous work - by building strategic partnerships with other organisations and partners, creating precedents to strengthen community resilience and co-production.


AAM disaster risk reduction Fig 76.  (facing page) a typical street in Ward 67 Fig 77.  multi-organisational inputs from each organsation to affect positive outcomes in Ward67

GL economic innovation

WfW community mobilisation

empowerment and increased resilience of Ward67

lessons to develop methodologies to scale up interventions in informal settlements 89


WARD 67 Informal Se�lement

4189 household (approximately 20,000 people)

N 0.5 0

2 1

km 4

Fig 78.  Ward 67 and Dagon Seikkan township in context of Yangon

Fig 79.  in close proximity to Ward 67 in Dagon Seikkan is the Yadanar housing developed as an affordable housing by the DUHD, Myanmar

Ward 67 is located in the Dagon Seikkan township, and is symptomatic of new townships in Yangon. The township is characterised by wide differences in the social and spatial typologies and a proliferation of informality. Ward 67 is located in the southwest part of the township. According to an official survey conducted by DUHD in 2016, the ward consisted of 1100 households, which has increased to 4100 households (with almost 20000 people) according to the WfW participatory survey conducted as part of the project in 2018.


Fig 80.  a drone image showing the morphology of Ward 67


Fig 81.  (facing page) basic houses made of temporary materials Fig 82.  lack of proper roads increase susceptibility to disasters

The majority of informal settlers in the ward are migrants, or internally displaced as a result of economic pressures or natural disasters. A common aspiration amongst members of the community is to secure ownership of the land on which they are now staying. This is difficult as they have no legal claim to the land, and many of them do not have the National Registration Card or the Household Certificate. Lack of these identity cards compounds problems of access to other basic services. Hence, there is a general lack of education, healthcare and jobs in Ward 67. People live in temporary shelters made of basic materials (bamboo, wood and metal sheets), have poor access to public infrastructure and services (roads, electricity and water) and lack basic safety and sanitation (prone to both natural and man-made disasters). These conditions foreground various forms of exploitation - social, economic and political.


Fig 83.  (facing page) one of the two natural channels which bounds Ward67, and creates periodic flooding in the Ward Fig 84.  collapsed structures and remains can be seen scattered across the Ward

There are various stakeholders involved in Ward 67. These include political parties (Union Solidarity and Development Party, National League of Democracy), regional and city administrative departments (General Administrative Department, Yangon City Development Committee) and the Ward Administration (consisting of the Yami Yapas18, Ward Governor, 100 household and 10 household leaders). A plethora of international aid agencies and a few NGOs also have presence here. There also exists a few social organisations, like the Developing Myanmar Poor Families’ Lives Association and the Myun Sur Par Lau (MSPL). The latter is a funeral service organisation that initiates and organises Ward level religious activities and has a wide member base in the Ward. 18 The Myanmar term used to refer to a group of elderly powerful people in the Ward


Fig 85.  (facing page) - top hanging sand bags below the houses act as deterrents for minor fires Fig 86.  (facing page) - below space below the houses are often used for other activities if possible Fig 87.  in absence of formal water supply, informal water distribution systems are prevalent in the Ward

There exists a set of on-ground practices, capabilities and a certain degree of community integration, and the community is highly resilient and resourceful. In response to the government’s letters of eviction, the community has staged demonstrations and submitted petitions asking to not be evicted. To reduce existing risks in the ward, the community has put in place fire towers, fire prevention measures. They have adopted a set of household level practices to cope with floods (like stockpiling, thermocol boats, etc.). The gaps due to the unavailability of goods and public services and differences in cost, have been addressed by informal systems (e.g. informal water, electricity distribution systems). However, these practices are usually motivated by individual agency and resourcefulness and driven by profit. Therefore, these practices often take on exploitative dimensions.


