27 Feb 2013
Eradicating Urban Poverty: A Brand New Vision

For the first time in history the world’s urban population now exceeds its rural population. Whilst rapid economic growth fuels the expansion of many cities in developing countries, in parallel, these cities host and contribute to escalating poverty.

The proportion of those living in urban poverty is alarming. One billion of the world’s (three billion) urban population now lives in slums and the majority of those are children and youth. Unchecked these figures will increase. United Nations projections indicate that population growth in the coming decades will be almost entirely urban, will take place in the cities of the global South (Asia, Africa and Latin America) and will be concentrated primarily in squatter settlements.

The megatrend of urbanisation and its global impact was the basis for a session on ‘Collaboration and Innovation to Address Urban Poverty’ held at the Rio+20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in June 2012. This session was jointly hosted by new partners, World Vision International and the UN Global Compact Cities Programme.

Forum Participants, Rio +20 Corporate Sustainability Forum, June 2012

The Rio+20 session discussed that while the urban poor live in close proximity to infrastructure, essential services, markets and seats of political power, they lack access to basic services and facilities and are dependent on informal and shadow economies for their livelihood. The session considered the role of multidisciplinary actors in making cities equitable, prosperous and safe to create a shared future for all urban residents.

Director of UNGCCP and RMIT’s Global Cities Institute, Professor Paul James was the key presenter and moderator of the Rio+20 session. Professor James stated that “In the context of the contemporary pressures of global climate change, globalization, urbanization, and intensifying social change, indicator-based sustainability assessment projects are increasingly being called upon to play an important role in building a more sustainable world. However, the more complex the problems, the less it seems that such projects are useful.”

Professor James has developed the ‘Circles of Sustainability’ framework, which is a method for assessing sustainability and for managing projects directed as socially sustainable outcomes. He says, “It is intended to handle seemingly intractable problems and is well placed to support World Vision’s innovation in urban programming.” It is fast being embraced internationally.

The session also included presentations from Janice Perlman of the Mega-Cities Project, Vania Goncalves de Souza of Prefeitura of Porto Alegre, Brazil (‘the Social Inclusion project of the Vila Chocolatào Resettlement’), Rafael Achondo of Techo (‘Youth working across Latin America and the Caribbean for a just society without poverty’), and Joyati Das, Global Head of the World Vision’s Centre of Expertise for Urban Programming, who is also one of the advisors to the Global Compact Cities Programme.

World Vision’s session explained the Global Urban Research Initiative that is applying an action-research methodology. Six pilots across different regions are providing an evidence base for innovative programming models in diverse urban contexts. Joyati presented the case study of Bolivia where children and youth are being trained as agents of change in their local neighbourhoods and municipalities.

Ms Joyati Das, Global Head of the World Vision’s Centre of Expertise for Urban Programming

Joyati says: “Children are the first casualties of urban poverty, often facing exploitation, violence and are at risk of disease in overcrowded slums..

Street children, unregistered children and children of migrants have limited access to adequate food, drinking water, education and medical care. They lack access to basic rights and often live on the streets without hope.”

Collectively tackling these critical issues around urban poverty has been the inspiration and foundation for the establishment of a strategic partnership between the World Vision International Centre of Excellence for Urban Programming (Urban COE) , the Global Compact Cities Programme and RMIT University’s Global Cities Institute. This was formalised in 2011.

The Australian-based Urban CoE team is responsible for the coordination, monitoring, evaluation and research related to these projects which are implemented in diverse urban contexts and focus on a range of critical urban issues.

Dr. Liam Magee (Cities Programme-RMIT) is part of the team reviewing the urban programming projects in Soweto, Johannesburg, South Africa (focused on economic development) and Phnom Phenh, Cambodia (focused on local land rights). The review incorporates measuring the tangible benefits of three core areas that World Vision works in: partnerships, facilitation, and advocacy.

World Vision is also supporting the ‘People and Planet: Transforming the Future’ Conference which is being coordinated by RMIT University’s Global Cities Institute and the Global Compact Cities Programme.

This partnership looks set to expand its reach, supporting the next generation of urban programming professionals.

A joint research internship program is being established between the three organizations. The program is directed towards post graduate students, who will undertake small research projects relating to World Vision’s urban programming initiatives. They will also be mentored and supported by the Cities Programme and RMIT researchers.

We look forward to the results of this latest initiative and to our continued collaboration – a positive and productive partnership.