Day 1 in the Financial Institutions group was full of interesting discussions among all 16 students who participated. It quickly became clear that all of them were very keen to immediately solve the problem posed to the citizens of Dar es Salaam by the Harbour of Dreams plans. Equally quickly, however, came the realisation that it would not be possible to achieve, which contributed to the generation of vibrant debates among the students as ‘themselves’ and, later, among the 4 different stakeholder groups, including Micro-Finance Institutions, Commercial Banks, Multi-lateral Financial Institutions and Trusts & Foundations. This was the first step of building new identities.
The key points that kept coming up in the initial discussions mainly revolved around the risk of increased inequality and gentrification as a result of the new Harbour, and the questioning of the actual benefits of the whole enterprise: can it generate equitable, sustainable development? Is more regulation needed? And if so- who’s responsible for it and how do we ensure enforcement, which is often the key lacking component? These and more important questions kept occupying the groups’ minds for quite some time as they were trying to come to grips with the complexity of the situation.
Speaking of sustainable development and, most importantly, of sustainable cities, here is what each stakeholder group within Financial Institutions had to say:
- Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs):
MFIs defined sustainability as the ability of communities to be able to help themselves, with the greatest importance placed on the local people who should be the key leaders of change and capable of supporting themselves without heavy reliance on loans and ‘outside’ help. They expressed concern that no access to finance (particularly for the poor who cannot resort to common sources such as commercial banks as they have no co-lateral) can be a big hurdle to sustainability. Therefore, they believe that low-interest loans such as those offered by MFIs have the potential of triggering entrepreneurship and lead to self-reliance among the poor and other social groups.
- Multi-lateral Financial Institutions:
Multi-laterals (such as the World Bank or the African Development Bank) perceived sustainability as making communities more resilient without creating dependence on loans. They recognised the need for supporting not only the private, but also the public sector, in ways that will eventually make them financially independent. To some extent, it was a view similar to that expressed by the MFIs.
- Trusts & Foundations:
This stakeholder group saw the need to invest in socially, economically and environmentally sustainable projects that will allow communities to create their own future, rather than offering them a ready-made solution (which might not be relevant/acceptable/desirable by them). Sustainability, in their view, meant creating cycles of replication of positive examples (such as the one of Chamazi affordable housing development which also includes provision of basic utilities), without expecting any financial returns (as might be the case with Multi-laterals, for example).
- Commercial Banks:
Banks struggled with the idea of creating positive, equitable change while at the same time making sufficient profits. Discussions revealed that sustainability, even though not very clearly defined yet, would have to involve smart investments in the city, including into small businesses (already existing ones which might be having a hard time growing and becoming profitable), housing (mainly through providing loans to business owners), and new phone operation network to ensure wider coverage and access to the internet for the benefit of all. They were interested mostly in investing into projects that yield high returns in the long run- we liked that!
At the end of the session, everyone was looking forward to developing their individual characters- more exciting times ahead!