New EdX on Entrepreneurial Land Redevelopment Approach

I recently contributed to a book on Global Experiences in Land Readjustment organized by MIT and sponsored/published by UN-Habitat (United Nations Human Settlements Programme). Now, the lessons from this book are being offered in a free 5 week, e-course through EdX. This course examines and presents processes of designing and implementing land readjustment in the context of developing countries. 

Entrepreneurial Land Redevelopment Approach: Land Readjustment 

This course examines and presents processes of designing and implementing land readjustment in the context of developing countries.

Land readjustment is an alternative land-assembly approach to government compulsory purchase (often referred to as eminent domain) and voluntary market transaction. In the land readjustment process, a public or private agency invites property owners to become stakeholders in a redevelopment project and to contribute their lands to the project as investment capital. In return, each property owner receives a land site of at least equal value in the vicinity of the original site upon project completion. After all properties in the district are assembled, the combined land sites are subdivided to make space for wider roads and other local infrastructure.

The conventional approaches to land assembly are often conflict-ridden. Through this course, practitioners can add another viable option to their toolbox by learning about land readjustment as an alternative approach to urbanization in developing countries.

Land readjustment has been shown to reduce the initial capital requirement for land assembly, discourage holdouts, and minimize massive relocation of existing residents. When applying land readjustment at the right time and in the right place, this approach could mediate a major hindrance of land redevelopment in countries that are facing rapid urbanization.

What you’ll learn

  • Increase your awareness and knowledge of land readjustment as a tool for facilitating urbanization and land redevelopment in developing countries;
  • Provide you with techniques and strategies to design and implement land readjustment projects;
  • Expose you to selected international experiences of land readjustment; and
  • Facilitate cross-fertilization of ideas between you and other global policymakers, practitioners, and scholars who are interested in adopting land readjustment in their home country.

Big question need thoughtful solutions

In the first half of 2018, we have been busy researching and designing solutions for more livable, prosperous and resilient communities related to:

  • the Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s border municipalities;
  • the role companies can play supporting collective reparation and environmental conservation in Colombia;
  • the water and sanitation crisis in Gaza; and
  • youth employment and agricultural productivity in India.

These are just some of the global challenges we are helping clients answer. What solutions can we help you design?

The Stranger and the City

In February, Brian English collaborated with Ana Candida Carneiro (award-winning playwright) at Harvard University to host an interdisciplinary workshop to investigate the theme of the stranger within the urban landscape. The workshop facilitated dialogue about concepts from urban studies, geography, cognitive sciences and the theory of complex systems, to help participants explore new ways of thinking about theatrical events, alternative writing processes, and ways of exploring cities. Here is what some of the participants said:

  • “What a wonderful workshop! Thank you so much for doing this. I learned a great deal and a new vision emerged for me.” – Jeffrey Mcnary, Cambridge-based published writer.

  • “I enjoyed your workshop very much, and was moved by the contributions of our fellow participants. Sincere thanks to the facilitators for creating a supportive environment in which a diverse and richly informed group of participants could come together and share their unique perspectives. The Stranger and the City workshop was thought-provoking and highly conducive to generating new performative works. I look forward to my next involvement with Babel Theater Project.” – Hortense Gerardo, playwright and anthropologist.

  • “This workshop was a wonderful creative experience! The idea of feeling the city, connecting with people and interacting with diversity, brought a true sense of performance to anyone who wishes to release imagination. I look forward to participating in other Babel Theater Project initiatives.” – Lena Macedo, published writer.

About the facilitator:

Ana Candida Carneiro is an award-winning and published playwright. She grew up in Brazil and lived fifteen years in Italy, before immigrating to the USA in 2015. Her work has been performed in Italy, France, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Monaco, South Africa, and in the USA. She has been supported by institutions such as the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Royal Court Theater, MacDowell, and Yaddo. Her works touch on themes like social justice, globalization, immigration, culture clash, gender inequity, and climate change, using multiple and invented languages, heterogeneous linguistic registers and genres, and are increasingly marked by experimentation with the dramatic form. She writes in English, Italian and Portuguese. Ana is also a scholar and teacher, and currently holds a position as postdoctoral Research Associate at Harvard University, in the department of Theatre, Dance and Media. Her research focuses on experimental and interdisciplinary approaches to playwriting and the pedagogy of playwriting from a global perspective. She is currently writing The Global Playwriting Workbook (Methuen Drama, 2019).

Lessons from the base

What big business can learn from entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid.

For over a decade now I have been helping companies of all sizes invest in themselves and their communities around the world. From the Congo to the Caribbean, from Brazil to Bangalore, I’ve helped Fortune 500 companies and eager start-up entrepreneurs with big ideas advance development outcomes while driving their business forward. It’s hard work.

But the world is demanding it and frankly, as we all know, the world needs it. As Official Development Assistance faces massive cuts on the horizon, companies and NGOs will be taking up the slack, whether they like it or not. The Harvard Business Review explained this month in Competing on Social Purpose that “Consumers increasingly expect brands to have not just functional benefits but a social purpose”.

This is not the only change businesses big and small are facing. Radical change will be driven by the likes of bitcoin and blockchain, which will soon sweep through the business community. The effects of climate change and urbanization will be forces to recon with too. These are just a few of the challenges that leaders in the public and private sector alike will have to step up and face as they guide their organizations through our rapidly evolving world.

But are leaders stepping up?

In introducing his new book, Core: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for Good, Neil Gaught warns, “Though the tides of change are engaging the minds of business leaders, most are still trapped behind their brands and an approach to corporate social responsibility that is out of step with a connected society that increasingly questions ‘who’ these businesses really are and what drives their purpose.”