Fig 88.  (facing page) GPS training workshop, the first step of the participatory survey Fig 89.  learning exchange and workshop for Ward 67 participants at the See Sein Shin community-led housing

The sheer scale of the Ward, and the multitude of stakeholders and interests makes Ward 67 a challenging context to work in. WfW’s approach is one that recognises the inherent capabilities within the Ward and builds on existing assets to enable collective-capacity to manifest and scale up. This entails a series of small, reiterative steps, that scale up in scope and impact. The focus is on supporting self-sustaining collective systems that can work together to initiate, implement and monitor processes of positive change. Setting up Women’s Saving Groups (WSG) lies at the core of this process and attempts to create a strong alternative financial system. This is supplemented by various training sessions that focus on strengthening the skills and capacities of the women involved. To address the paucity of data regarding Ward 67, WfW supported the process of a Participatory Survey of the Ward. Simultaneously, members from the Ward participated in several learning exchanges with the Community-led housing programmes in Yangon.


The community also engaged in several small projects, like a localised waste management initiative, and they also constructed a small community centre in the Ward. Finally, the community from Ward 67 participated in a coproduction workshop with students from UCL and local institutions during the DPU fieldtrip for MSc Building and Urban Design in Development.

Fig 90.  (facing page) - top a community as part of the waste management initiative, for which the participants printed special t-shirts. In absence of a collective gathering space in the ward, the meeting was held in the monastery Fig 91.  (facing page) - below the new community centre built by the WSG and MSPL Fig 92.  the new community centre serves as the core space for community activities in the ward

Community mobilisation, capacity building and skill development sets the base for carrying out various activities jointly. It motivates the community and increases participation, co-producing outputs that become key to subsequent actions. The participatory survey of the ward was such an activity, which, in addition to creating an updated base of information, resulted in a strong sense of awareness of the existing conditions amongst the participants. The outputs of this activity (base maps, statistical data, etc.) were important in guiding subsequent processes of data-collection, analysis and strategy formulation. Similarly, WSG and MSPL members actively participated in the design, supervision, monitoring and construction of the community centre with support of technical support by WfW and local craftsmen. WfW provided technical support, and the process also involved local craftsmen. In all these processes, there is a shared responsibility between all stakeholders. Though nascent, some activities like the community waste management programme also look to create linkages with other institutional actors like the Ward administration and YCDC for more efficient service provision.


C ross-le arnin g happens at various scales of the project. Learning exchanges create a platform for intra-community cross learning. Ward 67 participants benefit from hearing about on-ground initiatives and get inspired by the stories of how other communities have been able to successfully create better living conditions. Cross-learning also happens at the level of the organisation. This is done by sharing past experiences from each of the organisation and observing the activities in the Ward. For example, GL and AAM have been inspired by the WSG network formation, and they build on the same approach in their own activities. WfW have learnt valuable lessons about disaster risk reduction by observing AAM’s work, which strengthens their own work in other projects. Finally, the project is an opportunity to test and refine methodologies through situated learnings from practice. For example, WfW tested the participatory survey process in Ward 67 using GPS devices and a GIS platform. This method was subsequently used to inform WfW’s citywide mapping project, in collaboration with ACHR, UPCA and SDI.

Fig 93.  the DPU field trip provided an opportunity for co-production and cross learning between local and international students, and participants from ward67

Fig 94.  the DPU field trip also provided an opportunity for engaging a wider demographic, for example the kids

As the project is still in its inception phase, advocacy strategies revolve around disseminating the reality (assets, opportunities and challenges) of Ward 67 to a wider audience, and at the same time building a case for comparative benefits of a people-centred approach in such a context. This is done by reiteratively sharing the achievements, learnings and outcomes of the project with institutional and state actors. The DPU fieldtrip was strategically based in Ward 67, and the outcomes led to the publication and dissemination of a wide range of materials that highlight the opportunities and important roles informal settlements like Ward 67 play in the city. The concluding session was also significant and enabled the participation of 20 WSG women in a multi-stakeholder discussion on development trajectories of Yangon. Scaling-up as imagined in this project in two forms. Firstly, it encourages community mobilisation to initiate and sustain on ground activities, slowly working towards a situation where such activities are generated, implemented and monitored by the community themselves. This can be seen in the form of new saving groups, a community centre, and various small projects like waste management that have been initiated in Ward 67. Secondly, it employs a series of strategic partnerships that enable knowledge creation, dissemination and advocacy to a diverse group of stakeholders - in the form of surveys, maps, booklets, reports, etc. These together create and expand on the room for manoeuvre and highlights the multifaceted methods to community-based development processes employed in the FISONG project. 105

