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Introducing Urb.Im

[ by Charles Cameron — my new job, solutions-oriented thinking / writing about urban poverty in 6 cities ]


Mapping Kibera, Nairobi


Yesterday was my first day at work on my new job with Urb.Im:

The urb.im network is a global community working for just and inclusive cities. It connects practitioners in six cities and throughout the world to establish an international community of practice and learning, sharing ideas and experiences in order to innovate, replicate, and scale working solutions to the problem of urban poverty. urb.im is a project of Dallant Networks and the Ford Foundation.

The six cities we’re focusing on are Mumbai, Rio, Lagos, Mexico DF, Nairobi and Jakarta — and we are strongly solutions-oriented.


I imagine there will be considerable overlap between the diverse interests of those who follow Zenpundit and the specific cities and issues I’ll be working with at Urb.Im — so this is both a news bulletin about my new employment (suggesting I’ll now be focusing my attention on a new problem and solution set), and an invite to ZP readers to steer me towards relevant materials (eg via hipbonegamer on Twitter), and to join in the discussions at Urb.Im as appropriate.

One of my ambitions is to get some significant cross-website conversations going, so that the widest array of bright minds and good hearts gets together to spark new ideas and possibilities, and put existing resources on the map for all interested parties…


And speaking of mapping

The illustration above is of a map of schools in Kibera, Nairobi, one of the largest informal settlements in the world — mapping both problem areas and available solutions is a key element in the kind of work we’ll be doing. For more details on mapping Kibera, see this Urb.Im page, and to download and enlarge the Kibera education-map image, go here.

17 Responses to “Introducing Urb.Im”

  1. Madhu Says:

    Well, I’ll be damn*ed. I was just–just–reading the following before clicking on over here:
    Development happens when people have the opportunity to choose what they want, choose whether or not to “give consent for an intervention that affects them, protest if they don’t like what’s being done to them and have a mechanism to exit if they don’t like what’s being done.
    Have a system in place to ensure that you’re actually making people better off rather than harming them. Others would be better than I am on how to do this in practice, but just to start the discussion… it could mean offering {beneficiaries} a menu of options that they can choose from, and learning from their responses. More broadly, promoting rights of poor people might have indirect positive consequences that are a lot larger than the benefits of individual interventions.
    …a lot of things that people think will benefit poor people (such as improved cookstoves to reduce indoor smoke, deworming drugs, bed nets and water purification tablets) {are things} that poor people are unwilling to buy for even a few pennies. The philanthropy community’s answer to this is “we have to give them away for free because otherwise the take-up rates will drop.” The philosophy behind this is that poor people are irrational. That could be the right answer, but I think that we should do more research on the topic. Another explanation is that the people do know what they’re doing and that they rationally do not want what aid givers are offering. This is a message that people in the aid world are not getting.”
    First, Do No Harm. Tread carefully….solutions seekers can harm as well as help. Well, who am I to lecture anyone? I’ve never done such work.
    So interesting. First I completely ‘”rack” on the latest Pundita post, and now this! Uncanny and strange. Beautifully so….

  2. Madhu Says:

    I do have an interest in cell-phone and online medical curriculums. I was thinking of putting up sample educational posts on my area of practice at Chicagoboyz, but perhaps there is something I can do for this group?

  3. Madhu Says:

    What do the poor want to be trained in on medical related issues? Who asks them what they want? Are there local nurses that would like training, are there young one’s interested in medical education?

  4. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Madhu,
    Regarding your last post: do they know enough to ask the right question? I’d be interested in exporting holistic medicine rather than our predominantly drug-based model. Dr. Tom Roselle (http://www.rosellecare.com/) is doing great work in this area.
    If you’ve not read, I’d recommend Dr. Jerome Groopman’s How Doctors Think—-an engineer who attended one of my To Be or To Do seminars recommended. Great book. That said, since you are a doctor, you may want to take a pass:))
    Hi Charles, Congrats on the new gig! Best of luck! 

  5. zen Says:

    Charles! Congrats – look forward to hearing more as your projects develop – I think John Robb will be very interested too, given his focus on resilience and self-sufficient economic solutions

  6. zen Says:

    Regarding Doc Madhu’s comment – some of the “irrationality” she refers to is a form of “subsistence conservatism” that historically develops in societies with tenant farming/debt peonage/communal land tenure where the economic margin for survival is so slim, miscalculations cannot be afforded. Anything new is perceived as an exaggerated risk for a long time. So, for example, Russian muzhiks stubbornly stuck with wooden plows even when idealistic Narodniki brought them steel ones, village Mir refused to consolidate scattered family strips of land into consolidated plots, etc,

  7. Charles van der Haegen Says:

    Hi Charles,
    This is great news. I am so happy you found a meaningful job, for a meaningful initiative, whare you can do wonders.
    Congratulations indeed.
    By the way, You know I suppose I’m involved in Cities as a Force for  for Goofd in the Environment (http://cfgnet.org/). I believe this, and other issues we’ve been discussing, will keep us tied together.