Those that have invested in defining their purpose beyond making money, Neil explains, are on the journey to change; but there are those that have gone further and translated their purpose into a powerful strategic management tool that has the potential to change their business for good. He calls this a Single Organizing Idea (SOI) and cites in his book several examples, the most famous of which is Unilever’s Sustainable Living Plan.

Applied across the business, an SOI has the power and potential to drive real change for good, he says. It will help ensure that these businesses and organizations are fit for the future and able to “deliver sustainable economic and social benefit; unite people, attract investment, inspire innovation, pioneer new efficiencies, and enjoy positive reputation.”

Lessons from the Base

Like me, Neil’s ideas and conclusions have been based on first hand experiences. Many of the social enterprises I have supported over the years, like LabourNet, already embody many elements of a Single Organizing Idea that benefit everyone, not always by design, but out of necessity. This is where I think big business can learn a lot from entrepreneurs building social enterprises at the base of the pyramid.

Social enterprises don’t have CSR departments, or Corporate Citizenships teams, or Shared Value initiatives. They have lean teams of professionals dedicated to creating business models anchored on strong values that aim to achieve both profit and purpose. They navigate their journeys balancing these aims. At the core of those enterprises that succeed is a Single Organizing Idea that benefits the business and community.

India has been a beacon of innovation in this field, with entrepreneurs creating enterprises that span from sanitation to education improvements. My research on some of these enterprises, published this month in India as a Pioneer of Innovation, Oxford University Press, examines Market-Based Solutions to Poverty Reduction and profiles two case studies. In these cases I examine the factors that enable these enterprises to succeed as a business and at its social or environmental purpose.

Turning the Market as a Force for Good

Throughout all my work with enterprises and designing development programs, I regularly contemplate the fundamental question of: How can we integrate both profit and purpose so the market can become a force for positive development?

This is similar to the question that Paul Hawken challenged us with back in 1993 when he wrote, we must make “acting sustainable as easy as falling off a log” in The Ecology of Commerce.

I’m hearing the business community ask similar question today. At a recent #CoreSOI debate in DC someone asked, “how can we embed sustainability into business so we can promote it, rather than challenge it all the time, and so it doesn’t feel like pushing a rock up a hill.”

Again, I think this is where social enterprises are leading the charge. They’re engaging critical actors and a slice of the public in a politics of structural change that makes their business and societal purpose possible.

Leading Under Pressure

I recently spoke to two social enterprises at the Sustainatopia conference in Boston about the charges they are leading.

Care2Communities spoke to me about how they provide comprehensive, affordable primary health care to families through self-sustaining, community-based clinics, in Haiti. Sometimes they even deliver this in shipping containers. They are driven, at their core, by a strong set of values and an SOI of providing “affordable, quality care.” As they manage their operations, they are constantly analyzing how to adjust fees so that they are affordable and sufficient to maintain their operations. At the same time, they are engaging critical actors of government and donors around the structural changes that sustain these services, from policies to subsidies.

SourceTrace, who digitizes farming to benefit small holder farmers, explained to me that they face pressure from two sides: collecting the modest fees from the farmer coops around the world, while generating a return for his investors. ”Patient capital” was the critical ingredient SourceTrace explained. Businesses also need support from investors and their board of directors. Which raises the biggest issue, Wall Street.

Impact investing is the bright spot in the financial world today. It’s a maturing market and will help nudge businesses to evolve towards generating social and environmental impact alongside financial returns. Likewise, the larger inclusive business community is also growing at pace, as are initiatives like Inclusive Business Action Network (IBAN), which are helping trigger collective action by connecting the dots between the vast number of ideas, people and enterprises like B-Corps, B-teams, Shared Value initiatives and conscious capitalism that make up the ecosystem. But is the pace of innovation fast enough? One thing is certain:

…Business as usual won’t work in the future.

There is clearly a long way to go yet towards more sustainable business. For myself and the leaders I work with, the question is not if but how to usher in reform, continually, because it’s not an end but a journey; and one we need to move quickly and decisively along. Developing a Single Organizing Idea provides the opportunity to address issues of profit, purpose, and values as we navigate towards a more prosperous and sustainable future. Whether the enterprise is for-profit or not, big or small, the world needs more and demands more. We can learn a lot from social enterprises at the base of the pyramid leading the charge.

Photo: Company executives meet with a local community group as part of the Sowing Futures program in Brazil.

Brian English is an independent consultant and author who specializes in helping companies, governments and communities create enduring solutions to intractable social and economic problems.

Additional reading:

Market-Based Solutions to Poverty Reduction in India, by Brian English in India as a Pioneer of Innovation, Oxford University Press

Core: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for Good, Neil Gaught

Join the Debate: How a Single Organizing Idea can change business for good.

Front cover CORE

In October, Emerging Development Solutions supported Neil Gaught and the Ipsos Sustainable Development Research Centre to organize a series of debates in Boston, New York, and Washington DC to discuss the opportunities of “changing business for good”.

These debates have engaged leaders from companies, governments, academia and the media and are advancing an important dialogue about how companies can become a force for more sustainable and inclusive development. The catalyst for the debates was Neil’s recently published book: CORE: How a Single Organizing Idea Can Change Business for Good.

The first discussion was held in London and last is organized in New Zealand, creating a global dialogue with 15+ events. Watch the London video to learn more and hear feedback from leading figures such as Unilever’s VP Sustainability Karen Hamilton.

