Thursday, December 08, 2005

Slum Conversations

Have you heard about Habitat JAM?

JAM is a worldwide, web-based conversation that occurred recently for about three days. I expect it plans to open up from time to time. The 72-hour Internet event (i.e. web chat conference) that discussed issues of global sustainability, was held Dec 1-3.

In its own PR words: "Tens of thousands of diverse people will join representatives from national/local governments and international organizations, elected leaders and legislators, urban planners and architects, grassroots organizations and global NGOs, experts and academics, financiers and builders, and development specialists in the JAM."

During the three-day event, JAM covered these topics:

Improving the Lives of People Living in Slums
Sustainable Access to Water in Our Cities
Environmental Sustainability in Our Cities
Safety and Security in Our Cities
Finance and Governance in Our Cities
Humanity: The Future of Our Cities

We are still trying to figure it out. But, it is an amazing resource, venue, phenomenon to say the least. Check it out at

People from around the world posted comments during JAM. And the poor, the very poor were engaged in a powerful way.

I found the following post while rambling around on the site recently:

UN Habitat Executive Director Tibaijuka moved by power of the JAM (December 3, 2005)--

Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director, UN Habitat was moved, today, in an exchange in the JAM on the question "why the habitat jam??"

JAMMING with participants from around the world, Mrs. Tibaijuka said this about the power and potential significance this event could have in driving decision making:

"You are quite right that the problem of slums will not be solved by research alone. However, I am informed that as of last Kenya had the second highest number of registrants participating in the Habitat Jam [today]. The fact that thousands have been willing to patiently wait in line sometimes for hours in order to be able to contribute to this debate has been a profoundly moving experience for me. The fact that the debate on slums has moved from the academic world to streets of cities such as Nairobi, Dakar, Cape Town and Mumbai, Rio, Lima and Manilla is in and of itself powerfulll signal to world leaders on the need for concerted action."

Our experience across the past almost 12 years at CDM fits with what Tibaijuka observed. Low -income people, very low-income people want to be engaged and they have much to offer in every way. Any attempt to understand a problem, much less to really develop strategies to adequately address a problem, that omits the poor and the intelligence of those suffering in poverty from the process is doomed to fail.

JAM was successful and inspirational, at least in part, because it included the people who face the problem daily in the discussion about solutions.

We need to take our low-income neighbors much more seriously than we normally do, especially in our cities in America.


Janet Morrison-Lane said...

>>We need to take our low-income neighbors much more seriously than we normally do, especially in our cities in America.<<

I had a conversation with one of our college students yesterday (a sophomore at Baylor). She made a 94% on her math test...quite a feat considering she struggled quite a bit with her first year in college. It also reminds me of yet another college student, a junior political science major at Stephen F. Austin, who is now making all A's and B's. She, too, struggled tremendously her freshman year.

None of the 10-15+ students that I've helped enter college have been prepared adequately enough. Every single one of them has had to have at least one developmental class (those are the courses they have to take and pay aid (at least at some schools) will not pay for them...but receive no credit for in order to continue on in college).

Yet, the two I referred to and quite a few others I know are persevering and becoming successful...and even proving to be academically bright (despite what their SAT's and other tests have shown). I can't help but wonder what could happen and what great things these students could do for the greater society if the local public elementary and high schools academically prepared them for college...and if "we, the people," made our voices heard that we want equal education for ALL kids.

We *do* need to take these kids (and adults) in our low-income communities seriously. They have a lot to offer us.

Larry James said...

Janet, you speak truth here. But then, you usually do! Thanks for all you do for our kids.

Anonymous said...

Random question - how do you think this relates to the theories put forth in The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, which promotes the idea that companies should take low-income people seriously as a market?

Larry James said...

It relates directly in terms of untapped markets and the combined economic capacity/power of people at the bottom. That particular book makes it very clear that the poorest of the poor are consumers and evidence great intelligence concerning markets, technology and how to improve their own plight if given an opportunity. Great question.

Unknown said...

On a much smaller scale, I recently consulted with a low-income member of my congregation about some ideas I have regarding outreach. It was the most useful conversation I've had in a long time. Her insights and perspective will prove invaluable to the success of our efforts.

Larry James said...

There you go! No surprise at all. We have been seduced by materialism and a strictly economic view of the world.