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COVID-19 in Urban Poor Communities: Response & Challenges

Learn how COVID-19 has impacted the world’s most vulnerable populations, across the Global South, and understand the varied responses and governance issues in self-organized, self-built urban poor communities.

COVID-19 in Urban Poor Communities: Response & Challenges
start date
4-6 Weeks
2-3 hours per week

About this course

The COVID-19 pandemic epitomizes existing vulnerabilities. While multiple international and national guidelines have been released, it remains unclear the extent to which these so-called “best practices” are actually adequate for the particular challenges facing self-organized communities in self-built, urban poor settlements. Without adequate housing, substandard water and sanitation infrastructure, or living with day-to-day informal incomes, is not possible for up to a billion of the world’s population to face the health crisis with social isolation and frequent handwashing.

This course is geared towards those who seek to understand the contrast between top-down and local responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. It addresses issues of governance to understand the particular politics that govern urban poor communities and condition the response of governments and other development agents.

Experts from a variety of backgrounds, including academics, community leaders, residents of informal settlements, public officials, NGO workers and others, will share their experience through brief lectures and other resources. Students will have the opportunity to interact with them and share their experience as well.

This course will particularly benefit street-level public officials, community activists, non-profit advocates, settlement residents, as well as local and central government agents working in and with self-organized communities in the Global South. It will enhance their understanding of the current context, and contribute to their preparation for future crises.

Join MIT faculty, practitioners, and a global community of learners to understand the impact of COVID-19 in urban poor communities and how to address the unique set of challenges it presents.

What you’ll learn

● The characteristics of self-organized urban poor communities

● The particularities of health issues in informal settlements

● The different sets of COVID-19 guidelines from international and national organizations

● The nature of COVID-19 local responses across the Global South

● The centrality of communities’ organized response in the COVID-19 crisis

Meet your instructors

  • Caesar McDowell

    Ceasar L. McDowell is a Professor of the Practice of Civic Design at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He is also Special Advisor to MIT’s Media Lab. His current work is on the design of civic infrastructures and processes to connect the increasingly demographically complex public. He co-host the TheMove a podcast series on civic design. At DUSP, Ceasar teaches on civic and community engagement and the use of social media to enhance both. Ceasar brings his deep commitment to the work of building beloved, just and equitable communities that are able to – as his friend Carl Moore says – ”struggle with traditions that bind and the interests that separate in order to build a future that is an equitable improvement on the past.”

    Ceasar is the founder of MIT's CoLab and Civic Designers consulting. He served as Director of the global civic engagement organization Dropping Knowledge International, President of Interaction Institute for Social Change, co-founder of The Civil Rights Forum on Telecommunications Policy, and founding Board member of The Algebra Project. Ceasar is also a musician and filmmaker.

  • Karenna Groff

    Karenna is a masters student at MIT studying Biomedical Engineering. She received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, and has a BS in Biological Engineering from MIT, with a minor in Brain and Cognitive Science and a concentration in Public Health. She is interested in global public health and specifically the implementation of healthcare in informal settlements in the global south. She is also dedicated to reducing maternal deaths by improving access to healthcare for mothers in low-resource areas. In Boston, she works as an emergency medical technician (EMT) and conducts translational epilepsy research at Boston Children's Hospital. She hopes each of these interests will play a prominent role in her future, where she intends to increase global access to high-quality healthcare as a physician-scientist.

  • Amelia Seabold

    Amelia is a Master of City Planning student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She graduated with a B.S. in Urban Planning and a minor in Biology in 2022. Her master’s work focuses on the intersection of international development and public health, specifically on increasing diagnostic testing for sickle cell anemia in low-resource settings in the Global South. She has previous research experience in biology and immunology in both wet and dry labs and has been working on projects in informal settlements since June, 2020. During summer of 2022, she worked at Slum Dwellers International at their Secretariat in Cape Town, South Africa. Combining her health and planning knowledge, she wants to work to increase access to quality healthcare for marginalized people around the world.

  • Daniela Beltrame

    Daniela specializes in human settlements, marginalized populations and international cooperation. She is a researcher at the African Cities Research Consortium (ACRC), in the Informal Settlements Domain, through Slum Dwellers International (SDI). She is also an affiliate researcher at MIT. She has worked as programme director, advisor and consultant in the national and international public and non-profit sectors, particularly with women-led community-based organizations in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. She is a Fulbright Scholar and holds a Master in City Planning from MIT, as well as an MSc in International Cooperation and Public Policy and a BA in Political Science.

  • Joaquin Benitez

    Joaquin is a lecturer in urban sociology and PhD candidate at the School of Social Sciences of the University of Buenos Aires. Visiting SPURS Fellow at MIT for the academic year 2019-2020, he holds a Masters in Urban Studies and a BA in Sociology. He teaches and researches about urban policies, housing, participation, and slum upgrading in Argentina. Before becoming an academic, he worked for the Government of the City of Buenos Aires monitoring and evaluating social programs, and for the non-profit sector, assisting community leaders in their demands for adequate housing and human rights in informal settlements.

  • Marcelle Mardon

    Marcelle is a trained architect with a passion for socially driven participatory design processes within urbanism and, in particular, its intersection with gender inclusivity. Working within a context of informal urban neighbourhoods in Africa, she has been fundraising, technically supporting, and working to bring awareness to the incredible potential of women-led transnational community grassroots movements in implementing sustainable solutions for the future. With over 20 years of multi-disciplinary experience behind her, she has combined both her technical and creative background with international development. Currently, her work sees her strongly advocating for women as agents of change, both on the continent and in the diaspora, focusing on livelihoods and entrepreneurship.

Who can take this course?

Because of U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) restrictions and other U.S. federal regulations, learners residing in one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba, Syria, North Korea and the Crimea, Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic regions of Ukraine.