Screenshot 2017-10-19 11.26.07
Hear the leaders from the London debate (video)

Two articles reflecting on the debates in Boston, NY, and DC include:

Screenshot 2017-10-19 11.11.52

Screenshot 2017-10-19 11.00.58

To engage in the debate or learn more about SOI, contact us or learn more here.




New Book: "India as a Pioneer of Innovation" addresses Market-Based Solutions for Poverty Reduction

India as Pioneer Book

Now available on Amazon:

Market-Based Solutions for Poverty Reduction in India 

By Brian English

The rapid increase in slum populations in India, now at 93 million, has far outpaced the impact of interventions to date. Market-based solutions have started gaining the attention of governments, international aid groups, NGOs and entrepreneurs as they look for new ways to scale up their impact and sustain their interventions. Thousands of new social enterprises that seek to provide social benefits, and sustain largely on business revenues, have sprung up in response. These initiatives are welcome news to governments and donors with tighter budgets. And their rapid proliferation has attracted the attention of impact investors looking to create the next microfinance industry.

India has been a beacon of innovation in market-based poverty reduction, creating enterprises that span from sanitation to education improvements. This chapter profiles two case studies of market-based solutions in India that provide some important lessons for others fostering similar initiatives: 1) LabourNet, a social enterprise that provides vocational skills for informal-sector workers. It began in Bangalore and has now scaled up to thirteen regions of India; and 2) the Trash to Treasure programme, which started as a pilot to test enterprise models for recycling waste in Bangalore and has evolved into a network of organisations that are establishing one of India’s first city-wide recycling programmes. Both cases demonstrate how partnerships between local government and social enterprises can deliver large-scale results. Both cases also show how important the enabling environment is to these supply-driven enterprises, in addition to fine-tuning their business models.

Read the full chapter:

Accelerating Innovation through 'Young Leaders Awards' at Habitat III, Quito

The growing youth demographic in many countries is a phenomenon that will be reckoned with for generations. To turn the youth bulge into a demographic dividend, countries need to focus on policies that develop this human capital and their full citizenship.

In the run-up to the UN Habitat III conference in Quito, Ecuador, November 17-20, 2016, the Mega-Cities Project organized a global competition to identify Young Leaders that are implementing creative solutions to urban challenges at the intersection of poverty, environment and voice. Global Communities shared this opportunity with Francisco Javier Sequeira Rankin, a young leader supported by USAID’s Municipal Governance Program (MGP) who has been successful in strengthening youth civic engagement through the Bluefield’s Indian & Caribbean University (BICU) Observatory for Human Rights and Autonomy (OHRA). Francisco was one of two Young Leaders selected from candidates who applied across the Americas, Africa and Asia.


Over the past four years, MGP has supported BICU-OHRA in their pursuit to strengthen the Adolescents and Youth Municipal Councils (COMAJ) in four municipalities in the Caribbean Coast of Nicaragua, the region with the highest poverty rate in the country and home to the majority of indigenous and afro-descendant populations. This initiative has brought together more than 450 young people (58% women) to promote critical analysis of their interests and supports their interaction with the Municipal Government to raise their demands and exercise their rights. The COMAJ are democratically elected bodies made up of members aged 15-29.  The COMAJ motivate the youth to get involved in good governance practices and gives them an opportunity to take a leadership role in their communities. Through constant coaching and mentoring, the COMAJ youth are trained in a variety of skills, including project management, advocacy, and gender equality, preparing this cadre of young leaders to engage with the municipality and civil society organizations. This gives the members of the COMAJ a greater understanding of needs in their communities, how to create projects to meet these needs, and how to establish local partnerships to achieve them. The impact of this program has led to some system changing solutions, such as youth focused projects that are now being included in the budgets of municipalities and the budget planning process. Projects already financed by the Municipalities include recreational parks and gymnasium upgrades and funds for cultural events.


In addition to these efforts, since 2014, the Observatory for Human Right of BICU has been coordinating the Youth Roundtable, which creates more effective joint efforts on adolescents and youth issues by coordinating multi-sector dialogues between organizations working in this space. This effort has led local authorities to start building the Regional Youth Development Policy.


The Mega-Cities Project selected Francisco and the Youth Program because of their leadership in the region, their demonstration of system challenging ideas, and their progress is scaling solutions into policy. The Youth Program is creating young leaders and social entrepreneurs which can inspire other similar movements. Mega Cities and Global Communities selected Francisco and the Youth Program as both an effective and inspiring example the types of initiatives communities across the globe need.


Francisco shared his story with 100s of people at a lively and highly engaged audience in a Networking Session of the UN Habitat III conference on Youth Initiatives in the Quest for Urban Inclusion: Emerging Voices and Networks, October 18, 2016. Francisco’s story was also broadcast by media in the region.




From Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowship comes Forthcoming Book: Searching for Citizenship


In this great wave of urbanization unfolding across developing countries over the next decades, citizenship is central to more equitable and inclusive city building and place making. 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030 and almost all (95%) of urban expansion will take place in developing countries over the next decades. This wave of growth is marked by the urbanization of poverty, where 828 million people live in slums today and the number keeps rising.

This forthcoming book explores the paths that some of the most marginalized populations in the world are taking to establish citizenship, in all its forms, from land rights to jobs. In this search, these populations must also acquire the very fundamental needs of identity, legitimacy, security, and voice in their lives and the decision-making that affects them and their communities. The characters of these stories are those that learn to write their own narrative and find courage to speak up and take action, in big ways and small ways. And they navigate institutional rules while wrestling to change others. In this process, leadership manifests, at all levels and from all sectors, to confront debilitating norms in an unequal world.

