Creating opportunity out of scarcity: Conditions for resilient informal settlements in Nairobi

Think along during EADI ISS Conference 2021

How do people survive and thrive during multiple crises in informal settlements? What kind of unplanned but frugal and innovative solutions do they come up with? And what does that say about the resilience of the settlement they live in? This is what Jan Fransen of IHS, Beatrice Hati of CFIA, Naomi van Stapele of HHS, Samuel Kiriro of Ghetto Foundation are investigating. At the EADI ISS Conference 2021 (from 5 to 8 July), they will discuss during the panel "The makeshift city" if, how and under what conditions frugal innovations explain differences in the resilience of the two informal settlements during Covid-19: Mathare and Korogocho located in Nairobi, Kenya. This panel is scheduled on 7 July, lunchtime (12.00-14.00 CEST)

The discussion is based on 80 in-depth interviews conducted by community researchers of Ghetto Foundation (GF) in a Collaborative Research Model. GF is a Community Based Organization (CBO) with over 20 years experience in participatory research and action in impoverished/resource-constrained settings.

Three actors are most engaged in frugal innovations

The findings reveal that three actors are most engaged in frugal innovations: households, informal firms and CBO’s. When a sudden need arises due to a crisis or disturbance, households and informal firms look for immediate, temporary, low-cost, makeshift solutions. 

More and better frugal innovations in Mathare

We find that households and informal firms in Mathare have more and better frugal innovations than those in Korogocho due to the better location of the settlement, more agency, hope and creativity, and more capacity. 

The rise and importance of CBOs

However, these frugal innovations are not enough for an informal settlement to become resilient. CBOs arise to take collective action. Governments and NGOs may be slower in responding to a crisis but play an important role in providing resources such as hospitals, roads, public transport and administrative services. Many of these external interventions fail and some even reduce the agency and aspirations of the local community. 

Therefore, CBOs absorb external resource-rich but context-blind interventions and turn these into frugal innovations which better suit the informal settlement. The paper further reveals that CBO’s in Mathare have more capacity, alertness, cooperation, networks and knowledge exchange. 

Conditions for frugal and resilient informal settlements

The researchers identify eight conditions for frugal and resilient informal settlements: location, multilevel agency, creativity, capacity, social capital, alertness, knowledge exchange and access to external resources. The historical analysis shows that these conditions emerge in interactive, nonlinear (without following order, direction or regular speeds) and indeterministic (random and spontaneous) processes.

Join the EADI ISS Conference 2021

These and much more will be presented and discussed in the virtual EADI-ISS 2021 Conference which will run from 5th-8th July. Are you an urban practitioner, policy maker, student, researcher or other professional interested in resilience during crises? Then sign up to think and talk along.

Contributors of this research

The institutional contributors of this work are Ghetto Foundation, ISS-International Institute of Social Studies and IHS - Institute for Housing and Urban Development Studies, (both affiliated with Erasmus University Netherlands), Vital Cities and Citizens of the Erasmus university Rotterdam (VCC) and the Centre for Frugal Innovation in Africa – Kenya Hub.

Dr. Jan Fransen
Biography IHS
Beatrice Hati
Dr. Naomi van Stapele (HHS)
Samuel Kiriro (Ghetto Foundation)
More information

Vital Cities and Citizens

With the Erasmus Initiative Vital Cities and Citizens, Erasmus University Rotterdam wants to help improve the quality of life in cities. In vital cities, the population can achieve their life goals through education, useful work and participation in public life. The vital city is a platform for creativity and diversity, a safe meeting place for different social groups. The researchers involved focus on one of the four sub-themes:

•    Inclusive Cities and Diversity
•    Resilient Cities and People
•    Smart Cities and Communities 
•    Sustainable and Just Cities

VCC is a collaboration between Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB), Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication (ESHCC) and International Institute of Social Studies (ISS).

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