From social infrastructure to pandemic resilience?: learning from and with low-income urban communities

Dr Melanie Lombard, Professor Fiona Anciano, and Dr Carlos Andres Tobar Tovar

Funding period: 1 March 2022 – 28 February 2023
Type of funding: Other Grants

Partner organisations: University of Sheffield (United Kingdom), University of the Western Cape (South Africa), Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Cali (Colombia), Isandla Institute (South Africa), and Predhesca (Colombia).
Lead organisers: Dr Melanie Lombard, Professor Fiona Anciano, and Dr Carlos Andres Tobar Tovar.
Team members: Ms Miriam van Donk (Director, Isandla Institute, Cape Town, South Africa), Ms Betty Alarcon Afiuni (Director, Predhesca, Cali, Colombia), Dr Maria Teresa Varela (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Cali), Ms Stephany Vargas Rojas (Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Cali).
Contact: Dr Melanie Lombard

This research project was funded by a USF Pandemics and Cities grant.

Abstract: Faced with the asymmetrical distribution of Covid’s effects in cities, low-income communities have a critical role in building local resilience. Globally, both pandemic and control measures have severely affected residents’ ability to meet basic needs, particularly relating to food, services (e.g. health, education and childcare), and access to reliable information. Community-based organisations (CBOs) have played a decisive role in pandemic response in many low-income neighbourhoods, mitigating vulnerabilities by responding to gaps in basic needs provisioning. Yet little is known about their enhanced role in pandemic response, or how this affects community capacity to withstand future crises. This project will analyse CBOs’ pandemic responses, applying the concept ‘social infrastructure’ (McFarlane & Silver 2017) to capture innovative responses to basic needs gaps, dynamic emerging practices, and contextual factors. Using this lens we will explore how CBOs in two highly unequal cities, Cape Town and Cali, have addressed needs relating to food, care and digital inclusion. Learning from locally-embedded practices is essential for equitable post-pandemic strategies, as legacies of ‘shadow pandemics’ in poverty, inequality and mental health are likely to influence policy agendas for decades. The research is guided by the question: To what extent can the social infrastructure provided by community-based organisations’ pandemic response support (new understandings of) community resilience in cities? It will use interviews, focus groups, digital diaries and documentary analysis to explore these issues with partner NGOs Isandla Institute and Predhesca, and CBOs in both cities.