Through a compelling set of stories from across the globe, this book explores questions central to effective policy making and development solutions:

  • Who decides? Who has the authority?
  • Where do we look for permission?
  • What is planning? Is it that which remains bounded by the law and upholds formal regulations? Or is it the relationship between the published plan and unmapped territory?
  • Where do solutions come from? Top-down, bottom-up, young, old, experts or novices, or somewhere in between? How can this process be accelerated?
  • In what ways does leadership form various domains – government, NGOs, civil society – engage critical actors and a slice of the public in a politics of structural change?
  • How do people and communities organize, influence, and get what they want?

International group, Deere Foundation helping Moline's Floreciente neighborhood

Paul Colletti/

MOLINE — A new project initiated by the John Deere Foundation will place a sole focus on the needs, desires and success of Moline’s Floreciente neighborhood.

The foundation has made a grant to the international nonprofit organization Global Communities which, for three years, will work in partnership with the residents, businesses and other advocates to identify and provide what the neighborhood needs to thrive.

Mara Sovey Downing, president of the John Deere Foundation and director of global brand management and corporate citizenship, said the idea for such a project initially was sparked in 2011 after the company wrapped up a holiday food basket drive that unveiled the deep level of need in the community.

Ms. Downing said Deere & Co. chairman and CEO Samuel Allen remarked that everyone felt great about volunteering for a weekend and they helped many people — but how could the company create meaningful, lasting change.

“How do we help people out of poverty and revive neighborhoods?” she said.

In the following years, Ms. Downing said the needs of the Floreciente neighborhood became more apparent. The foundation already had engaged Global Communities to help in Deere’s factory communities in Brazil and India, where the nonprofit successfully worked to improve living conditions, infrastructure, skills and employment for those residents, she said.

Last fall, the foundation called Global Communities to Moline to work in the Floreciente neighborhood, which roughly spans from the Rock Island border to 12th Street, and from the Mississippi River to 5th Avenue.

The 60-year-old nonprofit was launched to focus on community housing to promote social and economic empowerment. For the past 30 years, it has worked internationally and expanded its help to include economic development, humanitarian assistance, governance and urban management, global health and disaster response.

It now works in 25 countries and has found success by partnering with people, agencies, organizations and governments. Community engagement is key to every project.

“It is about empowering communities,” said Annisa Wanat, Global Communities program director for the Moline office.

“We really want to work with the Floreciente community and empower them to get what they need, envision and desire,” she said. “We are going to work on housing, health care, education and work on whatever it is that is needed.

“The approach here is to work with the community on the community’s needs,” Ms. Wanat said.

What does Floreciente need?

Brian English, director of program innovation at Global Communities, said it will have an open-ended dialog with neighborhood residents and businesses. “We want to know what are the things they struggle with the most,” he said.

Last October, Mr. English did an assessment of the Floreciente, looking at economic, education and quality-of-life elements. He found the neighborhood is lagging behind.

“It is a neighborhood that can use some support, tools and resources,” he said.

For example, the median income of Floreciente neighborhood residents is half that of other residents in Moline.

Ms. Downing said half of Floreciente residents older than 18 do not have a high school degree. The question then becomes how to help those residents earn a GED or get technical training to increase employment opportunities and earning potential, she said.

Ms. Downing said she would like to see the neighborhood association revived or re-created and Floreciente businesses connected to the broader Quad-Cities economy. She also seeks neighborhood beautification, resparked pride and a celebration of the neighborhood’s cultural heritage.

Mr. English said many groups, organizations and nonprofits already are working in the Floreciente neighborhood. Global Communities hopes to better coordinate all the efforts to achieve a greater collective outcome for the residents.

“We are looking at how can we support that neighborhood and other organizations that have an interest in that neighborhood,” he said. “How can we bring the skills, resources and services we offer to that community to help find pathways for employment, find ways to increase investment, beautification, and whatever it is they identify as their other pressing needs?”

Mr. English said a lot of the relationship and trust building started this summer. Global Communities has met with organizations and residents already active in the neighborhood and plans to ramp up those efforts over the next three months and hold neighborhood meetings.

Ms. Downing said, so far, the residents and groups they have talked to are interested and ask when things will get started.

“I think the excitement is building,” she said.

On Tuesday, Global Communities will make a presentation at the Moline City Council meeting. Moline’s planning and development director Ray Forsythe said the city has been meeting with the Deere Foundation for more than six months on the project.

“I think this will bring the neighborhood together with a stronger focus, and they will look at what is best for the neighborhood,” Mr. Forsythe said.

“We are really excited,” he said. “It will be a model that Deere & Co. can take to other communities where it does business and Global Communities can take to clients in other communities.”

Massive Open On-Line Cities

By Brian English, Director of Program Innovation, Global Communities

This blog is part of a series I convened and edited for Global Communities called Accelerating Innovation in the Internet of Cities which discusses how cities can learn, adopt and transfer innovations between each other in order to solve local issues of global significance.

As an urban planner working in the field of international development, I have spent my career working with cities around the globe to solve problems, plan for their aspirations, and help them learn from other cities in the process. Recently, at Global Communities, we partnered with five cities across India and Ghana to improve slum conditions and livelihoods.

During this time, I observed how revolutions in information and communication technology (ICT) are altering the entire ecosystem of connections that enable city stakeholders to access information, learn from each other, and engage in problem solving. This is inspiring and enabling a global movement to reimagine how development solutions can be implemented with marginalized urban communities and how innovations can be propagated at the grassroots.

