The Cities Alliance is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2019 Innovation Programme Call for Proposals.

The Cities Alliance is pleased to announce the recipients of its 2019 Innovation Programme Call for Proposals. 

The partnership launched the Secure Tenure in African Cities: Micro Funds for Community Innovation initiative in February 2019 to award small grants for small organisations working on innovative ways to improve secure land tenure and housing rights in African cities at the local level, with an emphasis on how they address the specific needs of women and Africa’s growing young population.  It is funded by Cities Alliance member Omidyar Network

Access to land with secure tenure is now recognised in global development agendas – such as the New Urban Agenda and the 2030 Agenda – giving the issue a considerable boost. While this global focus is encouraging, change does not need to happen exclusively at the national policy level. Urban poor individuals and communities are essential actors in strengthening tenure security, and small-scale, short-term incremental solutions can be key to improving tenure security and housing conditions, and to city-building. This approach is at the heart of our Secure Tenure in African Cities initiative.

Cities Alliance received 292 proposals, and five were selected for funding. They were chosen based on their potential to improve the urban poor’s access to land and housing, strengthen capacity to ensure effective land management, and demonstrate new approaches to property rights.

The five projects selected cover a range of innovations, including using drone technology to collect data that can be used to adjudicate land titles, establishing a centre to help people sort out problems with obtaining land titles, upscaling the use of the Secure Tenure Domain Model (STDM) tool for land regularisation, and creating an automated system that makes it easier for informal trader to obtain municipal authorisation to sell their goods in the public domain.  

All operate at the community and/or city level, with strong potential for replication in cities across Africa and beyond.

The five projects and the recipient organisations are:

  • Upscaling the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) to Promote Integrated and Sustainable Urban Land Use (Pamoja Trust)
  • A Transaction Support Centre to Support Secure Tenure in Functioning Property Markets in Khayelitsha, South Africa (The Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHF)
  • Secure Tenure on Zanzibar (Spatial Collective)
  • eServicesTechniques: An Open Source Software that Revolutionises the Issue of Public Domain Occupancy Licenses in Côte d’Ivoire (Association 3535)
  • Drones for Land Clarification and the Empowerment of Women (IRDAC Sarl)

Upscaling the Social Tenure Domain Model (STDM) to Promote Integrated and Sustainable Urban Land Use

Recipient: Pamoja Trust
Grant amount: USD 50,000

The STDM tool is an innovative land information management system developed by UN-Habitat through the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN). It integrates formal, informal and customary land rights into a flexible, user-friendly system that is based on a global standard. Unlike previous enumeration tools that related a person’s name and address to land, STDM can relate personal identifiers, such as fingerprints, to a coordinate point inside a plot of land or dwelling. It can also be used in combination with other enumeration and planning tools. Cities Alliance supported the pilot for the STDM tool in Uganda. 

The Nairobi-based NGO Pamoja Trust has been using STDM to better understand land tenure relationships and claims in Kenya. It has found STDM to be very effective in reducing conflicts over land tenure and increasing the capacity of communities to encode land information, which they can use to advocate for their rights. 

The current project seeks to build on STDM’s successes in Kenya by scaling up and institutionalising the tool. It will engage at three levels: 

  • National: Extending the conversation on responsive land policies so that government agencies will adopt the use of STDM in planning process and upgrading projects.
  • County: Leveraging Mombasa County’s experiences with STDM to raise its profile and use the tool in Nairobi County. Also, Pamoja will work to institutionalise the use of STDM within the Mombasa County Government.
  • Community: Expand the use of STDM as a dynamic tool for encoding land rights and advocate for tenure regularization, with an emphasis on the community of Mashimoni. The experience will provide a model for other communities interested in using STDM as a tool for planning and advocacy.

The project was selected because it seeks to upscale and institutionalise successful technology and combines implementation at the local level with dissemination and advocacy at the county and national level. 

Pamoja Trust is a non-profit organisation that seeks to promote access to land, shelter and basic services for the urban poor. It has extensive experience with organising communities and helping them take up an active role in advocating for their rights. 

