From there it is a small step to a point of view that asserts that poor people create the problems and that educated professionals from the formal sector and Governments have to provide the solutions.
In reality there are huge numbers of community organizations, and their leaders are often resentful that their needs get represented by others and that the ability to voice challenges and solutions themselves is never possible. In many ways SDI is a response to this challenge.
The Indian Federations met South African Shack Dwellers in 1991. This led to a series of trans-national exchanges between urban poor communities from each country, which resulted, inter alia, in the setting up of a South African Federation of the Urban Poor.
From 1996 to 2002 these co-ordinators worked tirelessly to expand the federation model to other parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
As the network expanded to more and more countries a need arose for dedicated financial support for trans-national learning and solidarity. The South African alliance undertook to secure and manage these resources specifically for that purpose, thereby setting itself up to become a Secretariat for the global movement.
As SDI grew at settlement level, at national level and globally, the financial requirements increased and external agencies needed to feel reassured that the organization could fulfill its expectations and commitments. This called for greater centralization but principles of decentralization and subsidiarity are fundamental to SDI's bottom-up structure. Decentralization demanded a much wider base of leaders to assist federations with increasing demands and expectations. Subsidiarity posed special challenges to a Secretariat that was becoming increasingly professionalized and accountable to external agencies - especially foundations, bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies.
In 2006 SDI established a Council, comprising three representatives from each mature federation, meaning federations that had achieved city wide or national scale and who had engaged state institutions and had co-developed alternatives to evictions and produced upgrading interventions at scale. In 2006 there were 11 such federations. The Council became responsible for electing new board members from within its ranks.
This led to two important developments in 2008. First SDI launched UPFI, a global finance facility for slum upgrading, managed by the Secretariat and accountable to the SDI Board.
Second, SDI introduced a Ministerial Board of Governors to oversee the governance of UPFI, along with the SDI Board. The Board included Housing and Urban Development Ministers from Brazil, India, Norway, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Sweden and Uganda.
As a counter-balance to the setting up of UPFI and the Board of Governors and expanding the Secretariat which were necessary mechanisms for strengthening the centre, SDI made a concerted effort to facilitate and enable 5 regional hubs. These hubs in Southern Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Latin America and Asia helped build regional solidarities and strengthen local leadership
By 2015 the MC had a completely distinct identity from the Board and Council, with MC members stepping down from these two structures. The MC was governed by Terms of Reference that had been ratified by the Board. The MC took joint responsibility, alongside the Secretariat, for the provision of support to the national federations. Responsibilities for the different affiliates were divided amongst the 9 MC members. The MC also took over SDI’s global advocacy implementation, following the strategic direction set by the Board and Council.
These institutional shifts are a clear demonstration of SDI's maturation and growth. Of course they did not materialize without challenges since institutional change and development resulted in overlaps (at different stages) between Board members, Council members, secretariat, coordinators and the management committee. This was an overlap in personnel as well as function. By 2015/6 these instruments had matured and consolidated. In particular the Management Committee increasingly took on coordinating functions in regard to trans-national learning, federation building and advocacy. As they carve out this space the Secretariat re-organized around them, and in the process the strategic, decision-making and custodial role of Board and Council became clear. The same goes for the Regional Hubs. While changes will certainly take place in the future SDI's governance structures are stable and mature because they have not followed a manual but have developed incrementally, thoughtfully and empirically.
During all these changes the structures and systems of the national affiliates were equally dynamic. Standardization has been balanced against local priorities, so that symmetries with SDI's systems have been introduced, but not at the cost of local autonomy.
The creation of multi-tiered, community-driven, bottom-up, evolving institutional arrangements is not a standardized process - and probably never will be. But SDI's perseverence and patience has produced a robust framework that works for the Federations at the same time that it meets rigorous internal and external accountabilities.