The Generic MNF Approach to Community Development

We provide independent support for communities that are facing multiple challenges and conflicting or competing agendas and priorities, on issues such as homes, jobs, education and healthcare.

Our approach is based on our conviction that if a place is to be truly successful, it must work for everyone there – residents, employers, workers, landowners, administrators and visitors. We focus on place rather than personalities to initiate dialogue and take debate beyond single-issue lobbies. We encourage recognition that the success of any one interest group is inseparable from the success of the whole place. This way we raise awareness of a place’s potential for positive change.

We bring together diverse stakeholders and use our skills in community engagement and urban planning to facilitate a shared vision for change. Our experience tells us that only by giving all parts of the community a voice can we build consensus around a more holistic approach to a place.

Our approach can be applied to many urban situations from suburbs, townships and informal settlements to down-town and business districts. Wherever we are around the world, we start by understanding the specifics of each location to provide a rigorous analysis of how places are structured – physically, economically and socially. This provides an objective starting point to focus on the possibilities for change.

Because we are independent of government or commercial interests, we can mediate between these and other sectors of the community. We recognise the importance of building trust across participating groups as a perquisite for making progress. We make the process clear and transparent.

We help assemble ‘town teams’ across a range of community and business groups with a stake in the locality. We encourage them to work together and identify shared values and aims. We take a propositional approach that allows local people to decide their priorities and express the principles that should shape their community. Only when shared principles are clearly articulated and shared with the wider community do we resolve these into action on projects to realise the team’s vision.

We are at the early stages of applying this philosophy to the mixed community just outside Cape Town, South Africa, where there are significant tensions between rich and poor, racial stereotyping and widely differing education, employment and housing opportunities. If the exercise proves successful, we hope to apply lessons learnt to other communities in South Africa and around the world.