Noel Taylor
CEO, Cadasta Foundation

Making People Count

March 23, 2015

Map Kiberia

Sometimes the toughest problems can be tackled by the simplest of solutions.

Consider Makena.[1] She is a bright, energetic 13 year-old who lives with her family in Kibera in Nairobi – the largest urban slum in Africa.  Like every adolescent girl in the world, Makena is at a critical life crossroads where her next few years will probably determine the rest of her life. Will she be able to stay in school? Will she become a doctor, a lawyer, a carpenter, or a mechanical engineer? Will she be able to make choices about her own life? Or, will she be forced to drop out of school? 

Makena has more obstacles stacked against her than most – simply because of where she lives. Virtually every person who lives in Kibera is administratively invisible. They live in informality, in the shadows – uncounted, unregistered, and unprotected by the rule of law. 

Makenas family do not have legal claim to their corrugated roof dwelling, nor the plot on which it stands. They live in constant fear of eviction and have little hope of being able to access reliable municipal resources like clean water, electricity, sewage, or waste disposal. They cannot transform what little capital they may have invested in their home into an asset. They cant upgrade it; they cant turn it into a revenue source; they cant transfer it to other generations; and they cant leverage it by trading it for any possible government upgrade programs. 

There is at least one simple way to fix this: Formally recognize that Makena and her family have the right to live in their home. This is the first, fundamental step toward ultimately catalyzing a positive cascading effect of rights and services that can accrue to them. 

This is much easier said than done, of course. Up until recently, recognizing – let alone registering – any type of property, especially one in an informal settlement like Kibera, has proven to be beyond the reach of many governments, especially in the developing world. Administrative inefficiencies, overburdened staff, high cost of delivering recognition of rights, lack of open and transparent government, and tenuous rule-of-law have all led to what is, essentially, a global property rights crisis. A significant portion of the world’s poor have little or no formal property rights, and the trend line, right now, is going in the wrong direction, particularly given increasing urbanization.  

Fortunately, technological advancements can help to reverse this trend by lowering costs and improving efficiencies, as well as accurately gathering evidence of occupation and existence. One concrete way this will happen is through Cadasta Foundation – a newly launched global civil society organization that is set up to help simplify, modernize, and expedite the mapping of properties and the collection of property rights, or claims-related, data. 

Cadasta is a technological platform that hosts the software and infrastructure required to enable an innovative, alternative model for collecting, recording, and managing land tenure and property-related data. This new approach can also be applied to both formal (statutory) and customary (traditional) land service delivery settings. 

The Cadasta Platform is designed to be the backbone of what will be a wider ecosystem of partners, including local and international NGOs/CSOs, government line agencies, geospatial data providers, private sector stakeholders, education and research organizations, and advocacy groups – all of whom will share the common goal of empowering vulnerable, underrepresented populations by increasing greater security and transparency of property and resource rights on a global scale.

In Kibera, the Cadasta Platform has the ability to directly and positively impact Makena’s family by linking their identities to the piece of land and the dwelling they occupy. The Cadasta Platform would build directly on the groundbreaking efforts of the community groups that have already collaborated on the Map Kibera project, by extending their thematic data collection activities to include land tenure and property rights information. While currently considered “paralegal,” this documentation of property rights could serve as the basis for any future land formalization program carried out in Kibera by the Kenyan Government.

Our personal experience in Ghana, where we both designed and implemented in the 2000s a pilot project spearheaded by the Clinton Global Initiative that mapped school properties in Ashaiman, – an informal settlement on the outskirts of Accra – helped unlock trapped assets in the land and buildings of the school sites. This work enabled the schoolsadministrators to access larger loans from local microfinance institutions affiliated with Opportunity International, to further improve the quality and quantity of education they offered. 

While quite promising, it is time to bring efforts like Ashaiman to scale. Recent advances in technology, software, and communities of engagement offer potential new solutions to traditional problems like lack of capacity, poor or incomplete data, and complex and costly technology solutions. We are particularly excited about leveraging advances and current thinking in data privacy, security, and open data policies that emphasize anonymization and encryption. In addition, increased availability of geospatial data, and the tools needed to process them, will enable Cadasta Platform to provide an updated, easy-to-use map layer, which is critical to transparent property rights. And, perhaps most importantly, we anticipate that all of these advances found in the Cadasta Platform will help to attract a sustained, vibrant user community that can serve to contribute time and talent to users and the unempowered like Makena, worldwide. 

Makena will be 28 years old in 2030. One of the most straightforward ways to ensure her future, and that of so many others like her, is to make her count. Make her visible. Take her out of the shadows. Allow Makena and her family to legally exist so that they can make their own lives better. We think the Cadasta Foundation can help to pave the way. Join us and help be part of the partnership to help Makena and so many others. 

Peter Rabley is the Director of Property Rights Investments at Omidyar Network (@OmidyarNetwork).  Omidyar Network funds the Cadasta Foundation.

Noel Taylor is the CEO of Cadasta Foundation (@CadastaOrg).


Makena is a composite figure. 

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