Sheela Patel is the Founding Director of the Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC), a Mumbai-based NGO that has been working since 1984 with two grassroots Organizations of the urban poor: the National Slum Dwllers Federation and Mahila Milan (Women’s Collective). The purpose of SPARC is to help communities negotiate the right to better housing, infrastructure, and access to finances.
With programs in 70 cities in India, SPARC has catalyzed the construction of over 8,500 units of housing, and more than 18,000 toilets serving around 800,000 families. SPARC also conducts field studies to explore processes of participatory slum upgrading, which can be “piloted” in cities and leveraged as an advocacy tool to multiply change. In 2000 SPARC received the United Nations Human Settlement Award for the significant role it plays in the politics of slum development.
Sheela Patel obtained a Masters of Social Work from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences in 1974. She has been involved in founding and coordinating a number of national and international Organizations such as Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP), the Asian Coalition of Housing Rights, Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI), and the Asian Women and Shelter Network. She also serves on numerous national and international advisory boards.
Sheela Patel received the David Rockefeller Bridging Leadership Award in 2009 recognizing her efforts to ameliorate urban poverty. In 2011, she received the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civil honor from the Republic of India for services to social work.