What change we seek to reflect

We seek to promote and contribute to systems and practices of urban governance that are democratic, inclusive, equitable, accountable and sustainable.

More specifically, we seek to advance this by focusing on three key outcomes, which we believe are instrumental in achieving the systemic change we seek. These are:

  • Well-informed, engaged, inspired and connected cohort of urban sector leaders/change agents.
  • Enabling and progressive policy, planning frameworks, programmes and practices.
  • Strategic partnerships and coalitions for change.

We see change as multi-facetted and holistic, including personal, organisational, institutional and societal aspects. Working to achieve change at different aspects is necessary to achieve lasting and systemic results.

Promoting urban citizenship acts as both the lodestar for all our work and the yardstick to measure our work against.


What we do to achieve this change


We use a number of strategies to achieve the intended change:

  • We create and hold spaces for reflection, learning and joint problem-solving.
  • We generate, reinterpret and package ideas, concepts and practices for policy and practice.
  • We continually expand our knowledge, methodologies and networks to maximise our relevance and impact.
  • We pursue partnerships that complement our expertise and deepen our relevance and understanding.
  • We approach change holistically – personal, organisational, institutional, societal.
  • We use creative thinking and innovation to come up with strategic pathways and compelling products.

We invest in relationships with change agents in government and civil society. In pursuing these strategies, we can draw on significant expertise and organisational credibility, based on our work to date. Isandla Institute has a reputation as a thought leader with convening power. The organisation is respected for its sound expertise in facilitating processes of learning for impact and has demonstrated that it is capable of assembling (and managing) coalitions for change.

As a learning organisation, we also recognise that our thinking and our practice continues to evolve and that we need to consciously reflect on our work, our networks and the results of our work so that we can improve our strategies for impact.

Who we seek to influence and who we work with

We work with, and seek to influence, city practitioners, urban policy makers and built environment professionals in public, private, academic and non-profit sectors. At times our emphasis is working closely with other non-profit organisations to enhance understanding, develop collaborative relationships and pursue common objectives.

Ensuring that civil society organisations are connected for learning and impact remains a key driver of our work. At other times, our primary focus is on identifying, learning from and bolstering change agents within city government.

We also recognise that urban policy makers have an important role to play, as do private sector organisations, which makes them an obvious sphere of influence. Then there are instances where we bring various actors and stakeholders together in an effort to enable mutual learning and to enhance partnership approaches to complex challenges.

Our Values

Our organisational identity is strongly rooted in a set of core values, which continue to guide and inform our work:
We pursue a just distribution of opportunities and resources
We hold ourselves accountable to our values and principles, and are consistent in our actions
Spatial Justice
We pursue a just distribution of opportunities and resources
We experiment, reflect and adapt to improve our practice
Voice & Agency
We pursue a just distribution of opportunities and resources
We laugh together to build connections, help buffer stress, and increase well-being and optimism
Partnership & Collaboration
We pursue a just distribution of opportunities and resources

Our practice areas

We refer to our programmes as practice areas, representing our chosen areas of expertise and influence. Each programme can consist of one or more projects (with specific goals, plans, activities and outputs) or initiatives (such as research outputs, dialogues, advocacy efforts, institutional support, network coordination and information dissemination). Our current practice areas are:

However, we understand urban land, livelihoods and governance systems to be interconnected and interdependent. We therefore also actively pursue projects and initiatives that cut across multiple practice areas and bring to bear an interdisciplinary approach.

Urban Land

The programme seeks to promote planning frameworks and land management systems that advance urban spatial transformation, the social function of and sustainability development. Informal settlements are key manifestations of how urban citizenship remains unrealised for a large part of urban residents. As such, we have a long-standing focus on access to urban land for the poor as both a means and a precondition for realising urban citizenship. The programme further promotes human settlement development that enables inclusive and just place making and city making for current and future residents.

Urban Governance

The programme promotes accountable, democratic, responsive, integrated and resilient systems of governance. Promoting citizen agency in place making and city making is a central theme of our work. We also focus on government capability, and advocate for administrative justice, public service, responsibility, ethics, moral leadership and appropriate resourcing.

Urban Livelihoods

The programme seeks to contribute systems, processes, policies and planning that enable endogenous development, meaningful work and sustainable livelihoods. We advocate for strategies and resource allocation aimed at addressing poverty, hunger and vulnerability in the city. The programme also explores governance arrangements, systems and policies that promote household and community resilience.