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We seek to promote public health by working with people in local contexts to raise awareness and build understanding about the health challenges that most affect their lives. Our work in this area has covered a wide range of topics including TB, HIV, cardiovascular disease and water related illness. We place a very strong emphasis on facilitating engagement between marginalized communities and health scientists. Our approach enables them to be equal partners in knowledge sharing processes and to collaborate in the definition of meaningful change. Our research in this area explores and analyses how researchers and community members experience engagement processes – with a focus on agency, vulnerability and ethics. Our methodology has a strong visual focus and includes the production of community theatre, digital stories and collective films, as well as hand maps, body maps and community maps. The outputs created through these participatory visual methods provide platforms for dialogue and debate in diverse settings, from events held in community halls to academic institutions and policy making spaces.
We seek to reduce the barriers to economic inclusion for informal workers and the self-employed in the informal economy. Our work advocates for the reform of inappropriate legislation which restricts the spaces and places accessible to the informal sector and hinders access to legal protection via formalisation. We support the economic rights of street traders, mobile hawkers, waste pickers and persons operating home-based micro-enterprises. Our research has highlighted the ‘enforced informalisation’ of self-employed persons who, in seeking to provide a livelihood, are unable to comply with laws fashioned for established formal businesses and enduring spatial inequality. Most informal workers and micro-enterprises have no alternative to operating informally (and illegally) and are, as a result, subject to a host of challenges from police corruption to unfair competition to tenure insecurity to financial exclusion. We have documented the impact of these barriers in townships across South Africa.
We seek to enable micro-enterprises to achieve business sustainability. Our work promotes appropriate development strategies in programmes for township economic development and entrepreneurship. We advocate for interventions that support existing businesses and build upon organic growth. Based on detailed research, we develop strategies for infrastructure investments to support street traders and provide business space for micro-enterprises within integrated development hubs. Through working with township businesses, we have learnt that such investments must be responsive to the business needs, appropriate to the market situation and spatial requirements of the business, and manageable through local organisational capabilities. We aim to identify opportunities to support micro-enterprises gain access to financial services, strengthen their brands, establish better supply chains and upstream linkages, and build social capital and technical skills.
We seek to strengthen efforts to mobilise citizen groups to oversee community initiatives, solve challenges and support development interventions. Our work promotes community based organisations such as neighbourhood watches or health workers committees to engage with government and non-state actors to advance meaningful interventions on pressing local issues such as high crime, youth unemployment, trader rights or health worker fatigue. Using creative methods and participatory tools, we have highlighted the important role of these efforts at citizen mobilisation and raised awareness on the need for support to broaden impact and ensure sustainability. The leadership of citizen movements often feel isolated, under-resourced, and threaten by powerful interest groups and corrupt state officials. Our work provides these leaders with opportunities to reflect and re-strategize.
We seek to hold government to account for their responsibilities to provide safe, inclusive and sustainable cities. Our work focuses on ensuring that the three tiers of government within the state fulfil their mandate in respect to providing public safety, redressing the apartheid legacy of spatial inequality, ensuring citizen access to basic services (especially potable water and sanitation) and upholding citizen rights. Our work in Delft South, for example, supported the neighbourhood watch and community police forum to successfully campaign for greater state investment in visible policing and meaningful action to address corruption. In holding government to account, we conduct original research within communities, amplify community voices, facilitate dialogue in public platforms and network with civil city. We have successfully used visual technologies to more effectively communicate on accountability and building campaign support.
We seek to promote the sustainable use of natural resources among urban harvester groups in Cape Town. Our work responds to the threat to the Cape Fynbos biome as a result of the unsustainable harvesting of plants for cultural and medicinal purposes for which there is a high demand in urban communities. Our research on this challenge identified the role of traditional healers who, though reliant on indigenous flora for medicine and rituals, have a strong awareness of the need to sustain natural habitats and linkage between the environment and culture. Working with these individuals, we have sought to address the unsustainable demand through creating alternative systems of supply in local gardens and street based planting. Our Herbanisation project in Seawinds and Retreat, for example, built awareness on the importance of indigenous flora, contributed to the greening of the streetscape and made sources of medicinal plants locally available.
We seek to nurture youth to build livelihoods through acquiring skills, broadening their social networks and investing in interests. Our work responds to the high level of youth unemployment in communities where the alternative attractions include gangsterism, whilst despondent youth often embrace harmful drinking substance use. We encourage youth act in a considerable and responsible manner in their explorations. Our YOLOekazi project, for example, mobilised young men and women in Delft and Philippi to reflect on their experience of drinking and alcohol, focusing on their dreams and ambitions through moderating potentially harmful behaviour. A central component of this work encourages youth to embrace hobbies (music, dance, skating, cycling etc.) as pathway to livelihoods through the acquisition of new learning and networking.
We seek to establish safe spaces in communities that experience high levels of insecurity. Our work responds to the high levels of crime and inter-personal violence through developing and implementing strategies to improve safety. Drawing on our research of local initiatives, our approach aims to empower people into action, combining the use of local rules, using design and art to express information and promoting practical actions. Our Safe Shebeen project, which we implemented in the informal settlement of Sweet Home Farm, for example, addressed harms in bars through using signs to communicate ‘dos and don’ts’, institutionalised a system of house rules, and encouraged business owners to undertake investments to enhance patron safety. A central focus of our work is on public spaces. We advocate for greater state investment in supportive infrastructure, such as street lights, the strengthening of community action to monitor these spaces, the use of art to sensitize and deliver messages and the inclusion of informal traders within an integrated strategy of community surveillance.