DPU-UCL Fieldtrip 2018 for MSc Building and Urban Design in Development In May, a collaborative workshop titled “Transformation in a time of Transition – Citywide strategies for Up-gradation in Yangon, Myanmar” was held in Ward67, in partnership with UCL, MSc Building and Urban Design in Development, YTU, ACHR, CAN, Association of Myanmar Architects, CBP and WfW. The workshop particularly focused on four specific themes pertinent to Ward67 and the FISONG project. These are - Disaster Risk Reduction, Infrastructure Upgrading, Livelihood Generation and Health & Environment. During the workshop, students and community worked together on the site. The data from the participatory survey provided a strong base which enabled a strong set of analysis and activities. On the final day of the workshop, two presentations about upgradation strategies in Ward 67 and Dagon Seikkan township were given by the students. The audience comprised of multiple urban development stakeholders and led to an interesting discussion on the necessity and validity of working in informal settlements. 30 members from Ward67 and WfW’s WSG network also attended the presentation. WfW believes that this workshop was an important advocacy tool that reached out to a wide national and international audience. The students also compiled all the findings, analyses and strategies for Ward67 from the four themes into 4 reports. These reports create a larger body of work that is useful to carry forward the work of the FISONG project, and can be accessed through this link; urban-design-development/overseas-fieldwork

Fig 95.  (facing page) - top students and community members at Ward 67 Fig 96.  (facing page) - below the closing session of the workshop held at YTU


Challenges in the search for Scale The ACHR/DPU/CAN Internship has been an opportunity to work with real projects and processes of community-based practices. In this section, we comparatively reflect on our experiences of working together with Sevanatha and WfW for a discussion on what it means to scale up community-based practices, in relation to the way we see development in Sri Lanka and Myanmar.

On development and Institutional Approaches While development in Sri Lanka and Myanmar are similar in many ways, community-based practices in both countries experience unique opportunities and challenges. Sri Lanka has a rich history of communitybased approaches, in which people centred processes were institutionalised by the state. This heritage has offered a blueprint for participatory development literature and learnings for a wider global context. However, the country’s socio-political and economic trajectories over the past few decades have seen a changing perception of informality, such that there has been a loss of institutional memory of people centred processes. At the same time, Myanmar is transitioning towards a democratic society, where fast-paced urbanisation prioritises market-driven development trajectories. People-centred, community-based approaches are relatively new concepts, and thus face challenges of not having precedents in policies or practice. In spite of these challenges, this moment in time offers a blank canvas that is an opportunity for these methods to influence how development is conceived and implemented.

Fig 97.  (facing page) - top changing scale of construction in Colombo Fig 98.  (facing page) - below saving members are discussing future action plans at nationwide annual meeting in Rakhine, Myanmar

Our reading of Sevanatha and WfW reveals how institutional structures, methodologies and positionalities of both organisations are influenced by the socio-spatial and political context within which they were founded and currently operate. Sevanatha was founded as an intermediary organisation between the state and communities during the late 80s - an era that witnessed the institutionalisation of people centred policies in Sri Lanka. Over the past 30 years, the organisation has navigated the changing positionality of the state and has managed to stay relevant in the context of development in Colombo and Sri Lanka even today. The organisation 109

