Interview with Sheela Patel

Lauren Zelin of WRI sat down with Sheela Patel of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) ahead of the upcoming World Resources Report on Cities.

Patel is the founder of SDI, an international network of poor people’s organizations and the NGOs that support them in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and is currently its chairperson. She is widely recognized – nationally and internationally – for seeking urgent attention to the issues of urban poverty, housing and infrastructure. She has helped pioneer the strategy of building the capacity of poor people’s organizations so they can negotiate their rights at different levels.

Patel is the founding director of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), an NGO set up in 1984 in India to explore alliances and partnerships with community organizations of the urban poor in their efforts to seek their right to the city through secure housing and basic amenities. The initial work of SPARC, with pavement dwellers threatened with eviction, let to its facilitating the creation of Mahila Milan, a network of women's collectives. They later aligned with the National Slum Dwellers' Federation (NSDF), a predominantly male organization in India. Together the alliance is now present in in 70 cities in nine different states.

Since 1999, when the alliance created a non-profit company, she has also been the secretary and chief executive of SPARC Samudaya Nirman Sahayak (SSNS), set up to assist slum communities in building homes and sanitation for themselves.