Seizing opportunities for urban change: Make Change Happen podcast episode 3

A quarter of the world’s urban population live in informal settlements, mostly in the global South. Launched before the 2020 World Urban Forum, this episode looks at how IIED’s work with marginalised urban communities developed, and what opportunities exist now for building more inclusive cities.

Article, 04 February 2020

IIED’s ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast provides an opportunity to hear our researchers discuss key global development challenges and explain how they are working to support positive change.

The third episode looks at our work on inclusive urban futures. It features David Satterthwaite, who spearheaded IIED’s work on urban poverty. He is joined by senior researcher Anna Walnycki. The recording is hosted by IIED's director of communications, Liz Carlile.

Working local to global

Satterthwaite realised as early as the 1970s that IIED’s natural partners in challenging poverty and inequality would not be international and national organisations, but federations of the urban poor and the local governments they work with.

Today, IIED still works with grassroots urban groups based in informal settlements. Walnycki describes these precarious living conditions, which make millions of people vulnerable to environmental as well as social injustices.

Sharing and solidarity

Urban community groups have always been innovative. Satterthwaite describes women’s saving groups in India, which banded together to share knowledge and leverage power, becoming a federation. In the 1990s, they were gathering local data and brokering agreements with local government.

These methods were shared and repeated; federations of the urban poor sprang up across Africa and Asia (many of which work with IIED partner Slum Dwellers International. Their solidarity enables community groups to influence global narratives: Walnycki cites the work of the Asian Coalition on Housing Rights, which successfully challenged and redefined international agencies’ measures of what it means to be poor in city.

Global goals are built on local gains

With the 'new urban agenda', Paris Agreement and Sustainable Development Goals, ambitions for sustainable urbanisation are high. But Satterthwaite notes a widespread failure to recognise that national ambition is delivered at city level. Local governments and, in particular, federations of the urban poor, are frequently left out of plans to realise change.

Three people sat around a table speaking into microphones

The guests for the third episode of the Make Change Happen podcast (Photo: Alex Norodom, IIED)

The World Urban Forum (WUF), taking place in Abu Dhabi from 8-13 February, offers a chance to explore these big issues. IIED works with event host UN-Habitat, who funded the podcast, on a project exploring the pro-poor planning of climate resilience in marginalised neighbourhoods, so we know the will to have these conversations is there.

This year’s focus – culture and innovation – invites us to explore cities as places of opportunity. We argue that opportunity relies in part on donors’ willingness to channel money where it matters: to the frontlines of urban need, where Satterthwaite says that federations require little funding to achieve a great deal.

Cities: places of opportunity

Both guests are positive about the opportunities for inclusive, low-carbon sustainable urbanisation. Walnycki highlights a city-level innovation taking place in Mukuru, a large informal settlement of 300,000 people. Working with local government, the residents are shaping holistic plans to improve their community, including better housing, access to services and improved climate resilience.

And it is this kind of work – the work of federations of the urban poor across Africa and Asia – that keeps Satterthwaite feeling optimistic.


Head and shoulders of David Satterthwaite

David Satterthwaite is a senior fellow at IIED and visiting professor at the Development Planning Unit, University College London. He is an editor of the journal Environment & Urbanization. Two recent books co-authored with Diana Mitlin were 'Urban poverty in the global South; scale and nature' (2012) and 'Reducing urban poverty in the global South' (2013). Both were published by Routledge.

Head and shoulders photos of Anna Walnycki

Anna Walnycki is a senior researcher with IIED’s Human Settlements research group. She is anthropologist who specialises in inclusive urbanisation and basic service provision in the global South. Over the last ten years Anna has supported the work of urban civil society organisations such as SDI and ACHR and undertaken extensive participatory research in East Africa, the Andes and Lebanon.

Head and shoulders photo of Liz Carlile 

Liz Carlile (host) is director of the Communications Group at IIED. She is an expert in strategic marketing and communications, with a particular focus on research communications and policy influence, and has published on social learning and climate change communications.

How to listen and subscribe

The ‘Make Change Happen’ podcast will provide informal insights into IIED’s work to create positive change and make the complex issues we face more accessible to wider audiences. The title refers to IIED’s 2019-2024 strategy, which sets out how IIED plans to respond to the critical challenges of our time.

You can subscribe to the podcast on your favourite podcast app as follows:

The podcast is also available on IIED's YouTube channel.

You can follow the panellists on Twitter: @Dsatterthwaite, @AnnaWalnycki and @LizCarlile. Follow the podcast on @IIED_Voices for all the latest updates.


Anna Walnycki (, senior researcher, Human Settlements research group