continues to engage with communities while responding to the changing aspiration and priorities of people. Through its long-term engagement on urban issues, Sevanatha has cultivated strategic partnerships with diverse stakeholders of different positionalities. It is uniquely positioned in its ability to open a space for co-production, cross learning and advocacy- as pathways to reintegrate community-based practices in the development trajectories of both the organisation and the country. WfW’s practices have been deeply influenced by the current opportunities of people-centred action with the transforming political space of Myanmar. From a past rooted in women-led activism and rights-based advocacy, WfW underwent a realignment of focus necessitated by natural disasters, and growing socio-spatial inequalities in the country. This shift in focus led to a spatial turn in their methodologies that built on their previous expertise of working with women and creating selfsustainable social and financial mechanisms. In the last few years, Myanmar has seen a growing influx of international aid and a focus on bottom-up development that attempts to address urban inequalities. WfW has built on this momentum to consolidate their practices of women-lead socio-spatial reform through strategic partnerships.

On Strategic Partnerships and Balance Strategic partnerships have thus become the key mode of engagement for both Sevanatha and WFW. It is through these that both organisations open a space of negotiation, set precedents and mobilise to reframe the development discourse. Through an elaboration of both organisation’s activities, we have attempted to expand on the diverse forms that these approaches may take. Together, this creates an insight into an expanded domain of actions (through co-production, cross learning and advocacy). Though context-specific, these are unified by a similar underlying goal - that of building on people’s agency and capabilities to inform an alternative form of grounded development.

Fig 99.  (facing page) a man fixing the roof looks at the the sky turning grey beside the community centre in Ward 67

Community mobilisation and capacity building lie at the core of the process of co-production. As seen through the cases, both organisations use particular entry points as a means to mobilise communities. A community waste bank becomes an entry point for Sevanatha, while collective savings and loans are used by WfW. Mobilisation increases the likelihood of more integrated participation and sustains involvement of the community in the co-production process. This in turn creates opportunities to scale up collective agency, creating an active community capable of initiating actions that are political, and can drive processes of change. 111

Co-production processes supported by Sevantha and WfW involve different sets of actors to varying degrees. This is influenced by the strengths of each organisation, and their existing partnerships with these actors in the city. Sevanatha’s strength lies in its ability to engage with various bodies of the state at the onset of projects and partnerships, building on Sri Lanka’s previous acceptance of community-based discourse and the organisation’s long-term relationship with the state. On the other hand, WfW’s projects involve either different communities, other NGOs or educational institutions. There is a limited involvement of state actors, which can be partially attributed to the newness of community-based approaches in institutional practices of Myanmar. This necessitates a stronger base of dissemination and advocacy for these methods in the country, before state actors can become more active participants. The projects of Sevanatha and WfW consolidate methodologies of action to influence systemic change. These actions continuously reframe and build upon situated knowledge. This is done through processes of learning exchanges, field-visits, workshops between the communities themselves, the organisations, students, professional institutions and state actors. Here, knowledge production is possible through multi-scalar partnerships - with opportunities for both horizontal and vertical cross learning. These bring together a diverse group of actors with particular priorities and skill sets. Cross learning from this diversity highlights the unique challenges and opportunities that are manifested within this shared space of action. Cross learning thus becomes an entry point to not only reiteratively inform coproduction and expand the existing room for manoeuvre in a particular context, but also to drive advocacy. Advocacy aims to reframe the dominant discourse and its situation in policy and practice. In the practices of Sevanatha and WfW, advocacy is done through a dissemination of situated knowledge that is informed by practices of co-production and cross learning. This knowledge highlights cases which demonstrate the agency of people to lead processes of change. It also highlights the unique roles that particular actors can play in supporting and scaling up implementation mechanisms and influencing policy change.

