Thinking global, living local: Voices in a globalized world

Searchlight Convening Reflections: Jibrin Ibrahim

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Searchlight Convening in Mumbai: Reflections from Participants

An important component of the development of the Searchlight function has been an annual, in-person workshop of all the participating organizations to explore the trends that are emerging from various regions. The second such convening, organized by Intellecap with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, took place in April 2011 in the global city of Mumbai, India. Workshop attendees included representatives from the 11 Searchlight scanning organizations.

One of the goals of the workshop was to learn from the dynamic and cutting-edge activities being undertaken throughout Mumbai by way of a series of field visits that illuminated some of the forward-looking, pro-poor development and policy initiatives in India that could have relevance to other regions related to the urban poor. In addition to the field visits to key social entrepreneurship organizations, a learning journey to Dharavi was organized by an innovative civil society organization SPARC, that is working with the residents to deliver and secure affordable and high-quality housing, services, and employment opportunities.

The workshop was characterized as a collaborative and cooperative process of discussion, reflection, and strategic planning. The following section presents the personal and professional reflections from one of the Searchlight function representatives who attended the meeting. This is part three of three in the series. You can read the full report here.

Jibrin Ibrahim, Centre for Democracy and Development, Nigeria

The majority of people in the contemporary world, including in Africa, have moved from the rural to the urban areas. These people live precarious lives trying to make a living from the informal economy. The proletariat Karl Marx assured us would make the revolution are nowhere to be found. What we have in the rapidly expanding megacities are the precariat whose livelihood and indeed lives are at risk from irregular and insufficient income. Their lives are traumatic as they suffer from the toxicity of the water, air and soil around them. Of course, for a conference in Mumbai on the urban poor, the center of activity and analysis could only be Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia made famous by the film “Slumdog Millionaire.” Yes, indeed, the people of Dharavi live under terrible conditions, in tiny shacks, defecating in and wading through the toxic mud around them. The 600,000 inhabitants of the area are yet to act in their own glamorous film. They toil and sweat as they pursue their precarious profession of processing and living on the income they make from recycling the enormous waste produced by the 25 million people that live in central Mumbai.

In a sense, they are a five-star ghetto because they are able to participate in the economy of the city as subalterns but nonetheless as active economic agents. As Jockin Arputham, the leader of the Dharavi Slum Dweller’s Federation told us, they contribute $1 billion to the national economy each year. Their future is however uncertain today. Their 525 hectares of land is the only undeveloped land left in central Mumbai. The value of their land is today $1,200 a square foot and the state and developers are determined to throw them out and take over the land. What is impressive about India, however, is the power of its civil society. The Slum Dwellers Federation and the NGOs that support them have stopped the government from chasing out the people and taking over the place. They have used the power of popular mobilization to stop the takeover bid. The precariat is defined by its precariat.

Searchlight Process

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Research and Records Unit has undertaken an innovative approach to addressing this challenge by generating applicable intelligence that emerges from a forward-looking, on-the-ground perspective throughout Africa, Asia, and the Americas. It is known as the “Searchlight” function—a group of forward-looking, regionally-focused horizon scanning and trend monitoring grantees that conduct regular, ongoing scanning for novel ideas, research results, and "clues" to where the world is evolving.