Nairobi, Kenya, is one of the fastest growing urban centers in Africa, with a population increasing more than tenfold in the last 50 years. It is projected that, by 2050, half of Kenya’s population will be living in cities. The provision of adequate urban services has not been able to keep pace with this demand, leading to the expansion of informal settlements and those in poorer communities being forced to live in neighborhoods without access to basic services and infrastructure. These informal settlements are also significantly exposed to natural hazards; urban planners often lack accurate, up-to-date data on these settlements, which would allow them to identify high-risk communities and infrastructure and plan out appropriate measures to increase resilience. In this context, geographic information services are especially valued and critical, as are people skilled in collecting and analyzing the kind of data those services can provide.

The government of Kenya has already been working on upgrading living conditions and providing basic public services to slums through the original Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP), but it has been hampered by the lack of reliable geographic information data and collection capabilities. The COVID-19 emergency has also highlighted the need for low-cost disruptive technology to generate the data required to manage and recover from crises such as the pandemic, while also providing skills development and earning opportunities for the most impacted communities. GFDRR’s Digital Public Works Model provides an innovative approach to urban data collection, generation, and validation that is especially well adapted to this kind of situation as it also provides youth with opportunities to generate income and learn new digital skills. Similar pilot activities have also been implemented in Mali, Sierra Leone, and Tanzania. As a result, a pilot initiative was developed as part of the new Second Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP II) and launched in early 2022.

Highlights of the Support

The high levels of interest in this activity from communities living in informal settlements in Nairobi were evident: the Kenya Digital Public Works pilot received over 1,000 applications, for about 300 available positions, from youth aged between 18 and 25 to participate in the pilot’s activities.

GFDRR then began funding trainings for these new recruits to carry out a variety of tasks with the aim of creating urban data sets. These tasks included building digitization, capturing imagery through the use of a terrestrial camera, mapping points of interest, collecting field data on points of interest, and conducting socioeconomic surveys. Data collected by the youth will be used to inform community development plans for preselected settlements in Nairobi and to inform neighborhood infrastructure investments financed by the KISIP II.

Next Steps

The Digital Public Works for Urban Resilience pilot project is evaluating the comparative advantages of the digital public works approach over traditional urban data collection and/ or traditional public works methods and programs. Results and lessons learned were shared with the broader disaster risk management (DRM) community in Kenya through a communications and awareness-raising campaign that comprised blog publications, for instance. The World Bank team’s proposal to the Korea–World Bank Partnership Facility (KWPF- an initiative to assist developing member countries of the World Bank in achieving inclusive and sustainable economic growth and to foster broader dialogue on economic development issues) to scale up this approach to 15 additional settlements in Kenya was selected for funding and will likely begin activities in FY23.

Lessons Learned

When the Digital Public Works for Urban Resilience model was initially developed, the focus was on the development of digital skills of local youths. While this remains a high priority, the team gained a greater appreciation of the other socioeconomic and/or professional skills that youth can build through this approach— including communication skills, teamwork capabilities, critical thinking and problem solving, and ethics.

Coordination with local community leadership such as the Settlement Executive Committees (SECs) has been critical to the success of the pilot activities. Guidance and buy-in from the SECs have supported recruitment efforts, helped community members to feel more comfortable with the presence of youth collecting data in their settlements, and provided a level of legitimacy and security that has helped the project to succeed.

The activity also identified many opportunities to further support workers beyond the “Digital Public Works for Urban Resilience activity, so that any digital and socioeconomic skills gained can be further developed and grown through professional opportunities. The World Bank team submitted a proposal to the KWPF to further scale up the approach in Kenya and add a component to emphasize opportunity matching.