Pro-Poor Partnerships for Participatory Settlement Upgrading in Sri Lanka



Approval Date
Proposal Focus
Core Focus
Secondary Cities
Country Type
Sri Lanka
Lesson Learned for Cities Alliance Members and Partners
These lessons learned were reported in project Completion Report: Participation of the stakeholders in Local authorities in Sri Lanka was of recent origin (though historically it was strongly practiced in ancient times). An important feature of this project was the involvement of the stakeholders at all levels and finally in decision making. The project was able to strengthen this relationship in the Councils. Strong partnerships have been established with Non Government Organizations, the Community Based Organizations, Government agencies and the private sector. The partnerships with the NGOs facilitated the local authorities in reaching the community, especially the low income. Participatory development must be initiated with a needs survey. This will ensure the needed information, actual needs and transparency. The importance of this was evident in Batticaloa where some of the elected members challenged the information given in the Shelter Profile re areas of low income settlements. It was observed that when communities are involved in the participatory process, participation is not limited to attending meetings or making a subscription. People were prepared to give of their services and own money. Loan facilities motivated them to add funds from other sources (their savings, from members living abroad etc.) In Sri Lanka, the Mayor is politically elected and is he Chief Executive Officer of the Council. Decisions are made by the elected members of the council. Hence the commitment and active participation of the political authority is essential for successful implementation. It also helps to improve the image of the initiative, minimize political interference and clear bottlenecks. There was a belief that the poor community is dependent on donations and charities. However this project has clearly shown that they are receptive to micro credit and loans programs and have also been good paymasters. Hence awareness and opportunities to such facilities becomes important. Thus, low income shelter improvement is possible without funds from the government or donors and low income housing can be self financed if credit facilities can be made available. Micro savings habit among the poor is a good pre-requisite for any sustainable development. Saving habits/schemes should be allowed to operate for at least a year before any lending activities for shelter etc. can begin. The establishment of a city based Shelter Improvement Trust or Facility is a significant step in a municipal administrative system which is archaic, not responsive to the emerging needs of the poor and not permitted to raise funds. It is an important support mechanism for local authorities in creating cities without slums. Institutional support is integral to successful implementation of donor funded projects in the local government sector in Sri Lanka. This was evident in Ratnapura Municipal Council where through the commitment and involvement of the Municipal Commissioner the project went through a period of rapid development gathering great momentum during his tenure. Unfortunately with his transfer there was a setback due to lack of commitment. Hence timely action is necessary to arrest such situations and to maintain the moral of the beneficiary community. Projects of this nature should be legally validated (eg. By Council Resolution) to ensure that it is a policy authority. This gives statutory power and ensures sustainability. Otherwise, it will be considered as yet another donor funded project. A common reason for failure of many projects is the lack of adequate understanding among the stakeholders about the strategies and approaches employed by the project. The involvement of the community based organizations, the establishment of Local Are Development Committees, the Savings Groups and the City Development Committees ensured adequate participation, transparency and consensus. This project which led to improvement of the houses also led to the building of the self esteem of the low income which had hitherto been left out by many sections of the community. Capacity building of the local authorities, community based organizations and the community is vital for the success of the projects of this nature. In the Local Authorities where officials are routinely bureaucratic, training has to be focused on equipping the staff with knowledge and skills in mobilizing the community, planning, participatory approaches and budgeting etc. Equally important is the training of community leaders and the strengthening of the community based organizations. Shelter Upgrading is a multi-dimensional issue.


This activity is designed to support Government efforts to institutionalise participatory urban governance approaches and assist selected Municipal Councils to consolidate and institutionalise participatory urban management mechanisms in view of preparing large scale settlements’ upgrading action plans.
1) To build coherence of effort amongst various international support programmes in support of Government efforts to institutionalise participatory urban governance approaches;  2) To assist the Municipal Councils of Ratnapura, Kotte and Batticaloa to consolidate and institutionalise participatory urban management mechanisms and partnership approaches;  3) To prepare settlements’ upgrading action plans to mobilise follow-up investments in Sustainable Settlements Upgrading and Poverty Reduction; 4) To support institutionalisation of the lessons learned and help replicate lessons and practices learned.
1)  Three Municipal Councils to institutionalise participatory mechanisms and processes developed and learnt through earlier initiatives of the NSHSDP;  2) Support three cities to formulate appropriately designed and widely partnered pro-poor settlements upgrading strategy; Identify priority settlement for immediate action planning support; Support city/community partnership implementation of Settlement Upgrading Action Plans;  3) Document good practices and knowledge products to support up-scaling of the experiences and integration into national policy
Expected Impacts and Results
1)  Improved physical and environmental conditions in low-income settlements;  2) Confidence building and empowerment of local authorities and poor communities; 3) Improved capacities of local governments, and other stakeholders in a variety of skills such as community action planning, poverty profiling and community contracts; 4) New and proven leading practices and mechanisms for pro-poor shelter upgrading, informal sector integration and environment improvement