Too often, aid for the poor looks like this: A person, organization, or government notices a problem, decides upon a solution for the problem and implements it, with varying degrees of success. One step that is typically missing: no one consults the poor about the problem. No one asks, “Is this really a problem?” or “What do YOU think should be done about this problem?” Instead, an outside entity does it all.

Rose Molokoane, a South African woman, is sick and tired of it. She told an audience in Brazil just that last year: “We are sick and tired of becoming the objects of development. We want to build our own destiny.” With the help of  Slum Dwellers International, she is getting that chance.

With 34 affiliate countries, Slum Dwellers International (SDI) explains its work as this:

In each country where SDI has a presence, affiliate organizations come together at the community, city, and national level rooted in specific methodologies. SDI’s mission is to link urban poor communities from cities across the South that have developed successful mobilisation, advocacy, and problem solving strategies. Since SDI is focused on the localized needs of slum dwellers, it has developed the traction to advance the common agenda of creating “pro-poor” cities that address the pervasive exclusion of the poor from the economies and political structures of 21st century cities. Further, SDI uses its global reach to build a platform for slum dwellers to engage directly with governments and international organizations to try new strategies, change policies, and build understanding about the challenges of urban development.

SDI believes that the only way to manage urban growth and to create inclusive cities is for the urban poor to be at the center of strategies for urban development.

Diana Mitlin, a researcher who has worked with SDI, commented on the model of putting the poor in control, “All successful urban initiatives have been ones that have placed people’s knowledge and people’s action at the centre of the process. That doesn’t mean professionals are not needed, but it means professionals acknowledge the limitations of their role.”

Rather than objectifying “the poor” as a problem to be solved, SDI embodies the notion that the poor have the same capacities to solve problems, tackle issues and influence society in a positive manner. As the Rev. Robert Sirico asserts,

It’s so often the case that when people come from the developed world to the developing world and they see the wretchedness of poverty in such close proximity, they experience a kind of a guilt about their own prosperity and translate that guilt into policies that fail to recognize that these people are made of the same stuff as the people in the first world, that they have the same capacity that enabled the developed world to be so prosperous in the first place.

This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.