Sevanatha, for example, is able to influence state mechanisms of service delivery in the case of waste management. Further, the organisation’s long-term work in the space of housing policy and practice builds on its long-term relationships with multiple actors. This enables Sevanatha to share its experiences of community-based approaches and to make policy recommendations through multi-stakeholder platforms. Similarly, WfW is engaged in creating precedents, and expanding on educational and institutional networks. However, in absence of a history of recognition and acceptance for community-based practices in Myanmar - WfW concentrates more on first disseminating the reality of these informal settlements. As mediators and negotiators, community-based practices continuously face the need to maintain a fine balance of voices, processes and outputs. By reflecting on the methods and intents of both organisations, we were able to observe how the mainstream development processes and communitybased approaches differ in terms of steps of planning and on ground action. Instead of following a linear process from policy to practice, communitybased approaches are non linear and embedded in a series of back and forth negotiations. While community-based practices are iterative and shaped by experiences from the ground, they also need to balance the larger vision driving these strategies, rather than implementing isolated interventions. Also, practices find themselves needing to tread the fine line between following state intentions which may co-opts community capacity for service delivery and carrying out community based co-produced actions to negotiate outcomes. Even if community-based practices prioritise collective agency and build on people’s inherent resource, there is also a need to recognise the gaps in skills, knowledge and networks that exist. This necessitates a balancing of the co-production process that involves other actors (institutional, state, technical experts etc.) to address these gaps. Finally, it is challenging to balance the uncertainties and organic process underpinning community-based practices within donor driven projects which have clear frameworks and clear quantitative project deliverables. Often, such projects position community mobilisation as means to an end, limiting the potentials that the qualitative process embodies.


On Scale Scaling up community-based practices does not only imply a quantitative increase in service delivery, but it is more specifically about building processes that address socio-spatial inequalities in cities. This perspective to scaling up requires creating a qualitative shift that is systemic, institutional and political. The creation of a political voice enables the assertion of rights to achieve visibility and recognition, paving the way for institutional practices (or policies) that are inclusive and seek to rebalance the existing socio-spatial landscape of the city. Interlinked processes of co-production, cross-learning and advocacy through strategic partnerships enable the scaling up of needs-based approaches to address rights-based issues in development. We believe that the work of Sevanatha and WfW as seen through the context of ACHR illustrates such a wide spectrum of approaches adopted in community-based practice. Needsbased approaches encompass tangible projects that address the immediate requirements of a particular context and community. In parallel, there is the opportunity for a larger political consciousness that situate the very same needs within a rights-based framework rooted in the agency and capabilities of people. Additionally, both Sevanatha and WfW belong to ACHR, a larger transnational development network of community-based practices in Asia. These are united in purpose yet situated and respond to the realities of their specific contexts. ACHR’s body of work thus becomes a unique platform for enabling organisational cross learning, knowledge creation and advocacy at scale. The impacts, challenges and opportunities faced by an individual organisation is thus supported by a multitude of partnerships, learnings and precedents. This becomes an invaluable platform that increases the agency of the organisations themselves and expands the room for manoeuvre through collective presence. Together, all of these can ground trajectories of development in policy and action, and envision a city that is made by people, and for people.

Fig 100.  (facing page) in preparation for a community workshop in a local school in Colombo


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Afterword A word from ACHR/CAN One of the practices at the core of Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) and Community Architects Network (CAN) is to create a platform of Community Practitioners and Professionals from different countries and regions to share knowledge and experiences from their home countries. Looking into all Asian cities, we notice the richness of life in every corner. This richness is derived not only from the long history of each city, but also from the practices adopted by people from different social groups to adapt to a fast-changing world. Most of the times the myriad attempts to direct urban changes in the midst of structural barriers results in conditions where the low-income groups are marginalized and pressurized. Nevertheless, these groups are unarguably the most resilient and most adaptable of all as they can organize and use the limited resources, and maximize their collective strength in very unique and creative ways. This publication attempts to portray some such processes and practices across Sri Lanka and Myanmar. The DPU/ACHR/ CAN internship program supports to strengthen the network which links and bridges knowledges together, having the interns as the ambassadors of such knowledge and experience. The role of the internship is also crucial at a local scales, where the host organizations can be strengthened through new questions and exchanges that are brought in from fresh perspectives. - Witee Wisuthumporn (ACHR/CAN)

Perspectives from ACHR partners

Fig 101.  (facing page) - top Sevanatha team Fig 102.  (facing page) - below WfW team

