Directors Blog: Ronald Lenz Reports on Metro Manila

As we approach the last quarter of 2017, Director Ronald Lenz takes stock and talks progress and plans for HCC’s work in Manila. In this Directors Blog, Mr Lenz shares a few thoughts with all partners and stakeholders on the themes that propel our work in the pilot cities. Next month, Director Fleur Henderson will share her thoughts and insights regarding HCC’s Jakarta endeavours.

Lean and focused

When we began 2017 we were still quite broad: talking to many stakeholders and visiting the various parts of Metro Manila. However, knowing that if we wanted to present a solid business case for improved access to basic services for informal settler families (ISFs) by the end of the year, we needed to focus and focus fast. And by focus I mean selecting a part of Manila to begin our activities and ultimately decide upon which basic services to innovate. In this process our local programme manager, Liza Zurbito, and the Netherlands Embassy to the Philippines have been instrumental in our success. Not only could Liza map our ambitions onto the local Manila context, she also managed—with support from the Embassy—to gather key players from the local and national governments, NGOs, ISF communities, and private sector in a very short period of time. Thanks to our team and our partners, we soon had an overview of the enabling conditions in Manila and could move to the next phase. While we could have easily taken a full year to do just this, we aim to build-up HCC as a lean operation: one that is action-oriented and learns fast. And with ever-changing conditions on the ground in Manila, and in most megacities, we need to become really good at this.

Deep learning

Starting with Malabon City, one of the 16 Local Government Units (LGUs) that makeup Metro Manila, we worked intensively for three months with the neighbourhood communities of Catmon and Tonsuya to comprehend their most urgent needs. Our partners Slum Dwellers International (SDI) and Shared Value Foundation (SVF) performed surveys, interviews, focus group discussions, and mapped much of the urban data from these ‘barangays’. With so many studies already completed and similar information available, we opted not to let assumptions and generalisations guide us in determining what ISFs need. This is an easy mistake to make. By working side-by-side with the community and the LGU, we have built a solid foundation for the future simply by listening and taking the time to first get to know one other.

And as for assumptions, some were confirmed (e.g., tenure security turned out to be a big issue) while other findings took us by surprise. For example, we were surprised to learn how important access to safe and reliable electricity—as opposed to other basic service issues—turned out to be (as opposed to other basic service issues).

Dynamic innovation

Next, we convened all stakeholders—community leaders, government department heads, business managers, NGO teams, and local residents—to help design innovative solutions for tenure security and access to electricity. Using social innovation methodologies, we held a two-day workshop where mixed groups dove deeper into the challenges at hand and ultimately presented and discussed potential solutions. Topics ranged from improving the community mortgage program, finding alternatives for financing housing construction costs, extending (il)legal electricity connections, and establishing a community-led solar energy hub.

Given the engagement at the innovation workshop, the most important question was posed: ‘Can you tell us how we effectively continue this process?’ The realisation that innovation is a continuous and dynamic process inspired all participants to co-design the way forward. That’s when all participants agreed that a physical space—a community innovation hub—would be the ideal place for all stakeholders to come together to continue to innovate and co-design local urban solutions. On the spot, a city official stood up and offered us a vacant building right on the border of Catmon and Tonsuya. This proves that when you bring all parties together a synergy is generated, and a space for unexpected or surprising outcomes opens up.

So, what’s next?

Build to scale 

In the coming months we will develop solid implementation plans around our innovations and design the community innovation process. As we’ve done since the beginning, we will move forward with all stakeholders, including the community, as equal partners. This will provide us with a strategy for at least the next three to five years. Additionally, HCC has a much larger scope: the wider Manila Bay area. Therefore, we also aim to expand our activities to other LGUs like Pasay, Navotas, and Quezon City by replicating our methodology and sharing lessons learned.

Good business

Another important factor in scaling HCC’s impact lies in building the case for inclusivity. HCC approaches inclusivity as the integration of community interests and participation into large water and urban infrastructure developments. It is our belief that there is good business in doing good: implementing flood protections can, and should, go hand-in-hand with improved lives for ISFs. Next steps include addressing why inclusivity leads to greater financial returns for the private sector, and working with governments to make urban development strategies sustainable. Already many of the Dutch water-infrastructure companies working in Manila support inclusivity. HCC, as a neutral convener, is in the unique position to inspire the Manila government to integrate inclusivity into its tenders and thereby incentivise private sector consortia to gain a competitive edge over others with an inclusive bid. With this ambition, we hope to contribute to the Manila Bay Sustainable Development Master Plan that is set to kick-off in the fall of 2017.


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