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Urban Poor

The Urban Poor Feature Article

Searchlight Convening: The Future of the Urban Poor



By Claudia Juech and Evan Michelson, The Rockefeller Foundation

The effects of events such as the protests and demonstrations that have combined to create the promise of the Arab Spring, the American subprime mortgage crisis leading to a widespread and deep economic recession, or the Japanese tsunami disrupting global supply chains, tell us that it is becoming more and more difficult to forecast what the future may look like in 10 or 15 years. In our increasingly complex and interdependent world, the high pace of change, trends and discontinuities in demography, lifestyles, technology and economy can rapidly create new opportunities as well as threats.

Corporations and governments have been using forward-looking approaches for decades to inform their strategic decision-making. Given the high stakes and importance of considering the future of issues related to poverty and development, it is necessary to adopt those approaches - that illuminate alternative futures, identify potential solutions and take advantage of new opportunities - for improving people’s lives. Developing such a long-term perspective requires the utilization of a wide range of future-oriented tools, techniques and methodologies - such as scenario-planning exercises, simulations and roadmaps – that can expand the mindset of key stakeholders, examine different strategies in a “safe space,” and discover unexpected pathways upfront.

New and more participatory approaches are also needed that involve the explicit engagement of poor and marginalized populations in considering how their future might evolve. The Rockefeller Foundation has supported the operationalization of this concept, termed “pro-poor foresight,” in practice through the creation of a pioneering network of organizations. Collectively known as the Searchlight function, this diverse group of institutions, based in countries such as India, Tanzania, Thailand and Peru, provides an on-the-ground, regionally focused view of the world, with a particular emphasis on monitoring the economic, societal and political trends and scanning the horizon for both challenges and innovations that might come to impact the lives of the poor on a daily basis.

The Searchlight function is an innovative application of the horizon scanning method in the development sector. Begun in 2009, the Searchlight function consists of a group of 11 forward looking, regionally focused horizon scanning and trend monitoring grantees who produce monthly trend-monitoring newsletters by conducting an ongoing exploration for novel ideas, intervention opportunities, and “clues” to where and how the world is evolving. In doing so, the Searchlight function aims to achieve four complementary and inter-related goals:

  • Illuminate the current contextual environment in which philanthropies and global development organizations operate;
  • Identify signals that could have longer-term implications;
  • Showcase a diversity of opinions, methodological approaches, and points of view;
  • Highlight potential solutions or intervention opportunities to critical problems

By providing a regular stream of future-oriented intelligence, the Searchlight function offers a deeper understanding of the changing global ecosystem in which global institutions operate and looking to assess the present to illuminate multiple potential pathways ahead.

Read the full report

This article is reproduced from Searchlight Convening: The Future of the Urban Poor, Report and Participant Reflections, April 2011 with permission of the authors.


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