2017-2018 marks the first year of the DPU/ACHR/CAN Internship Programme with Sevanatha and WfW. Both these organisations are already engaged with enabling, participating and supporting other forms of learning alliances in their work. The following excerpts from short interviews with H.M.U Chularathna (Executive Director, Sevanatha) and Daw Van Lizar Aung (Founder, Director, WfW) illustrates certain key underpinnings of how Sevanatha and WfW view and employ learning alliances in practice, and how the DPU/ACHR internship is positioned within that structure. 117

Interview with H.M.U Chularathna - Sevanatha 1. What are the various kinds of learning alliances that Sevanatha is a part of? The process of development in Sevanatha has been based on learnings and sharing projects and practices from other organisations. For example Sevanatha’s regional partners such as ACHR, Lumanti in Nepal, Urban Resource Centre in Karachi, the Bangkok Urban Poor Development Program, Indonesia’s Kampung Improvement Programme, and Citynet. Sevanatha has been using information and learning lessons from many of these regional organisations- that share community-based projects and learnings. Sevanatha has been learning from large networks such as UN Habitat and UNDP. Learning from publications, sharing experiences and best practises in subject specific areas of solid waste management and community development, help the organisation to enrich its internal capacity and resources. Sevanatha also has been learning and sharing its own learnings with local partners and other NGOs in Sri Lanka - to name a few ITDG, Sarvoday and World Vision. 2. What role does the DPU/ACHR internship play for Sevanatha’s strategic positioning? Since a long time, even before this internship, Sevanatha has had the experience of facilitating internships and trainings for researchers, architects and planners. For the DPU_ACHR internship – the focus was particularly on participatory development and community-based approaches. This focus helped to strengthen and discuss more about Sevanatha’s role on these issues. 3. How has the presence of a DPU intern affected Sevanatha’s work environment? What are the key benefits and challenges? There have been many forms of benefits due to the DPU internship. First, to create a learning experience for our field staff, to get different perspectives. It also helped in planning and thinking more widely - to organise community practise in a stronger manner, which was important for the waste management project. Having an intern with a different background also helped in looking at issues in a different way. Since you (Ruchika) came from a different country having a different institutional setup with different municipality, community, service provisions - this helped our project staff think differently - to think about different limitations, and to work with those. The challenges were very few usually an intern from another background could find engaging with different people challenging - but you were able to understand the various relationships of the organisation and stakeholders - particularly through the opportunity of working with them on the waste management project.

Interview with Daw Vanlizar Aung - WfW 1. How do you employ learning alliances in practice? WfW is a part of many learning alliances. We try and encourage the same even within the communities and savings groups we organise. Exposure trips, skill transfer and knowledge exchanges form a core aspect of our strategy. Some of our learning alliances are with other NGOs. By sharing our methodology and learning about theirs, we can refine our methodology of engagement. We are also a part of the ACHR network, and as part of that we are called to participate in regional field visits and learning exchanges. This is very helpful, especially when we are able to make our community members and leaders participate. In recent times, we are also partnering with local and international Universities. This makes it possible for students to come and be a part of some of our programmes. 2. What role does the DPU/ACHR internship programme play in WfW’s existing methodologies? Since this is the first time, we did not have a clear strategic idea of how to engage the interns. But we had worked with DPU before (during the 2017 MSc BUDD fieldtrip), so we knew the University and the interns, were willing to give the process a try. We are a small organisation, so we took this as an opportunity to strengthen ourselves. We were thus open to ideas and suggestions from them, but also critical about their practical feasibility. The interns brought with them different skill-sets, and over the period of the internship, they have increased the capacity of our organisation. 3. How has the presence of the DPU interns affected WfW’s work environment? What are the key benefits and challenges? We were a little concerned, as working in informal settlements, in absence of resources is always hard. The person has to be mentally and physically tough, flexible and willing to engage with real people and real situations. Also, our work is mainly with the community – so we work to the community’s availability and schedule. There are many troubles and issues, and tensions are high. So, we have to be extremely adaptable. In our organisation, teamwork is extremely important. We don’t work in a very organized way with rigid planning. Our staff also has to be able to fluidly move between roles and responsibilities, and always be ready to support the time. We are, in a way, very much like a community. This makes it challenging to work with us, but it’s also easy if people have the right mindset. We were happy that you (Shoko and Saptarshi) had the motivation and the drive and were able to adapt to our style. You were continuously engaged in the work, and this made the team stronger. So, the work environment did not change that much, but we were able to get things done more efficiently. 119