It is a “smart cities” movement of its own kind, building tools to democratize information, increase transparency, and change traditional information flows that prevent communities from having a voice in their city. It is being supported and led by non-profit IT organizations, like UshahidiGround Truth,Development Gateway, and hundreds of others who provide free, open source platforms. Organizations like Global Communities, which serves as a catalyst for solutions in communities, use these tools to transform traditional development activities.

Building Networks and Collective Understanding
Mapping communities with residents, for example, has been an entry point activity in development programs for decades. This is often the first step in forming a relationship with a community and for residents to network and inform their collective understanding of their neighborhood. Now this data can be collected, updated and shared at a scale, sophistication, and fraction of the cost compared to old modes. Global Communities surveyed and mapped over 1.15 million slum residents across India and Ghana using a combination of simple, user-friendly tools. We then made it available to city stakeholders and the public domain, both on-line and off-line. For example, we used Walking Papers to map slums with community members and then contributed toOpenStreetMaps, a free editable map of the world created by volunteers using the widespread availability of GPS tools in phones. We also shared this information through paper-based “slum atlases” and helped them become part of official land records in local governments.

Initiatives like this fill critical information gaps that enable strategic planning with the latent energy of a broader group of stakeholders to legitimize findings and develop solutions – not just the government. They also add to what Tim Campbell calls, “tissue of remembering”, a suite of institutionalized places, documents and practices that innovative cities can use to analyze and establish strategies. You can’t manage what you can’t measure.

Most importantly, collective learning and open data exercises like this provide fuel for the transactions of democracy – where solutions are forged. In Pune, I observed this when one slum resident said: “Now I know everything about my neighborhood. Once there was a debate on the availability of garbage bins and water taps and because of the mapping I knew exactly the status in my cluster and the [elected representative] had to listen to me.” Xavier Briggs, author of “Democracy as Problem Solver,” explains that solutions progress where there is a combination of continuous learning and bargaining, multiple forms of accountability forged, and the capacity of the grassroots and grass tops are leveraged.

How far can we go?
As citizens become more connected through new and evolving ICT, the horizon of opportunities to empower individuals by connecting them with each other and new information sources seems endless and full of potential.

When mobile phones proliferated across the world, technology companies saw the opportunity to integrate computing power into this platform and create smart phones. This same imagination was carried forward by groups on the front-lines of development among vulnerable communities. In 2008, we began helping
a social enterprise called LabourNet capitalize on the proliferation of mobile phones among low-wage construction workers to send SMS messages advertising job opportunities and then, in turn, dispatched workers to job sites. As LabourNet grew its membership, they were then able to use this new bargaining power to approach banks and insurance companies to get bank accounts and low-cost health insurance for these workers. Over the three years we worked with LabourNet, 44,000 workers signed up for these offerings. The market spoke and the program scaled. If people are poor because they are powerless, then our job, like LabourNet did, is to give them tools to gain education, legitimacy, and connections with the wider economy that empower them.

Other powerful experiments are also underway for the broader institutions of cities to engage in distance learning and collective learning. Coursera is offering a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Designing Cities by University of Pennsylvania’s Design School and Harvard’s EdX now offers a MOOC on Evaluating Social Programs. To explore the potential of this emerging movement, I recently signed up to participate in my first MOOC through Harvard’s EdX. In my course there are 4,792 students signed up across 1,234 cities. Through the EdX website we can find other students in our area, form study groups and meet in person. The course is taught by two world-renowned professors, a group of advanced doctoral students, and volunteers. I did not have to pass any entrance exams to get into the course, and I don’t pay anything. This is the kind of potential that can be imagined for distance learning and open education in the information age. The economics of who pays for platforms like this are yet to be determined. But one thing is for sure; people will only participate and pay if they see value.

resident survey

Tools to empower marginalized communities. In Pune, women were trained to survey their neighbors. This data was aggregated into a GIS system and housed within the city government and used to reveal patterns in the conditions of these slums. More powerfully, the data was given back to the women who collected it and they were taught how to organize conversations about common problems. They were taught how to seek consensus, prioritize issues, mobilize local resources and advocate with government for additional resources.

Over the Hump: Getting the Green City Movement to a Tipping Point

This blog by Steve Nicholas is part of a series I convened and edited for Global Communities called Accelerating Innovation in the Internet of Cities which discusses how cities can learn, adopt and transfer innovations between each other in order to solve local issues of global significance.

By Steve Nicholas, Vice President. Institute for Sustainable Communities

biking across bridgeSteve NicholasGuide to Greening Cities

When I became director of the City of Seattle’s newly formed Office of Sustainability and Environment in 2000, there were just a handful of such positions in the US – all in places you’d expect: Portland, Oregon; Berkeley, California; Burlington, Vermont; and the like. Today, well over 1,000 communities have sustainability directors and programs in place, including many “unusual suspect” cities where the political waters are far less warm and inviting: Houston, Texas; Fayetteville, Arkansas; Dubuque, Iowa; and many others.

As my co-authors and I showcase in The Guide to Greening Cities, a fast-growing array of urban leaders are realizing that they hold a key, if not the key, to meeting the urgent global challenges of climate disruption and unsustainable human development. With more than 50 percent of the world’s population already living in urban areas – a slice that’s projected to grow to about 70 percent (some 6.4 billion people) by 2050 – it’s clear that cities no longer can gobble up three-quarters of the global energy supply, the vast majority of it derived from climate-disrupting fossil fuels. They must transform themselves – from being a big part of the problems to becoming laboratories and leaders ofsolutions.