  8. Charles Cameron Says:

    More synchronistic overlap — great, we must talk… 

  9. ken cowan Says:


  10. Madhu Says:

    My apologies, Charles! Stupidly, I missed the part about “first day of work.” Congratulations and much luck!!!! A lot of wonderful people working on a lot of wonderful projects. You all musn’t mind me. Imagine watching Boston and Chicago and its programs for the poor….it makes one a bit, er, well, let’s just leave a lot unsaid….
    I see the site mentions something similar to my Easterly quote above:
    “Solutions start with a voice: Participatory development and urban governance
    Giving the people a voice and a path to express their concerns in a meaningful, democratic way could bridge the opposed notions of “ground-up” development — by the people, for the people — versus “top-down” development — government-run with little outside input. Yet this is difficult in urban India, where the urban poor are egregiously underrepresented. Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha proposes to institutionalize the participation of India’s urban citizens by adding a third tier to the current governing structure. Learn more and join the discussion.
    There is also a nice cell phone medicine project, right up my alley:
    “M-chanjo: Saving lives by mixing health care with mobile technology”
    J. Scott: Do WE know enought to ask the right questions? 🙂 So, a constant I see among Indian families in the West is a kind of “pseudoadvisory role” for which someone established in the West who is respected answers questions about education, whatever. And there are remittances but the advice business has always interested me.
    Zen: That’s interesting.

  11. Madhu Says:

    By pseudoadvisory, I mean it is not about West or East, but often an “elder” that happens to be living abroad who might be asked if they all still lived in the same country, I mean. Maybe my experience relates to so many I know coming to the states to teach? So, of course they get asked about what courses to take, etc. But the query starts from the person that needs the advice. It’s what he or she is interested in.

  12. john Says:

    hunt out the article that talks about “for-fee toilets” in the slums of mumbai and how even the poorest segments of society are willing to pay for quality..
    poor people don’t need your aid, they need your assistance… shows how even in the slums there is plenty of agency provided it is nourished  

  13. Madhu Says:

    poor people don’t need your aid, they need your assistance… shows how even in the slums there is plenty of agency provided it is nourished  – john

  14. Madhu Says:

    Er, I will stop after this but I love this topic. To john’s point, that was behind the single “sachet” of shampoor marketing and selling campaigns by businesses.
    “A rapidly evolving approach to encouraging consumption and choice at the BOP is to make unit packages that are small and, therefore, affordable. The logic is obvious. The rich use cash to inventory convenience. They can afford, for example, to buy a large bottle of shampoo to avoid multiple trips to the store. The poor have unpredictable income streams. Many subsist on daily wages and have to use cash conservatively. They tend to make purchases only when they have cash and buy only what they need for that day. Single-serve packaging—be it shampoo, ketchup, tea and coffee, or aspirin—is well suited to this population. A single-serve revolution is sweeping through the BOP markets. For example, in India, single-serve sachets have become the norm for a wide variety of products, as shown in Table 1.3.”
    : )

  15. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Hi Madhu,
    Your comment reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with a lawyer friend. He was advising my son, who recently took the bar exam. He said, “never ask for a job, ask for advise.” In one of Charles’ dueling use of words, I made the connection immediately to your “the query starts from the person who needs the advice.” Love the duality of these perspectives. 

  16. Daniel F. Bassill, D.H.L. Says:

    Hi Charles,
    Congratulations on your new gig. I hope you have a long residency and build as many friends as you did in the Social Edge forum from 2005 to 2012. I’ll look forward to sharing ideas with you and others who gather at this site.

  17. Charles Cameron Says:

    Thanks, Daniel and all.
    I am very much enjoying this work, and the turbulence of diving in is being replaces with the laminar flow of swimming (God I like that phrase, “laminar flow”). I hope one of these days to post a follow up on some of the articles I’ve been editing (not so much editing as eliciting, really — they’re written by good folks who need very little tweaking) — see under cities here. I’m hoping to have a week by week topical summary with links up and running shortly.
    As always, your comments, pointers and suggestions will be much appreciated.

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