Our Thoughts

By engaging with Sevanatha and WfW, we could test our academic learnings and explorations in practice, reflect on our responsibilities, our positionality, and the methods we use. We realise that our learnings helped us together articulate our roles as development practitioners and would like to share some key thoughts.


Fig 103.  (facing page) igneguity and creativity can be observed in many cases in informal settlements, such as this example from Ward 67, Yangon

For me, the internship was a space for immersive learning through a sustained engagement with the people at WfW. On the first day - Lizar said something about the organisation which struck a deep chord with me. She said “WfW is like a tea stall, we work to serve everyone, and we work as long as there are people at our stall”. What that entailed was an extremely grounded approach to community-based practice. The office was always open for the community members, other organisations, students and friends to come in, and Lizar and the team always spared time and effort to listen to what they had to say. Listening with patience was the single most important thing that they did and I believe that it was this patience and humility that enabled the creation and sustenance of the deep, meaningful bond that they were successful in forming with their partners. I understand that these bonds lie at the core of a practice that engages with people - and at times even negotiates between different groups who come with different skills, capabilities, priorities and interests. And I believe this also helped me integrate seamlessly within the office, in spite of my inability to comprehend most of what was being said (I didn’t know the language and was unaware of many of the cultural nuances). The second important lesson for me was that development practice entails a lot of on the spot decision-making, and there is a need to be extremely flexible and adaptable. This is not only in terms of schedules and working hours, but also in terms of a mental flexibility to absorb everything that goes on around, in the community, with the donors and at the office. I soon realised that having backups of backup-plans was a must, and that there are going to be moments of despair, frustration and cluelessness. But what I cherish most was the fact that there was always a group of people who would be partners, guides, mentors and critiques - and we would share responsibility for all our mistakes but take pride in all the little successes.


When I applied for this programme, I had three key objectives around scale, on-ground work and Yangon. Now, reflecting on last 6 months, I realised that it had led me to key findings and another question for each. First, scale works through strategic partnerships and horizontal practices of rights-based and needs-based approach. And the role of transnational development networks are significant to strengthen and disseminate on-ground practices. The question was how to choose and maintain appropriate partnerships under multi-layered political directions or competitions in development industries. The second aspect, their on-ground practices clearly prioritise on people, much more than I had expected. By trusting and letting them do first, this approach strengthened their autonomous capacity and system. Still, it often challenges the practicality to achieve certain tangible outputs which link to the relationship with partners. Thirdly, yes, Yangon! I have been pretty happy to be here, especially fascinated by spatial human connections in the city which Tokyo might have lost. (My neighbour just gave me chicken soup as donation yesterday!) Its power was particularly vibrant in the community. These human connections might be too general for the locals and hence might not be recognised or theorized as an asset. The current planning trajectories do not seem to include this aspect but promote high-rise buildings. Visualising, theorizing and promoting such local assets are needed and might be contributed by outsiders who realise its unique value. More than these three themes, what always questioned me was the positionality as a foreign staff. Since I had limited understanding of local language and context, my perception of the reality was also limited which made me less confident about my ideas and behaviours. But this did not mean I could just accept everything as they were. To engage in the real work, there were always lots I wanted to know more to make sure, but the method of communication was limited. (And my Burmese didn’t improve so quickly – yes, I was lazy). So, it was challenging to find a right balance in different kinds of situations. Still, WfW generously trusted us, let us explore and flexibly gave us an opportunity to work together. Here, I saw their “let them do” approach, which was also seen from their work with the community. This learning was very important for me and I believe it will be universally applied to many other situations of co-production. I sincerely appreciate WfW, DPU and ACHR for this unique opportunity.