The good news is that many cities – here in the U.S. and abroad – are rising to that challenge, reinventing everything from how they design, construct and manage buildings to the way they manage energy and water supplies and think about regional food systems. This “green city movement” is growing fast and inspiring lots of hope along the way; but it is far from the tipping point. Only a small percentage of the 30,000 municipalities in the US have people and/or plans truly dedicated to sustainability. And there is lots of variability in the quality of the efforts even among the early adopters. Relatively few have sufficiently robust and systematic approaches – a “triple bottom line” scope integrated across economic development, environmental protection and social welfare goals; effective multi-stakeholder engagement; and a sustainability-oriented performance management system driving the development and continuous improvement of the city’s policies and practices.

What is holding this movement back? What might accelerate its progress toward that much-needed tipping point? At the Institute for Sustainable Communities (ISC) we believe that one of the best ways to help urban leaders is to provide them with efficient, affordable access to good information, expertise, and – most importantly – each other. A tremendous amount of experimentation and innovation is going on across the country. But these reinventions don’t spread widely, in large part because the innovators are hunkered down, focused on achieving and sustaining their own successes and managing their own complex suite of fiscal and political challenges. It’s not that they are stingy; on the contrary, most early adopter-types love to share their stories and help their counterparts learn and copy from them. But they have neither the mandate nor the resources to do it.

Peer learning and network development are among the fastest and most effective ways to build capacity for urban solutions. When well-designed and executed, they provide practitioners with efficient access to the information (success stories and lessons learned) and the people (their peers in other cities who are toiling away in similar trenches) who can help them the most. ISC leads or supports a number of peer-learning and networking efforts in the US and Asia. For example, in the US we lead the National Sustainable Communities Learning Network, serving about 200 communities across the country that are receiving grants through the federal government’s ground-breaking Partnership for Sustainable Communities to better integrate actions and investments related to land use, housing, transportation, economic development and social justice. And we support the Western Adaptation Alliance (a learning community of 13 cities and counties in the Intermountain West focused on climate adaptation and resilience) and the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact (a collaboration of four counties in this climate-vulnerable part of the country representing one-third of the state’s population and economy).

We’re learning a lot from these experiences – sometimes the hard way – about the fine art of peer-learning and network-building. Among those lessons learned are these:

  • Create value from the start, and sustain it throughout, in particular by letting the network’s customers (members) drive the development and governance of the network (including decisions about which products and services to prioritize);
  • Start small and simple, and take it from there. The bigger the network, the harder it will be to get it off the ground. Start with a relatively small group that already enjoys a high degree of commonality and camaraderie. And focus first on “the little things” first (trust-building and efficient information sharing) before taking on heavier lifts (such as joint policy statements or purchasing agreements).
  • Provide sustained “backbone support” with a servant-leader orientation. While the best networks tend to be those that are the most deeply “owned and operated” by their members, none can rely solely on that. There must be a person(s) and/or organization(s) playing the critical hub-of-the-wheel role.

“If you build it, they will come,” is a famous line from the 1989 American movie “Field of Dreams.” But when it comes to peer networks, it just doesn’t apply. How the network is designed, initiated and facilitated very much determines its success (or lack thereof). Without engaged participation and ownership by its members, the network is unlikely to either net or work.

Steve Nicholas is the Vice President for US Programs at the Institute for Sustainable Communities, former director of the Seattle Office of Sustainability & Environment and co-author of “The Guide to Greening Cities.”

Innovating at the Intersections of Cities

This blog coauthored by Brian English and Janice Perlman is part of a series I convened and edited for Global Communities called Accelerating Innovation in the Internet of Cities which discusses how cities can learn, adopt and transfer innovations between each other in order to solve local issues of global significance.

Why we need to cross borders, disciplines, and other boundaries to create solutions

By Dr. Janice Perlman, Founder, The Mega-Cities Project, March 26th, 2014

Brazil Oct 20131

If we stand tall it is because we stand on the shoulders of many ancestors. – Yoruba Proverb

We Cannot Wait Another Generation
It is widely accepted today that cities are a positive force in global development and that the future of the planet depends on the future of its cities. But experience shows that there is often a 20-25 year time lag between new ideas and their incorporation into public policy. For example, in many countries it has taken decades for policy makers to stop looking at slum neighborhoods as problems, and instead see them as solutions developed by families seeking a better life for themselves and contributing to economic growth through the cities’ informal economy. Only then have appropriate policy responses followed, where policy makers focus on providing land-tenure instead of bulldozers. But not every city is at this same juncture, and many individuals and institutions throughout these cities are hungry to learn how they can advance their own solutions.

With the mounting challenges facing cities today – climate change, violence, job creation, democracy building, and inequality – we cannot afford to wait generations for new policies to be developed. Now more than ever, we need to turn our attention to how we can speed up this process and facilitate greater participation by all city residents and institutions.

Let’s be clear. Cities do not learn, only people learn. City governments can budget for and structure learning activities, build networks, and organize exposure trips, but ultimately learning and capacity building cannot just be a city hall endeavor, it must be a citywide and multi-stakeholder endeavor. Cities have short institutional memories and uncertain continuity. They also suffer from the “not-created-here” syndrome. To build continuity, cities need independent NGOs, research centers, academic consortia and other institutions with life spans beyond the electoral cycle or quarterly earnings statements.

Generation 1.0: The Mega Cities Project
I founded the Mega Cities Project in 1987 to “shorten the time lag between urban innovations and their implementation and diffusion”. To do this, we created a global network among 21 mega cities anchored by project coordinators and multiple-sector committees in each city. Together, we operated through a “dual strategy for deliberate social change”  that drew knowledge and know-how from empirical research and community wisdom.

