Handstorm in Dharavi
Our annual Handstorm workshops in Dharavi with the "Engineers for Social Impact" from NYU Abu Dhabi generate incremental innovations that improve the quality of life in this massive settlement
Dharavi as we know it today has its origins in the fishing village or ‘Dharavi Koliwada’ in the late nineteenth century. It grew to become the hub for people from all over the country who came to Mumbai in search of economic prospects. Dharavi is now home to various industries and artisans engaged in the production of goods for local and global markets. This economic interdependence has allowed diverse communities to coexist. Thriving communities are the backbone of homegrown neighbourhoods - continuously evolving through collective and collaborative efforts. Can a user-driven website aid these interdependent efforts?
This is the question that a group of NYUAD students found themselves trying to answer as part of the Handstorm workshop, 2023. They learnt that a website, Dharavi.org was initiated by urbz in 2008. The idea was to build online connections between communities. The website became a platform for locals to connect with each other and people around the world. It also published articles and other content about Dharavi. The website managed to gain traction amongst the locals, and was popularly used to re-connect and make new connections. Although the website was received and used positively, it became technically challenging to continue because of numerous bots that hindered authentic communication.
Reviving Dharavi.org seemed like a great idea to the students. While brainstorming with the urbz team, they began to envision Dharavi.org as an interactive, informative website for and by the people of Dharavi. It would be a platform to share stories of people and communities and also function as a space to highlight people’s needs and strategies or solutions to problems they face. According to the students, Dharavi.org should be a space for people to celebrate Dharavi.
The students felt that the website should feature many types of media, from articles to photographs to videos. This collection of media will convey the history, statistics, and stories of Dharavi. It will also highlight ongoing initiatives within the community in case users are interested in contributing to businesses and other organisations active in Dharavi. Dharavi.org could become a database of information for people interested in learning more about the neighbourhood.
In order to capture the spirit of Dharavi, the students wanted to immerse themselves in the neighbourhood. This would help them understand the pulse of the place. It was also equally important to understand current needs and the scope of potential content contributors. Students met with several inspiring individuals who were from Dharavi or had worked within the context. Local photo-journalists, artisans and entrepreneurs working in Dharavi’s recycling and leather industries were amongst the people they met.
The students were impressed by their walks and encounters with people in Dharavi. They felt that “Dharavi, regardless of being labelled as a slum, is a place with rich culture and a lengthy history. The neighbourhood and its people have endured a lot of challenges, but have worked together to make it a better place to live. Dharavi has made a lot of progress in education, healthcare, and infrastructure and it should be known to the rest of the world.” The students recognised that the people of Dharavi want to continue improving their community and a great way to do this is by providing access to global networks so that interested people can contribute their expertise, information, or resources. In the light of the Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), the students also felt it was important for the website to gather people’s reactions and opinions as well as become a tool to foster participation in the DRP.
During the Homegrown street exhibition organised by urbz, students had a chance to present their project. This gave them the opportunity to connect with locals and receive feedback. Students foresee that Dharavi.org will require maintenance. One job includes periodically checking to ensure functionality. Another job includes monitoring new media and adding new content to the site. They anticipate the need for it to be regularly maintained and monitored by the people of Dharavi, future NYUAD students or members from the urbz team. In the next few weeks, the students will prototype and finalise the framework for the website. They will then work on collating and collecting content for the website, its architecture and user interface. They hope to have Dharavi.org fully functional and online soon!