Asset-Based Community Development Background


As a response to global poverty issues, government and non-government institutions have embraced innovative social development processes to uplift poor communities all around the world. In 2000, the United Nations established the “Millennium Development Goals” (MDG), which requires significant improvement of the lives of at least 100 million slum dwellers by the year 2020 (United Nations, 2010). In response to these demands, South Africa’s Department of Housing established the Informal Settlement Upgrading Programme (ISUP) in 2004, which is referred to as the National H

ousing Programme: Upgrading of Informal Settlements. This programme is founded on the partnership between three “spheres” of government (Municipality, Provincial, and National), each sharing the responsibility of monitoring implementation and progress of in situ upgrading projects.  The main objective of this programme is “to facilitate the structured in-situ upgrading of informal settlements as opposed to relocation” (Department of Housing, 2009).

Key principles in the in situ upgrading include:

  • Involving the community in all of the aspects of the upgrading process, as well as developing a strong connection between the community and all levels of the government.
  • Preserving fragile community “survival networks” by enhancing their capacity to actively participate in development processes as well as participation in training and education programmes. Targeting these networks will ensure the future sustainability of the informal settlement.
  • Township layout and design should be undertaken on the basis of the specific needs of the community and on the principal that relocation should be avoided as far as possible.

(Department of Housing, 2009)


Municipalities are responsible to administer applications to register settlements under the in situ programme as well as managing, operating, and maintaining projects that have been approved by the Provincial and National government. Therefore, the City of Cape Town is obligated to preserve and improve the livelihood of persons who suffer from poverty in their district. In response, the City of Cape Town, in partnership with the German Development Bank (KFW), initiated the Violence Protection through Urban Upgrading Programme in 2006, which focuses on developing community life in the township of Khayelitsha (VPUU, 2010).  The current goal of this partnership is to implement a new approach to informal settlement upgrading through in situ upgrading in five pilot communities in Khayelitsha leading with Monwabisi Park.

The ISUP’s interest in working with local communities and building on social networks in informal settlements can be put in practice through an asset-based approach.  An asset is defined as a resource that constructs livelihoods and allows one to cope with life’s setbacks by providing a sense of identity and meaningful engagement with the world (Majija, 2009). The main principles of asset-based development include:

  • Releasing the unique capacities and assets that are already a part of the community instead of targeting weaknesses.
  • Identifying and utilizing human capital such as the skills, talents, gifts, and the capacities of the community members.
  • Networking between different social groups to enhance the structure and stability of the community by providing the opportunity to share ideas and skills.
  • Education and training programmes are a necessity for developing skills and advancing the investment of the community members.
  • Strengthen the confidence of individuals from the community in their own capacities to inspire them to take action and recognize social capital.
  • Empower emerging entrepreneurs to ensure local economic development.

(Kretzmann, 1993; Majija, 2009; Mathie, 2003)

This participatory approach encourages the community to consider their own strengths, play a central role in the community development process, and increases communication between community members and those who are leading redevelopment efforts in a community. According to Majija (2009), forming relationships between assets, such as WPI’s work in creating a membership association among small shop keepers in Monwabisi Park (Chebelyon-Dalizu, et al., 2010),  can be used to provide means of placing value on skills, talents, and capacities that otherwise might go unrecognized. While asset-based development was pioneered in the USA, the approach is now being used in South Africa. For example, in Gugulethu, a long-established township  on the outskirts of Cape Town, an economic development project conducted a skills audit of local residents in order to identify the social and economic resources  on which to build community development programs.  The audit was also used to determine the barriers of entry to the local economy for Gugulethu residents (Uthango 2010).

In 2009, the VPUU collaborated with a Monwabisi Park leadership organization, the Safe Node Area Committee (SNAC), to develop a Community Action Plan (CAP) for Monwabisi Park.  The CAP identifies five types of interventions: Social/Cultural programmes, Economic Development, Institutional Interventions, Safety and Security, and Infrastructure. Our work to identify assets in Monwabisi Park is structured along these lines.


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Barbour, I., Bell, H., Gottshall, A., Sparrell, C. (2010). Supporting Early Childhood Development in Monwabisi Park. WPI.

Chebelyon-Dalizu, L., Garbowitz, Z., Hause, A., Thomas, D. (2010). Strengthening Spaza Shops. WPI.

DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING (2004b) National Housing Programme: upgrading of informal settlements. National Housing Code DoH, Pretoria – chapt. 13. Retrieved from,%202009/4%20Incremental%20interventions/5%20Volume%204%20Upgrading%20Informal%20Settlement.pdf

Huchzermeyer, Marie. (2009).The struggle for in situ upgrading of informal settlements: a reflection on cases in Gauteng, Development Southern Africa, 26:1, 59 – 73. Retrieved from

Kretzmann, J. P., McKnight, J., & Neighbourhood Innovations Network. (1993). Building communities from the inside out. Evanston, Ill: Centre for Urban Affairs and Policy Research, Neighborhood Innovations Network.

Majija, A. (2009). Assessing the impact of asset-based community development in Phillippi. (Ph.D., Cape Peninsula University of Technology). CPUT Theses & Dissertations, . (Paper 104).

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United Nations. (2000). United Nations Millennium Declaration United Nations,  New York — Resolution adopted by the General Assembly, 18 September. Retrieved from

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Violence Protection through Urban Upgrading. (2010). VPUU Web Page. Retrieved 09/14, 2010, from