We used a rigorous five-part methodology to search for innovative solutions that were socially just, ecologically sustainable, politically participatory and economically viable. We also sought to gain a deeper understanding of the process of innovation and the consequences for deliberate social changes in cities. We looked at: 1) Where do innovative ideas come from? 2) What are the conditions for successful implementation? and 3) How does innovation transfer work?

We found that the most fertile ground for urban innovation was – and still is – at the local level and at the nexus of poverty, environment, and inclusion.  It is at such intersections where people must cross disciplines, sectors and silos to experiment, learn, and collaborate.

Over our 25-year history of action research it has become clear:

1) There can be no urban environmental solution without alleviating poverty. The urban poor tend to occupy the most ecologically fragile areas of our cities, such as steep hillsides, low-lying swamplands, or areas adjacent to hazardous industries.  In addition, their lack of resources often prohibits them from having adequate water, sewage, or solid waste management systems. Without alternative locations and income for basic needs, their survival will be pitted against environmental needs.

2) There can be no lasting solutions to poverty or environmental degradation without building on bottom-up, community-based innovations. Since creativity was not distributed along lines of race, class, or gender, experts and policymakers are not always the best source of system-transforming innovations. The most creative and resource-efficient solutions to urban problems tend to emerge at the grassroots level, closest to the problems being solved. And, without local participation in implementation, even the best ideas are doomed to fail.

3) There can be no impact of scale without “sharing what works” across communities and cities and scaling up into public policy. While small may be beautiful, it’s still small – and the problems are enormous. In order to have meaningful impact, micro-initiatives need to be replicated through peer-to-peer learning or incorporated into public policy frameworks.

4) There can be no urban transformation without changing the old incentive systems and “rules of the game.” Since every sector of urban society holds a de facto veto on the others, local innovations can never achieve scale without cross-sector partnerships involving government, business, NGOs, academia, media, and grassroots groups. We need to create a climate conducive to experimentation, mutual learning, and collaboration.

Generation 2.0: Mega Cities x Mega Change (MC2)
Members of the Mega Cities Project founding network are now coming together to support the creation of the next generation of a global network that will foster urban change, the diffusion of urban innovations, and the development of new urban leaders. At the EcoCity conference in Montreal in 2011, it was named Mega-Cities/Mega-Change or MC2 (i.e. pure energy). MCengages the emerging young leaders in every sector and draws upon evolving information and communications technologies that enable us to reimagine elements of our network, from peer-to-peer learning to crowd-sourced funding of local projects.

Our original Coordinators and participants in our research-action teams have become leaders in their countries, regions and internationally. Today they are respected “elders” holding senior positions and have agreed to become mentors for those who share their passion. This fulfills a second mission: “to shorten the lag time between the next generation of urban leaders and their ability to make a difference.” MC2 is the fusion of the accumulated wisdom, credibility and trust of our founding network with the creativity, passion and technological sophistication of the next generation of urban change-makers.

Smartness in Three Flavors

By Tim Campbell, PhD Global Fellow, Urban Sustainability Laboratory, The Wilson Center
Tim CampbellBeyond smart Cities
This blog is part of a series I edited for Global Communities on Accelerating Innovation in the Internet of Cities which discusses how cities can learn, adopt and transfer innovations between each other in order to solve local issues of global significance.

Several years ago in Beyond Smart Cities*, I wrote about cities on the prowl. By the thousands, cities from around the globe are flying every which way, searching like so many hunters and gatherers to learn and share information. By one estimate, the 1,000 cities on the planet that have more than half a million people are engaged in many thousands of exchanges every year. Why so much prowling? It’s much cheaper and less risky to pick up the secrets of success by examining innovations at close range in other cities, where new practices have been tried out, than to reinvent the wheel back home. Nothing has slowed that pace, but some of the consequences of so much international inter-city exchange is smartness that is now appearing in three flavors.

First, cities are learning how to learn. This week, C-40 reported that cities are learning how to design and implement home-grown climate change reforms by picking clues and patterns from each other. In C-40, as with ICLEI and dozens of other special purpose NGOs, new attention is being paid to the learning process. A cottage industry of city-related web-sites, magazines, conferences, and blogs has shot up over the past decade. Atlantic Cities, Cities Today, CitiScope, New City, Sustainable Cities and many more aggregators specialize in pumping out lessons, spotting connections and focusing information on issues, policies and practices. The same is true of city-based membership organizations like CityNet, Global Cities Indicators, ICMA, Metropolis and UCLG. These organizations have always traded in information and knowledge, but the focus and sophistication are on the rise. These make it easier for cities to access and absorb new information.

A second flavor is that cities are learning how to be smart cities. One of the most ubiquitous, if not most popular topics of exchange concerns the high-tech and usually web-based applications that are at the core of smart cities. The prospects can be dazzling. Most involve sensors and feedback, in public spaces, parking spaces, car lanes, water systems, power grids, public lighting, neighborhoods and much more.

Consider autonomous vehicles as a publicly-owned utility. A recent traffic model at the University of Texas showed that autonomous vehicles numbering only a fraction of a city’s total fleet could reduce by an order of magnitude the number of vehicles on the road at any given time. That reduction could also clear the way for amenities in expanded open space and lead to dramatic reductions in accidents and fatalities. In the case of electric utilities, power management ranges from the individual household feeding the grid to smart grids at the regional scale feeding each other and each benefiting from reciprocal flows depending on grid requirements.

