FEDUP as the Vector for a new DNA


A methodological blind spot can significantly generate  challenges on the ground: Fedup is not an ISN affiliate.

This would assume that ISN is the umbrella institution and Fedup one of its composite parts. Fedup is the vector for a new DNA.  NGOs regularly end up trying to be this vector for change. This is because Fedup is weak in  some areas and not able to perform this function. In fact this problem is pervasive in the informal settlement upgrading program of the SA Alliance. Durban, perhaps, is the only exception.

The issue is that ISN is a network of traditional leadership. Their task should be to mobilize and network communities around issues related to urban exclusion: no tenure, no services, evictions and so on. They should use this networking mechanism to engage the state. But at the same time they should open space for women to set up savings collectives which become the instruments for managing the in situ upgrading process. ISN would then interface with CORC staff around the political agenda, while the savings collectives would work with  professionals around the upgrading. This is not a formula and situations  on the ground are indicative of a process unfolding. It is a goal, a work in progress, an ideal state. It is okay that Fedup’s role in some instances has been taken by other institutions, even professionals. One important indicator of progress for CORC will be when the professionals and ISN take up their rightful positions, and women’s collectives coordinate the upgrading process (but not at the exclusion of the men).

Therefore most challenges in upgradings are not linked to the hesitant buy-in of the communities as is easily assumed by the formal sector. That is a given. That is part of the old way of things that we are trying to change: people are passive (or angry) beneficiaries waiting for a hand out. Most challenges are  linked to the fact that in the absence of a women’s savings process (supported by SDI experience in change) partnerships have to rely on 1) professionals who automatically reinforce the dependency syndrome – simply shifting expectations of the people from the state to the professionals and 2) on male leadership from ISN who also do things the old traditional way: mobilizing people around external forces and around internal problems (external forces plus internal problems means that mobilization equals give the internal problem to external forces to solve.)

The DNA metaphor is helpful for those who evidently still struggle with understanding this process. Evolution happens when a recessive gene or a new genetic mutation develops as a result of external stimuli. For a long time this mutation is at high risk of dying out but if it is able to reproduce and survive massive competition from the un-mutated majority it will eventually dominate and pass its mutation on to the rest of the species.

If you do not have the mutation you cannot have evolutionary change. If you do not have a social mutation at community level you cannot have developmental change. Change is not taught or passed on through skills training, and that is why professionals cannot produce change. It happens because environmental conditions push the process in that direction.

What SDI does is try to keep the vector for change alive and assist in the creation of conditions where the mutation becomes so successful that it becomes the new organizational DNA. This new organizational DNA is women, because women (inter alia) are accustomed to organizing around their own capacities, sharing those capacities and finding solutions through accommodation not conflict. That is why male dominated organizations, fighting for rights, cannot produce change.