Ashoka Fellow
South Africa,
Fellow Since 1992
School of Public Management and Planning


This profile was prepared when Mark Swilling was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1992.
The New Idea
Cities are playing an increasingly vital role in the political transitions throughout southern Africa. The mass influx of people to the cities has released a new potential to negotiate development strategy and political democracy across new and more regional alliances of people and communities organized in people-centered development movements. It also tends powerfully to undercut, in Mark's view, the power of the nation state. To facilitate these new alliances, Mark is building a regional network of intermediary, independent service agencies capable of providing technical and policy advice to urban community-based organizations (CBOs). The network will act as a conduit for financial assistance and for appropriate and accessible expertise. Based upon his experiences with the civic movement in South Africa, Mark believes that people-centered development can only work when organized communities have an independent resource base, the capacity to mobilize and organize people, and the ability to negotiate. The network will equip the urban poor with the necessary knowledge and relevant technical expertise to empower urban groups to represent, articulate, and negotiate their needsand interests effectively to governments and other outside forces.
A southern African people-centered urban development movement will facilitate a civil society-based alliance of southern African cities that may have far-reaching implications for the future of the subcontinent. This movement needs both to develop the capacity to deliver concrete services to the urban poor and also to transform many of the institutional, planning, and macro-economic structures and systems of the southern African city.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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