The past six months at Sevanatha, through the DPU/CAN/ACHR programme has been an incredible opportunity of learning for me, on so many fronts. The opportunity to live and work in Colombo allowed me to compare trajectories of development in Sri Lanka, with Myanmar (through discussions with my peers at WfW, and my own previous reflections through the DPU field trip) , as well as to reflect on practise and policy back home in India. I found myself not only immersed in a narrative around common issues in Asia and the larger global south, but also observing how within these similarities, the specificity of the country, context, perceptions and policy approaches open unique opportunities and challenges for spatial justice. Spending six months in an organisation with such a rich history of community based approaches, and in Sri Lanka, which is positioned at such an interesting time, not only gave me the opportunity to reflect on the immediate projects that I was engaged on, but also to think about policy and practise in a broader temporal dimension linked to impact, and how organizations navigate change over time. My everyday experience of working with Sevanatha, project and field teams, and communities -- helped me reflect on human relationships and how communication is so important while working with people with different priorities, motivations and perceptions of what is relevant. On an everyday basis- energy is so important, and the ability to maintain a mindset that looks forward, even so when much is in flux and unpredictable on the ground. I found myself reflecting on methods of community engagement - and how small steps of planning before community meetings, discussing with the project and field team, and larger team discussions on what is going well and what wasn’t - to brainstorm why, and strategize ways to organise better is so significant. I learnt that working with communities involves learning to be comfortable with changing plans yet balancing this with foresight towards a larger vision. It involves knowing how to look at challenges as barriers to learn from, and to use them to assess, re-evaluate and reframe approaches, while remembering to think across scales. At a more individual level, these six months were also a period of personal growth. Living and working in a context where language was a barrier- I learnt how to adapt to situations. While I often lost much of the detail, I also found how my being an ‘outsider’ was also an opportunity to not take processes and perceptions for granted. I learnt to pay closer attention to the small details, key words, nonverbal cues and body language. I developed my own tools for cutting across barriers - a bit of humour, theatrics, attentiveness, and asking lots of questions. I am so grateful to Sevanatha for their patience with me through it all, for sharing their thoughts with me so freely, and for making me feel at home! 123

Fig 104.  canal meeting the sea, Colombo

6.3 About Us Ruchika Lall Ruchika is an architect, urban designer and development practitioner, and is the cofounder of Also Architects Collaborative, India. She has a background in a diverse range of urban projects and scales, in architectural practice, social enterprise, design research, community-based approaches, and advocacy. She is an alumna of Sushant School of Art and Architecture in India, and the Bartlett Development Planning Unit at UCL, as a Chevening Scholar. She has lived and worked in India, UK, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Her research and practice interests include developing systemic frameworks and implementable projects and policies towards spatial justice through housing.

Saptarshi Mitra With a background in Architecture (CEPT Ahmedabad) and Urban Planning (UCL London), Saptarshi has lived and worked in India, Spain, United Kingdom and Myanmar. A Chevening Scholar and an Erasmus fellow, he is engaged in working with development projects in Myanmar, leads his own NGO, and is part of an interdisciplinary practice called The Appropriate Alternative in Kolkata, India. A strong believer in the necessity and capacity of people to lead the change they want to see, he is engaged in unpacking dimensions of equity, inclusivity and social justice through his work and research.  

Shoko Sakuma Shoko is an urban planner and development practitioner, with a background as a consultant for space making around Asian cities for five years. Her strategic approach, with a focus on interdisciplinary knowledges and synthetic analysis has contributed to multiple types of projects from public spaces to regional development, involving public/private sectors and communities. Currently, she is engaged in developing systems for scaling-up community-based practices in Yangon through WfW. She has a strong passion for bettering the coexistence of informality in current/future cities. Her another immediate mission is to get used to cycling in Yangon.


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Fig 105.  (facing page) community of Ward 67 preparing for a presentation about their own conditions