This paper draws heavily on the experience in settlement upgrading of Federations of the Urban Poor in Asia and Africa with whom Homeless International has worked for the last fifteen years. The paper examines community-led initiatives and, more specifically, some of the experiences that the Federations and their support NGOs have gone through as they have initiated and led settlement upgrading initiatives. Many of these initiatives have been designed not just to provide better living conditions for those directly involved but also to challenge the way in which upgrading is conceived and carried out within local, national and international regulatory frameworks. Some have been spontaneous developments in response to particular emergencies, others have been carefully chosen and planned in line with the priorities of local organisations of the urban poor. In many cases, as a result of Federation precedent setting, changes to policy and practice have been achieved that have affected many thousands of families.
The paper begins with an overview of the conceptual framework of development that has guided our thinking before identifying the key challenges that have been tackled within the slum upgrading experiences considered. Examples from a range of organisations and countries are described with particular respect to their role in establishing new precedents for regulatory practice. Finally a number of conclusions are drawn with recommendations, where appropriate, for future action.