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In Slums, a Postal Address is Key to Opportunity

Next Century Innovators Award Finalist Alex Pigot, founder of Addressing the Unaddressed, shares how they use innovation to empower others, how slums deeply affect social safety nets, and cities could become socially inclusive.

Eva Kaplan: Why do you believe that innovation is important in producing change?

Alex Pigot: It is our belief at Addressing the Unaddressed that we, the human race, all want to improve our lives to achieve the happiest state we can, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us. And therefore the human race innovates. Innovation drives continuous improvement and once in a while it produces transformational impact. Innovation is producing new solutions to old problems—and by doing so empowering ourselves and the people who are faced with problems to take better care of themselves and those around them.

EK: The Next Century Innovators Award is highlighting work that has the potential to transform systems that impact poor and vulnerable populations for the next 100 years. How do you see the potential of your work for the next 100 years?

AP: ​​​In slums and other informal settlements there are no addresses, just hundreds or even hundreds of thousands of people using the same address. This has the effect of denying people access to basic social and civic services. Without an address, slum dwellers are not able to open a bank account or register with private sector companies, denying them such basic services as electricity. They are also invisible in the eyes of the state, barring them from available social services and the right to vote. Lost in the system, they are unintentionally being denied the education and healthcare available to those with an identity. Their ability to help themselves is limited by the lack of an identity and that lack of identity is due to not having an address.

“Four billion people are excluded from the rule of law, as the lack of a legal identity often prevents them from enjoying their rights as citizens. Setting up an addressing system is the first step towards tackling that issue.”

—Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, United Nations Development Programme

Addressing the Unaddressed turns geo-coordinates into unique addresses. This means that we are able to provide addresses in slums and informal settlements in a standard, non-political way that can change and adapt as the settlement changes.

We estimate that our work over the next 17 years will involve on average about 2,500 people working with us every year. And if that happens we will provide an address to every slum dwelling by 2030. In doing so, we will empower the people who live in the slums to be better able to take care of themselves and their loved ones. We also believe that addresses can be used to help in the management and care of displaced people due to war or natural disasters. It can be applied in all unplanned settlements.

EK: What has being a part of the Next Century Innovators process meant for your organization?

AP: It is our belief that we all want to improve our lives to achieve the happiest state we can, not only for ourselves, but also for those around us.

Although our work means and will mean a huge difference to the people with whom we are working in the slums, being part of Rockefeller’s Next Century Innovators has given us a huge lift in confidence in ourselves and what we are doing. It has opened the eyes of people around us to the value and importance of our work.

In India, where we primarily work, it has added new confidence to the people working in the community. It has attracted interested also in other arenas, not only amongst other NGOs working at the bottom of the pyramid, but also from governments and particularly amongst the international postal community.

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