Eight eager foreign students from the New School arrived in Pune, wide-eyed yet uncertain about what we were there to see. The decision to take the trip came after a week of site visits with slum communities in Mumbai who work with the National Slum Dwellers Federation (the Federation) on savings, sanitation, and relocation.

While meeting with Jockin Arputham, he emphatically told us that “everything began in Pune; you cannot start your work here until you see Pune.”

The four of us are documenting the informal mechanisms by which knowledge is transferred from current Federation community leaders in Mumbai to younger generations.

Our goal in Pune, aside from understanding its importance within the Federation, was to sneak in a couple of questions about knowledge transfer during our whirlwind 36-hour stay.

The organization’s process of knowledge transfer has many layers. The leaders formulate the enumeration survey questions by spending time in communities and reflecting on their own experiences: “We live in slums; these are the questions we come across in our daily lives.”

They work alongside slum-dwellers in Pune throughout the process of relocation and in situ upgrading, building the capacity of community members – most of whom are women – as leaders.

Communities from other cities in India, such as Bhopal, Nanded, Delhi, and Bangalore have come to Pune to absorb their processes and try to replicate them in their own communities; in the same vein, Pune Mahila Milan has traveled to cities across the Global South to share their knowledge with communities facing similar issues.

Knowledge is also transferred upwards from Mahila Milan to local politicians, commissioners, urban planners, academics, and the like.

Our “a-ha!” moment dawned on us after we had asked our pre-planned questions, when we were wrapping up to leave. Savita Sonawane, president of Mahila Milan in Pune, remarked that in the last 20 years, many foreigners have visited them but have rarely asked about how future generations can continue this important work so that it is not lost or forgotten.

The realization that while studying the processes of knowledge transfer we too are part of this knowledge transfer had not occurred to us until that moment. We were invited to ask questions after visiting the projects Pune Mahila Milan had spearheaded and continue to be involved with; what we did not expect was that the members also gained insights from answering our questions.

The exchange that had taken place was not one-directional; rather, it elucidates the collective and collaborative process that is integral to the Federation’s work