© Christian Bobst / Helvetas

Urban Engagement

Cities: beacons of opportunity or hotspots of inequality?
© Christian Bobst / Helvetas

In 1960, only 1/3 of the global population lived in cities. Today, it’s 55% and growing. Helvetas looks for ways to ensure that this rapid urbanization benefits the poor and the marginalized.

Why urban engagement?

Development organizations have traditionally focused on rural areas – “poverty traps” of the world. Urban areas, on the one hand, are often seen as beacons of opportunity and the hubs of the rich.

Towns and cities may have higher income per capita than rural areas on average, but these nice-looking figures disguise the widespread urban inequality and high concentrations of poverty.

The recent arrivals are especially vulnerable because they lack social support networks and skills to survive in the more competitive urban environments.

Newly urbanized areas encounter urban-specific challenges such as waste management, environmental pollution, higher risks of social and natural disasters - often without knowing how to address them.

Our focus: small- and medium-sized towns

Small- and medium-sized towns are the key to realigning the uneven development of urban and rural areas. They provide income opportunities to neighboring villages thus curbing rural poverty and exodus.

Despite being the fastest-growing urban category and playing the crucial role of market nodes for surrounding rural areas, small- and medium-sized towns are often overlooked: both by development organizations (which tend to focus on rural areas) and by investments (which often flow into big cities).

© Helvetas/Patrick Rohr
© Helvetas/Patrick Rohr
© Helvetas
In close collaboration with the Bolivian Environment and Water Resources Ministry, Helvetas is providing support for municipal authorities in efforts to secure sewage treatment and refuse disposal in 20 small and medium-sized towns. © Helvetas
© Helvetas / Patrick Rohr
© Helvetas / Patrick Rohr

What we do

Helvetas encourages a form of urbanization that is sustainable and inclusive, by empowering towns to improve living conditions (sanitation, waste management, etc.), food systems, access to education and jobs, and capitalizing on the benefits of rural-urban linkages.

For example, the towns of Villamontes and Cliza in Bolivia have partnered with surrounding small municipalities to provide 80% of their population with quality sanitation services, thus raising the quality of life and reducing soil and water pollution. Neighboring rural residents use their organic waste and treated wastewater in agriculture. In Benin, young urban dwellers are learning about organic farming to generate income and meet the growing food needs in cities. In Nepal, residents of a small but diverse town of Katarniya have overcome their cultural, ethnical and caste differences to create a joint safe drinking water system. In the Ethiopian city of Bahir Dar, we support young people who have typically migrated from the surrounding countryside with developing their vocational skills to secure steady employment.

Contact our team

Our multilingual advisory team has extensive experience working on realizing the benefits of rural-urban linkages and developing solutions for the challenges faced, as well as harnessing the opportunities offered, by small- and medium-sized towns.

Representative of the interdisciplinary working group on urban engagement

Selected projects

Helvetas develops and guides projects. To be sustainable, they must be locally embedded. We support our partners in effectively organizing projects and processes and assist local authorities to better assume their responsibilities.

© Helvetas
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Во многих странах, где мы работаем, мужчины и женщины не могут отстаивать свои права и активно участвовать в процессах принятия решений.


Молодые люди являются огромным активом, но также и возможной угрозой, когда им отказывают в доступе к рынкам труда, услугам и принятию решений. Почти каждый второй безработный в возрасте от 15 до 24 лет.
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