Sheela Patel is the founder and Director of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC), an NGO that has been working since 1984 to support community organizations of the urban poor in their efforts to access secure housing and basic amenities and seek their right to the city. She is widely recognized – nationally and internationally – for seeking urgent attention to the issues of urban poverty, housing and infrastructure onto the radar of governments, bilateral and international agencies, foundations and other organizations. SPARC has been working in alliance with two Community Based Organizations –National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) and Mahila Milan (women’s collectives in slums) that are active in 70 cities in different states of India.
Since 1999, she has also been Secretary and Chief Executive of SPARC Samudaya Nirman Sahayak (SSNS), a non-profit company set up to assist slum communities take on construction projects in cities to provide slum dwellers to build homes and sanitation for themselves.
Sheela is a founder member of Slum/Shack Dwellers International (SDI) an international network of poor people’s organizations and the NGOs that support them across 32 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Since 1996, this network has helped to create a global voice of the urban poor, engaging international agencies and operating on the international stage in order to support and advance local struggles. Sheela was the Chair of the SDI board from 2010 to 2019.
Sheela has several publications to her credit where she has highlighted issues of the urban poor, how organizations of the urban poor can be mobilized and strengthened to access rights and is well known for her articulation of urban development issues. Recognizing her work on Urban issues, she has been invited and has worked as a member of several panels, commissions, and committees and routinely advise bodies working in areas of urban development and climate change.
Sheela was a Commissioner of the Commission for Adaptation to climate change between 2018-2020 and is currently a trustee of the International Institute or Environment and Development (IIED) and a Global Ambassador for Race to Zero and Race to Resilience. Since 2001, she has been the Trustee of Pukar (NGO in Mumbai linking various sectors to each other for knowledge exchange), 2006 to present; Trustee of Axis Bank Foundation. She is also on the External Advisory Group of DigiNEB since 2022.