Understanding Poverty in the Context of the Urban Realm Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship Sheela PatelBy Timothy Ong, Gavin Goh and Wee Yeong Xin
Introduction (Problem) The urban poor in India face two problems on two- different levels, namely short-term and long-term On a short-term basis, there is a general lack of infrastructure, housing and education for slum dwellers, leaving them in a cycle of poverty. On a larger note, many in India and many other nations simply do not feel the desire to legitimize slum dwellers, making their predicament that much worse
Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship Sheela Patel is the founder of Mahila Milan, Shack Dwellers International and the Society for the Protection of Area Resource Centres Born in Mumbai, she felt that the Indian government treated slum dwellers like “transient people” and thus had little few land rights or say in the government Her social venture aims to provide more homes for the urban poor in India and influence government policy through her actions
Social Entrepreneurship Sheela Patel began working with slum communities in 1974. Through her face-to-face interactions with slum communities, she came to realise that the social welfare given by the government failed to bring about long-lasting change for slum dwellers. In the late 1970s, she began to witness the “sanitized” approach that local NGOs took to helping the urban poor, namely by distancing themselves from the dirty work in building more infrastructure and staying away from politics. Sheela Patel saw it as putting the interests of the institution above the interests of the community they serve.
Founding of SPARC In 1984, Sheela Patel founded the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) as a collective group and a voice for slum dwellers in India. Her first action was to conduct a survey of slum dwellers to wave away myths about its nature. In all, two-thirds of the slum dwellers relied on minimum wage, and all of them had no assets and very few rights. She was also a key figure in the founding of Mahila Milan, a womens’ collective group bringing female slum dwellers together to form a collective voice on their concerns.
Involved in Politics Sheela Patel used SPARC as a negotiating platform for property reforms, but the government gave scant concern, giving slum dwellers only temporary aid. “In 15 days the municipality came and demolished their houses”. At this point, Sheela Patel became highly critical of the Indian government’s policies, leading many of her colleagues to agree with her that they should cease working with many other NGOs who were evidently afraid of rocking political boats. However, Sheela Patel felt that “working on real poverty should be a political issue”.
Down-to-earth Alongside being an advocacy group, Sheela Patel soon decided to set up a branch responsible for building more homes for the slum dwellers in India as a non-profit construction company. Under her leadership, SPARC has constructed housing for over 8,500 families and built more than 500,000 latrines for 70 cities in India. SPARC has established corporate alliances with many financial institutions that once shunned the poor and even accepts many government-based contracts, despite her rocky relationship with the state.
Recognition Sheela Patel has been awarded the 2009 David Rockefeller Bringing Leadership Award and the 2000 UN-HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award for her efforts in alleviating the plight of the urban poor in India.
Beliefs To Sheela Patel, in order to work effectively with slums one must accept as reality the fact that slums are growing at a rapid rate. She believes in taking decisive action in charitable work, including having to wrestle with the government over political reform. She also believes in recognising slum dwellers as legitimate people as an important step in helping them progress. To her, many NGOs and other charitable organizations “like to tell people that they are working with the poorest people but stopped short of taking it to its logical conclusion”.