A Transaction Support Centre to Support Secure Tenure in Functioning Property Markets in Khayelitsha, South Africa

Recipient: The Centre for Affordable Housing Finance in Africa (CAHF)
Grant amount: USD 50,000

South Africa has delivered some 3.5 million subsidised houses since 1994.  While many people’s shelter needs have been met through this intervention, the security of their tenure remains compromised due to inefficiencies in the administrative and policy framework governing the market. For instance, in some cases, title deeds have not yet been transferred or households have traded their homes informally.

The Transaction Support Centre (TSC) is an action-learning advice centre in a low-income township of Cape Town that engages at the community level to help households undertake formal residential property transactions in the affordable housing market. At the same time, it builds an evidence base that feeds policy reform and the development of new products and services by the private sector. The TSC is a partnership of CAHF and 71point4, a research consultancy. 

The current project will strengthen the TSC’s ongoing operations and document its model, with the goal of developing a plan and budget to expand such centres to other metropolitan areas. 

The TSC currently has 132 cases on file, most involving title deeds where the current “owner” is not the person recorded on the deed. These problems make formal secondary registrations impossible and undermine the low-income earners’ ability to realise housing as an asset. Although a title deed has been issued, residents suffer tenure insecurity with properties that are unable to be traded formally and unable to access finance, while previous sellers may return with a claim.

The project expects to address 100 problem title deeds, ensuring security of tenure, access to financing, and the benefit of a real housing asset for households. It will also deliver two community seminars, help identify issues that women face during the process, develop consumer education material, and review the application of the Land Titles Adjustment Act for the types of cases the TSC faces. 

The overall goal is to use title deed regularisation as a first step in regularising the residential property market for low-income earners, thus increasing the incentives to engage in formal transactions.

The TSC is itself innovative; it is the only organisation currently addressing this aspect of the housing sector in a programmatic way. The local focus of the TSC creates a ground for guided experimentation and action learning that can be scaled to settlements across the cities of South Africa.


Secure Tenure on Zanzibar

Recipient: Spatial Collective
Grant amount: USD 48,988

In recent years, the Revolutionary Government of Zanzibar has struggled to provide title deeds to its growing population, partially because complete records of how many properties there are on the islands do not exist.

In 2018, Spatial Collective supported the Zanzibar Commission for Lands (COLA) and the State University of Zanzibar to form a team which digitised 360,000 buildings on the Zanzibar Archipelago using drone imagery. Most of the buildings were located on Unguja Island, and predominantly in Zanzibar City, a fast-growing metropolitan area with a population of 700,000. The same team also completed a household survey of more than 2,000 households.

In this project, Spatial Collective will support the Zanzibar Commission for Lands to: 

  • Set up data collection protocols, including the use of drone imagery, GPS and mobile phones; 
  • Train the Commission for Lands team, State University of Zanzibar students, and community members on using these available technologies to collect and manage data;
  • Oversee the data collection in the selected pilot area of the Zanzibar City; and
  • Create a comprehensive database of buildings in the area with information on identification number, owner, actual use, and apartment number.

Through these activities, the project will produce trusted data on buildings for a wide range of stakeholders. This data is expected to help the Commission for Lands eventually adjudicate the entire Zanzibar Archipelago, starting with Zanzibar City, and provide citizens with title deeds. It is also expected to help the Zanzibar Urban Planning Authority prepare plans for settlement upgrading, provide affordable housing, and feed sustainable urban planning in Zanzibar City.

In addition, the project will build local capacity to support the design and implementation of evidence-driven urban property rights interventions and build the capacity to continue the project activities well past its completion.

The project is a significant innovation in Zanzibar. By using widely available and affordable ICTs and GPS units – paired with existing drone imagery and digitised buildings, and working with university students and communities – the Commission for Lands will be able to obtain much-needed data in a fraction of time and with a fraction of resources.

Spatial Collective is a Nairobi-based, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and technology consulting company that operates primarily in East Africa. Its model consists of training and supporting communities and organisations on adopting available technologies to collect data that is important to them.

