Resilience of one billion people in slums high on agenda

The Nairobi Urban Hub is an impact-driven research and cooperation programme on urban resilience in Nairobi. In the coming three years, the researchers want to gather and share knowledge on how adaptive governance and frugal practices can contribute to resilience in informal settlements. Improving resilience is of great importance to one billion people who live in informal (urban) settings in Nairobi and other cities in Africa and beyond. The programme will run until 2024. 

Research activities of the Nairobi hub are positioned at the intersection of governance, frugality, resilience and inclusion in informal settlements.

More particularly, the focus is on how adaptive governance and frugal practices can contribute to Nairobi's resilient and vital informal neighbourhoods. This is done by exploring governance forms in informal settlements, (emerging) frugal solutions, and community capacities to cope with shocks. Planned research further explore how emergent coping strategies define new forms of (in)equality. The research and cooperation programme combines empirical research, capacity building and networking with local governments, universities and civil society actors in Nairobi, Rotterdam, The Hague and beyond. In this way, a lot of information is gathered from which, at a later stage, other cities can also benefit. The research theme is very topical because due to Covid-19 and climate change, the resilience of a billion people living in informal districts is higher on the political and research agendas.

More resilience for a better future

All researchers agree that resilience contributes to future-proofing informal organisations and neighbourhoods. Empirical research on informal settlements provides insight into how communities deal with crises, optimise scarce resources through frugal innovations, how connections are forged, and links made, and whether such processes and systems achieve inclusiveness or exclusiveness. A resilient community is ultimately a product of cooperation between formal organisations, such as NGO’s and governments, and the informal organisations that have arisen among residents. The researchers have already gained experience with this in Mathare, Korogocho and Dandora, large, informal neighbourhoods in Nairobi. Residents often use (frugal) coping strategies, such as micro-credit schemes, community health volunteers, health data collection platforms (M-Jali), and mobile banking such as M-Pesa. Preliminary research results show that community resilience has improved over time, making it easier to cope with the shock of a crisis. 

For example, the community centre in Dandora emerged from such collaboration. This is a place where children can play and learn, where adults can meet and share ideas, play sports, and celebrate weddings. A place where resilient community development occurs. The researchers will investigate how governance at different levels affects community resilience in the upcoming period. A publication on this is being prepared.  

The research findings show that the degree of resilience and process to become resilient is not the same in every neighbourhood. The contextual conditions of complexity and deprivation affect the capacity to respond to shocks and stresses. In the informal settlement called Mathare, the community has developed many frugal practices to become more resilient. In many cases, Community Based Organisations (CBO's) appear to make a big difference. In Korogoco, however, an ongoing upgrading programme improves infrastructure and services, which also improves resilience. Whereas both processes are relevant, we find that they are often not combined.

Conducting research together with residents

Because the residents play a significant role in making informal settlements more resilient, the researchers use citizen science as a research strategy. This way, we can make a more substantial impact and keep the research knowledge within the communities. Experience with this has already been gained in Nairobi. By working with community researchers, the researchers benefit from local knowledge and enable communities to learn and integrate research into development processes. The researchers thus also contribute to the "impact at the core" ambitions of the EUR. Through co-creation and co-design, the approach includes methodologies that encourage or support citizen science in informal neighbourhoods, for example, to implement, scale up or transfer local practices to improve resilience.

Sharing knowledge

The Nairobi hub researchers want to share the knowledge and experience gained internationally, especially between researchers, policymakers and communities in Nairobi, Rotterdam, The Hague, and New Delhi. Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC) and International Institute for Social Studies (ISS) research cities in the Netherlands, while Center for Frugal Innovation (ICFI) also has an office in New Delhi. VCC's Closer Cities project furthermore aims to study and maximise urban knowledge exchange by making international comparisons and stimulating interaction between regions - between Rotterdam-The Hague and Nairobi in particular.

Assistant professor

Dr. Jan Fransen


Beatrice Hati, MSc

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