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Creative resilience in low-income communities

When people talk about poverty or other systemic issues impacting communities, it is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Access to education is the answer.” Although education does enable opportunity, barriers to access continue to exist both within “developed” and “developing” countries, such as socioeconomic factors, competing financial and family priorities, and even post-secondary acceptance criteria. As such, it warrants talking about another factor that plays an important role in overcoming systemic issues, one that is not limited by access barriers—creative resilience. In this article, we explore creative resilience observations made during a recent trip to Hyderabad, India with an Australian social business.

Creative resilience in the slums of Hyderabad, India India's low-income communities are commonly known as slums. What most people outside of India, and even people within India, don’t know is a large number of individuals living in these communities own land and/or have family living in rural areas. In learning about this, people often ask, “Why then, do they choose to live in slums?” Poor agriculture conditions caused by droughts in rural areas in various regions of India make it challenging for some families to stay in their native communities, displacing people internally within the country. They uproot their lives to move to large cities where there is more opportunity to find work, often relocating with other members of their native community to start a satellite community. Although these relocations often result in continued hardship, individuals are doing what they can to sustain their families and native communities, travelling home to visit remaining family members and harvest crops when it is possible.

Enacting creative resilience, some individual members of satellite communities, and sometimes even an entire community, establish unique vocations, such as making wigs that are sold to foreign buyers, providing sacred cows for house blessings, and women running micro businesses to sell necessities within their communities. Although these earnings are often not enough to enable upward relocation, they can either supplement earnings, or provide an alternative source if more traditional work is not available. Through collective creative resilience, some of these satellite communities become established communities with small paved streets and bathrooms built into the homes. One particularly resilient community in Hyderabad even worked together to purchase a shared property where they could then establish their community without fear of needing to move due to government and/or private land development. (Most low-income settlements in India are built on government or private land through an arrangement; houses often reflect temporary or more permanent structures based on the nature of the arrangement.)

Learning from people living below the poverty line Learning is not limited by access to education, rather, people are only limited in their ability to learn when they are not open to learning from others who come from different backgrounds and with perceptions that differ from their own. In the case of people living below the poverty line in India, we all have a great deal to learn from them about overcoming barriers to sustain family and community. When we look to include and learn from those who are most greatly impacted by a systemic issue, more can be made possible to overcome the barriers, together.


About C.O.D

Celebrate Our Differences is a social venture supporting the development of workplaces and communities to co-create places of belonging. Providing organizational culture and community development consulting services, we work alongside organizations to address complex challenges through authentic inclusion approaches that enable people to participate more fully in the workplace and community.

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