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Impact Journalism

In India, over 65M people live in urban slums or informal settlements with poor housing quality, inadequate access to safe water and sanitation, overcrowding and insecure residential status. The immediate impact of COVID-19 and the associated lockdown has demonstrated the vulnerability of the urban poor. With rising issues of climate change and the possibility of frequent COVID-19-like pandemics in the World, the urban poor are particularly vulnerable.

The unfortunate reality, however, is for people living on the margins - crisis is already the norm. For instance, Tuberculosis kills more people in India annually than the total number of deaths caused by COVID globally; with well-documented links between TB and inadequate housing & poorly planned built environment. To mitigate mortality due to not just COVID but also associated health linked mortality, the crisis at hand gives us the opportunity to take a long term view to improve the way we see, understand and address living (& health) conditions in informal settlements; and make this a turning point for people living in precarious urban environments.

There is an urgent need for innovations and experiments to make leapfrog improvements in living conditions and food/financial security for the urban poor; and alleviate the negative impact of COVID and make low-income communities more resilient to future crises.We are looking for leaders, innovators, risk-takers, technical experts, early teams and collaboratives with transformative solutions that can radically improve the lives of the urban poor living in urban slums.

Mapping & Data

Mapping & Data

The informal status of many deprived settlements often undermines both the collection of data and the implementation of policies & distribution of welfare. Data already collected is not usually disaggregated by slum and non-slum, or it is simply not collected. A geospatial view of the data will also enable more effective planning of scarce resources. State governments and civil society organisations would benefit from innovative solutions such as:
A - Technology for surveying and developing accurate maps, combined with community engagement methods/partnerships to enable acceptance of the maps and household data
B - Tools, frameworks, analytical methods to map/analyze and create new ways of looking at settlements
C - New ways of visualising and imagination of existing urban data (migration patterns, income distributions, spatial geographies of vulnerability etc) to include population living in informal settlements in urban planning
Shelter & access to quality housing

Shelter & access to quality housing

Informal housing has proliferated in India due to the persistent shortage of formal low-income housing. 40% of people in urban areas/slums live informally and there is an urgent need to increase the supply of low-income housing. The typology of spaces occupied by migrants especially varies from temporary shelters near construction sites to group rental housing and other highly compressed living spaces. A 2012 National Sample Survey report showed 50% of slum households live in one room tenements. Many urban slum residents are insecure and lack legal documentation for their residences. Formalizing and strengthening the rights of urban informal settlers and access to good quality, affordable housing options are critical steps.
A - Secure tenure for households including rental arrangements
B - Financing access to decent housing & home improvements for the informally employed and those with informal property documents
C - Retrofitting measures to improve liveability in existing settlements
D - Shelter solutions and rehabilitation for the urban homelessE - Low-cost rental and transitional accommodation models to match the flux and transient nature of migrant populations
Access to basic amenities

Access to basic amenities

Infrastructure such as water supply and public toilets in informal settlements is limited and often severely stretched. Compared to the recommended one toilet seat per 50 people, in reality the ratio can be as high as 2,500 people per toilet seat. Municipal water supply is typically available only for a few hours per day. In cities like Delhi and Pune, over 90% of households in informal settlements use community toilets. In Delhi, only 17% of informal settlement residents had a tap water connection in their house. Access to safe water and measures to ensure civic hygiene, waste treatment and segregation as well as sewage treatment can go a long way in maintaining the health and hygiene of informal occupants.
A - Interventions that can improve the availability and quality of basic services provided by the Government (water, sanitation, drainage, roads)
B - Interventions to improve services including decentralized sewage infrastructure, clean drinking water plants, last-mile water pipe networks
C - Systems and measures to enforce civic hygiene
Identity, access to welfare & financial inclusion

Identity, access to welfare & financial inclusion

Notification or provision of basic services (individual toilets etc) happens at a settlement level but the benefits are awarded at a household level. Ability to receive the benefits is dependent on access to formal documentation (identity proof, electricity bills, municipal surveys, rent agreements) for being on Government “beneficiary lists” with defined criteria. Many often do not have identity cards that place them as residents in the city. They typically live in new settlements that are less than five to 10 years old and may have been evicted multiple times. Transactions for informal housing (sale, transfer, rent/lease) are not recorded in government registers. This also makes informal settlements places where instruments of policy, regulation and even welfare are difficult to reach.
A - Addressing solutions for households including using GIS mapping and self-enumeration towards compliance for financial instruments
B - Ways to deliver social protection & welfare - spatial targeting, formal and informal worker associations, technological innovations etc.
C - Access to formal proofs of identification and residence at location

The Challenge is entirely conducted in virtual format with 3 phases.

Note: Submitted idea abstracts will be evaluated on a rolling basis until May 17, 2020. You are encouraged to submit your ideas whenever you are ready so you get more time for the next phase.

The most promising solutions selected as part of the Equal Cities Challenge will be awarded with

be inducted to N/Core’s Launchpad or Incubation program (3-6 months)

receive funding up to Rs. 25 Lakhs (based on the stage of the organisation & completion of set milestones)

receive dedicated mentoring and strategic advice from a Collective of experts and N/Core Partners

join a community of exceptional leaders and get access to an ecosystem of support

Submit a solution



Who is eligible to apply?


Anyone with a solution can apply. Individuals, teams or organisations with the intent to work on the solution full time. You could be an early explorer or an existing organisation starting a new initiative. The Challenge is open to Indian Organizations and for individuals solving problems related to Informal Settlements in India with the intention to start an organization in India.

How are the winners selected?


Winners are selected on the basis of:
Problem understanding
Solution clarity
Demonstrated problem solving ability
Potential for impact (innovation, scale) on urban poor
Commitment to work on the solution full-time

What information will I need to submit?


Idea stage selection (by May 17)
An idea abstract describing:
the problem you are trying to solve
your solution to the problem
details regarding your team/ organisation

B-plan stage selection (May 27)
At the outset, the B-plan should contain answers to the following questions:
What problem are you trying to solve?
What is your solution & approach? Why do you think it will work?
What stage is your solution at? (concept/ proof of concept/ prototype/ pilot)
Who are your customers? How do you reach them or intend to reach them?
Are there any other organisations doing similar work?
If you have an existing organisation, can you describe its key achievements till now?
What is your strategy for the next 3 months, 6 months, 1 year?
What is your operational plan for the next 3-6 months? how would you measure your progress?
Any additional information you would like to share

How do I apply?


The above page has two options:
a) to submit your idea if your idea abstract is ready.
b) to register interest, if you’re still working on the idea and want to receive notifications for the sessions and panel discussions we will be conducting.

How will the seed grants be disbursed to winners?


The grants will be provided in tranches over a period of time. The amount of each tranche and disbursement schedules will depend on the needs and stage of the organisation and will be linked to completion of agreed milestones.


helping build a better tomorrow

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