Sparc - society for the promotion of area resource centers
SPARC is one of the larger NGOs in India focused on facilitating the creation of voice of the urban poor in the development of the city. For the past 30 years, the Alliance of SPARC and its two community based social movements, National Slum Dwellers' federation (NSDF) and Mahila Milan has made a profound difference to thousands of households living under the threat of evictions/demolitions by providing them with the tools they need to engage the state and the city to secure permanent housing. The Alliance also works on sanitation and has provided hundreds of thousands of individuals with individual or community toilets in several states of India and supports communities to explore a wide range of solutions which will improve the quality of their lives. The key to this success is working with women's collectives in communities and empowering them to make a difference. We began in 1984, with an Area Resource Center in Byculla, Mumbai where women from the pavements settlements came together to discuss their problems and find solutions. They formed Mahila Milan and along with NSDF they launched a self developed census of themselves to collect data from the people living in temporary or permanent slums which we call enumerations by the poor themselves. Those who were once In visible to the government and institutions, the urban poor are now visible and can no longer be ignored.
With such powerful tools of self inquiry, SPARC, National Slum Dwellers' federation (NSDF) and Mahila Milan set up women’s savings groups which also managed loans to their families, identified, their need for identity and documentation. They were then able to help women in these communities to establish basic savings accounts in a bank got them ration cards and other documentation needed for anyone living in cities.
The savings and loans managed by communities produced financial literacy, demonstrated trust and management capacity and ensured that out of the savings that were collected from hundreds, and eventually thousands of households, the women are able to take loans to finance necessary improvements in their lives. Because these accounts were established, collected, and managed by the women of the slum households and not outsiders, they proved to be financially viable, stable, and empowering for the urban poor. The Federations are organized to create learning networks, to explore and experiment ways to create solutions and present them to the city so these can be scaled up (like housing sanitation). As a result today many members get homes and basic amenities. Today the alliance has set up a not for profit company SPARC Samudhaya Nirman Sahayak (NIRMAN) which helps communities bid for construction contracts for slum dwellers and extend both livelihood and project outcomes to the slum dwellers in the city. The projects range from housing, sanitation, surveys for relocation and managing relocations.