Projects are taken up on the initiative of community groups federated in the cities the Alliance works in across India. The key is to work with organized communities of the urban poor who are capacitated to negotiate with governments towards the provision of basic amenities and housing but more importantly, secure tenure.


Buy-in from city governments in important at the start as all projects are obtained through a procurement process initiated by cities or through successful pilot projects by the Alliance. Land and Tenure security are the responsibility of the state.


Cities that provide construction contracts, project financiers, academic institutions, professionals are engaged to learn and extend the limits of conventional knowledge in slum upgrading and build institutional frameworks for community participation.    


Oval: 01


Oval: 02

In 2002, SSNS and Homeless International jointly wrote “Bridging the Funding Gap”.  Soon after, the CLIFF fund was set up by HI and SSNS becomes its first India partner. CLIFF funding has allowed us to pay start up capital costs for government projects where money comes in only after plinth construction and to pay for operational costs for community activities related to construction. CLIFF funds have also been used for pilot projects to demonstrate and engage with government. Leftover CLIFF funds from projects are revolved back into other projects. As CLIFF enters phase 2 of its disbursements, SSNS will only receive returnable funds and no operational funds as a move towards self sustainability.

Bridge Funding (SPARC/SSNS revolving funds or grants/loans from CLIFF)

Government Subsidy

Or Market Incentive

Bank Loan for Project

+ Homeless International Guarantee

SPARC/SSNS Revolving Funds as loans to  households with 12% interest per year





Oval: 03

Meetings are held by Mahila Milan and federation members at regular intervals with groups of households whose houses are to be upgraded or who will be shifted to explain the process, seek feedback and ensure involvement throughout.

Comprises of Mahila Milan contractors and site supervisors along with architects and engineers and SSNS representatives who help oversee project implementation.

Where SSNS chooses to work in a joint venture with a developer, the developer puts in his contractors while SSNS ensures involvement of Mahila Milan and is now exploring the presence of a Project Management Unit.

Every activity that is explored aims to capacitate communities to make decisions and build skills for how projects (Housing/Sanitation) are developed and managed.

Project Management Units

Experienced members from Mahila Milan or the federation form a part of a construction council to mentor others in exploring innovations so that construction management, design and participation is constantly refined and developed.

Life-size house models are built by community members and Mahila Milan with support from architects to showcase designs and engage with communities. The models are built using bamboo and saris and are meant to help communities understand the notion of space and size.

Some members of Mahila Milan have taken their experience to the level of contracting construction and supervision.

House Model Exhibitions

Community Contracting

Construction Council


Oval: 04

While cities and communities are main actors of the process, professionals work with them to provide the technical know-how adapted to be cost-effective and bottom-up. Pilot projects are often used to set precedents in what later become the norms of practice and policy for slum dwellers.


Community Meetings

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Financing is first sought through engagement with government schemes. Thus far, we have implemented housing and sanitation projects using government subsidies or through a market incentive that are procured through a tendering process initiated by urban local bodies. All community mobilization activities, upfront capital and bridge funding is sought through other funding sources as government schemes only cover construction costs and do not generally include cost escalation.

In market incentive housing projects, SSNS has begun exploring joint ventures with private developers to implement projects whereby finance is put in by the developer and SSNS ensures community participation.

Just as ‘doing is learning’ and seeking change in policy and practice are two sides of the same coin for the Alliance. By doing, communities understand what works and what does not, by sharing what they have done, they convince more communities in other cites and influence the policy through practice. The Alliance has used its own experiences to learn from and suggest changes to procurement norms, design, buildings norms, eligibility criteria and so on. Challenges and loop holes in policy and project delivery are identified through concurrent monitoring to refine and improve delivery mechanisms both within the organization and to effect change in cities, institutions, communities.


Organizations seeking policy change must have capacity to engage and make their presence felt, at the city, state, national and international level to produce effective change. In the few instances where SSNS along with local communities has good relationships with city administrations, and local political representatives, delayed and unutilized subsidies have been transformed into pilots where tendering and design options have been radically changed to facilitate the central participation of communities in the process.


For our several collaborators on projects, different communication strategies are used for effective advocacy. These materials include our Annual Reports, Study Reports, Articles, Videos and Photos. For government and communities, we find face to face meetings, workshops and learning exchanges, the most effective form of communication.

Increasingly, in order to reach scale, Alliance is exploring ways to deepen and further develop the existing strategies through which the poor can upgrade their homes themselves and examine what aspects they can undertake through loans themselves and which are the areas that require state intervention in terms of infrastructure provision, policy and finance.

Once the decision to take up a project is made, NSDF and Mahila Milan are responsible for carrying out surveys, mapping to collect data on the settlement and households, creating awareness amongst the community about the project, initiating dialogue with government officials and other professionals, at the start of the project.

Pre-project Mobilization