Exchange and Learning
The People's Method: Learning by Doing
When professionals enter settlements of urban poverty to teach, the focus of learning is often taken away from the community. Even the most participatory approaches generally seek to ensure the acquiescence of the group to the ideas suggested by the "experts." As a result, communities are unable to advance their own strategies to address their own problems, and very often professionals provide solutions that are just too expensive and inappropriate to the needs on the ground.
Horizontal exchange, then, is the primary learning strategy of SDI. Participants within the savings networks learn best from each other - when one savings group has initiated a successful income-generating project or has replanned a settlement or has built a toilet block, SDI enables groups to come together and learn from intra-network achievements. The community exchange process builds upon the logic of 'doing is knowing' and helps to develop a collective vision. As savers travel from Khayelitsha to Greenpoint or Nairobi to Colombo, the network is unified and strengthened - not only at a street level but between towns, regions and provinces, and nation-states. In this way, locally appropriate ideas get transfered into the global millieu through dialogue amongst slumdweller partners.
Community-to-community exchanges allow participants to see themselves and their peers as experts, thereby breaking isolation to create a unified voice of the urban poor, reclaiming sites of knowledge that have frequently been co-opted by professionals, and strengthening solidarity to increase critical mass. The pool of knowledge generated through exchange programmes becomes a collective asset of the SDI network - so that when slumdwellers meet with external actors to debate development policies, they can draw from international examples, forcing government and other stakeholders to listen.
One of the most powerful aspects of exchange then, is when government ministers travel with SDI partners to learn about development from another context. As Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has said of her trip to Thailand: "I was exposed to a unique programme that forms partnerships between communities, government, and other stakeholders in identifying and developing suitable land for housing.