All these and other examples to some extent depend on centralized and decentralized elements reading and reacting to each other. We are told that the actions of thousands upon thousands of individuals can be rendered into patterns that can be made sense of, helping both centralized elements of the city—utilities, managers of vehicle fleets and buildings, first responders—to make more informed decisions just as individuals themselves can benefit by making more informed choices, for instance, to avoid congestion, find parking, adjust heating and lighting, or book a car. Most of these examples are already out there, and cities are quickly spreading this second flavor of smartness.

Third, and most important, cities are taking on a new awareness about themselves, a new and potentially transformative smartness: the collective identity of cities on the global scene. One of the by-products of so much city intercourse is the growing awareness among cities that they as individual actors have a vast greenfield of common ground. This terrain is rich in possibilities for cooperative action on many issues of national and global significance. National actions on global issues have proven to be sluggish and disappointing. Meanwhile, cities have made steady progress on a dozen fronts, some modest, others promising. Hundreds of cities have taken comprehensive action on climate change. Many have found novel ways to handle immigration, to set up first lines of defense to prevention of epidemic diseases, to strengthen resilience, and to a lesser extent, to fight poverty and preserve cultural assets. Sooner or later these small bricks will pile up to a more significant edifice of change. In all these flavors of smartness, private industry has shown an eagerness to enter these arenas bringing a fresh sense of possibilities and partnerships in cities that are simply not possible at the national level.

Cities have entered a transformative period of smartness in many flavors. They have shown us that city-to-city learning is alive with possibilities. City-to-city exchange leads to improved learning as well as to smart technologies that can revolutionize the relationships between center and periphery at every scale. Perhaps most intriguing, a new dawning has arrived as cities become cognizant of the benefits of cooperation with each other on problems of global goods.
*Beyond Smart Cities:  How Cities Network, Learn and Innovate.  London:  Routledge/Earthscan, 2012

Trash to Treasure: Women Entrepreneurs Help Pilot India’s First Citywide Recycling Program

As the world races headlong into the urban age, cities across developing countries are facing the significant challenges of governing increasingly complex urban systems and tackling higher rates of urban poverty. Where city governments have failed, social enterprises have increasingly taken the lead on forging new solutions and championing them into public policy. India has been a beacon of innovation in this field, pioneering solutions that span from mobile banking to low cost toilets.

Solid waste management sits at the nexus of these issues. This can be seen in Bangalore, India, where the city’s population of almost 8 million people produces about 4,000 tons of waste daily. An estimated 600 tons of this waste is recycled by about 20,000 informal waste pickers, nearly half of whom are women, mostly from lower castes and disadvantaged groups.

Working as individuals and small enterprises they retrieve recyclable materials from households, businesses, city streets and dump yards. They sort the materials, typically in back alleys or vacant lots, and sell them for small profits up the recycling chain. On average, a self-employed waste picker earns about 100 rupees, or $2, a day.

This informal sector forms the backbone of India’s nascent recycling economy. Their recovery and sale of recyclable materials creates “green jobs” downstream in the processing of these materials and reduces waste going to landfills, free of cost to the city. This, in turn, reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the occupational hazards are many, including harassment from police who treat them as thieves, and the public in general who treat them as second-class citizens.  Then there are health hazards from exposure to dangerous materials that are slowly being introduced by India’s growing middle class, like electronics, CFL light bulbs, and diapers.

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Caterpillar Foundation, Global Communities partnered with some of Bangalore’s most inspiring social entrepreneurs to formalize recycling systems in the city and improve the livelihoods of informal waste collectors. Social enterprises like Sahaas, Waste Wise, Daily Dump, Full Circle, and AIW partnered with us to create practical solutions based on our collective view that ‘nothing is waste’. Together we partnered with an even broader ecosystem of NGOs, citizen interest committees, government agencies, businesses, neighborhood associations, and most importantly, thousands of informal waste collectors that animate the recycling system every day.

We called the program Trash to Treasure because it capitalized on the value of recyclables to help pay for their clean up. The business model for our recycling centers is simple. The city provides the land and building costs, Global Communities uses grant money to kick-start the operations of the centers, and local NGOs or social enterprises manage the operations of each center. They hire and pay the waste pickers’ salaries by two fees. One is a monthly fee from households for collecting waste and the other is from selling recyclables and composted organic waste to larger recyclers.

We piloted seven recycling centers, which have a capacity to recycle 50 tons of waste per month. Based on the success of these centers, Bangalore’s municipal government is now rolling out the program by constructing one center in each of the 198 wards of the city, the first of its kind in India.

The neighborhood recycling centers legitimize an otherwise marginalized profession. Instead of relegating these activities to back alleys, the centers provide formally sanctioned space where economies of scale can be achieved in segregating, storing and selling recyclables. These centers also keep waste pickers safe because equipment, tools and appropriate clothing is provided.

We also sought to address the legitimacy of the informal collectors working independently across the city by addressing their “identity.” To do this, we helped the Bangalore city government issue identity cards to over 6,000 waste pickers and scrap dealers across the city. These ID cards authorize their legal right to work in the city. This was the first city in India to do this. These cards also enable workers to access additional government services like health care.  It sanctions their livelihood.

We then supported the formation of an association representing waste collectors in the city called Hasirudala (“green force”).  More than 2,500 individuals have joined the association and now have a collective voice of their own to advocate for their concerns. Through this association, we are now able to provide vocational and life skills training. We are also able to organize self help groups amongst women, so they can save, pool and lend their money to each other.

The entire Trash to Treasure program has been instrumental in helping this informal sector create more economically productive relationships that improve their position in the city, away from its fringes.