Who decides what poor people need, and what is most useful to them? Poor people are best positioned and resourced to find solutions for local issues. The most important learning vehicle in the South African Alliance – and for that matter all community alliances associated with SDI – is through the direct exchange of information, experience and skills between urban poor communities. Through exchanges, communities build a horizontal platform for learning and to share successes and failures in projects, give and receive advise on engaging government, share in work and life experiences, and exchange tactics and plans. This horizontal learning creates the critical mass and body of knowledge produced by the poor required to take community-based planning to scale. Exposure to international experiences and regional dialogues occur through the vast network of SDI.
Learning/demonstration centers are identified when local communities have succeeded in reaching a maturity level in either/or skillful implementation, strong social capital, building partnerships, and so forth. These are the front-liners, the innovators, the risk takers, the go-getters. There is no substitute for actual exposure. Learning and capacity building is enhanced when communities observe, ask questions, and adapts strategies for their own upgrading. These learning centers are well documented and leaders are able to articulate the peculiar obstacles and victories in their processes. This catalyst for creativity, innovation and transformation gives community leaders more options, scope and possibilities for implementing precedent-setting projects able to tilt the balance in favor of community-led planning.
To advance experiential learning, new leaders are accompanied by experienced leaders and visit settlements to begin dialogues on issue-based development solutions. An exchange can either be directed at introducing new settlements to the Alliance’s core activities, or for established settlements to share information, experience and skills. Often government officials accompany these exchanges, and a level-playing field is created with the focus on upgrading and improving living conditions.