Most of Spatial Collective’s work is conducted in difficult environments where there is little existing data and on issues of significant global importance ranging from property rights, environmental management, livelihoods, economic prosperity, formal and informal governance initiatives, and safety and security.


eServicesTechniques: An Open Source Software that Revolutionises the Issue of Public Domain Occupancy Licenses in Côte d’Ivoire

Recipient: Association 3535
Grant amount: USD 50,000

In Côte d’Ivoire, people who wish to engage in informal commercial activity in the public domain must apply to the municipality for an administrative authorisation for temporary occupation. The process is cumbersome and lengthy, requiring multiple steps that can take up to eight weeks. Without this authorisation, people are at risk of constant eviction.

This project will develop an open-source solution that digitises the request and renewal of authorization permits, greatly reducing the processing time for permits from 8 weeks to 14 days.  Called eServicesTechniques, the platform will allow people to apply online using a very simple interface, choose a date for a site visit, and receive a confirmation. It will be free for the municipalities.

Association 3535 spent nearly six weeks immersed in public spaces and engaging with the technical services of several town halls in Côte d’Ivoire in order to capture the entire process of handling applications for occupying the public space. The platform will be piloted in Cocody City, with the idea of eventually expanding it throughout the country. 

Founded in 2016, Association 3535 is an organisation that seeks to accelerate social impact in Côte d’Ivoire and Africa. It develops projects and programmes to boost young innovators and implement innovations in Côte d’Ivoire. 


Drones for Land Clarification and the Empowerment of Women

Recipient: Initiative Régionale de Documentation & d'Accompagnement Communautaire au Développement (IRDAC Sarl)
Grant amount: USD 49,570

The city of Kasangulu, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), is the closest city to Kinshasa, a megalopolis with a population of 15 million. Kasangulu faces the outbidding of land transactions caused by growing land pressure on a population composed mostly of poor farmers whose property rights are not secured. The city is also struggling with a lack of data and unclear land relationships that create conflict. 

This project aims to support a participatory process to formalise property and customary land rights for communities which are members of RADEKAS, a network of community-based development associations in Kasangulu.

The project will use drones to collect data on the settlements, which will then be used together with GIS data to create a digital cadastral database of the designated area. Sixteen people – 14 youths and two land agents – will be trained to use the drones. The information collected will be used to support land title applications in the communities covered by RADEKAS. It will also be used to create a dialogue with decision makers and other stakeholders on consensual, sustainable solutions to land issues. 

It aims to particularly benefit women, who will receive support to use the land title to obtain micro credit loans to start income-generation activities, thereby demonstrating the benefits of land titling for inclusive development.

For wider impact and to encourage replication, the project will hold presentations and workshops at the provincial and national levels to raise awareness of its activities and the role it can play in national land reform.

The activity is an innovative way to reduce land conflict by integrating technology with community engagement and capacity building. Communities will learn how to negotiate with the municipality for their rights and learn how to use land tenure as an asset to build livelihoods. The city will have access to quality data that forms the basis of a modern land information management system, as well as technology that can revolutionalise the work of surveyors. Young people will gain valuable skills that they can use to access employment.

IRDAC SARL is a start-up organisation with expertise in participatory mapping and remote sensing in the DRC. Its services include promoting innovative use of civil drone technology to access high-resolution, geo-spatial information to capture and manage land data and other drone solutions services. The organisation also offers training in tele-piloting drones and supports communities in sustainably managing environmental projects. IRDAC SARL is member of Africa Goes Digital (, a large African start-up network which provides drones solutions services around Africa and is supported by CTA (


The Cities Alliance Innovation Programme

The Cities Alliance Innovation Programme aims to incubate fresh thinking and approaches to urban challenges, particularly in rapidly urbanising cities.

Through the programme, Cities Alliance provides seed funding for projects as well as access to networking and learning that helps grantees transform their cities and communities. It is a flexible instrument designed for new and non-traditional partners, especially in those cities and communities that are typically left behind.

Since its launch in 2012, the Innovation Programme has funded 31 innovative projects in 48 cities in 32 countries, disbursing USD 6.1 million in grant funding. It has issued three thematic calls for proposals: Migration, Know Your City, and Youth and the City, with one open call. These projects have catalysed urban transformation processes, created partnerships among urban development actors, and leveraged funding. Some are being scaled up within a country or integrated into national policies.

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