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Taking action for change, starting with our own communities

MSF Urban Spaces is a grassroots associative initiative launched in 2018 to directly impact our local communities in solidarity of those most in need. Supported by the TIC, this incubator project is sponsored by MSF-Greece and engages the collaboration of MSF-Italy, MSF-South Africa, MSF-Mexico Branch Office, MSF-Canada and the Istanbul MSF Intersectional Office.

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MSF Urban Spaces builds a practical and networked approach that enables our associations to organize action for social change, starting locally from our neighborhoods.

    Between 2018 and 2020, the project has:
    • Organized local teams of action in solidarity with migrants and refugees in the cities of Athens, Istanbul, Johannesburg, Mexico City, Montreal and Turin.
    • Built 50+ partnerships with migrant and refugee communities and other civil society actors; mobilized hundreds of volunteers by organizing a series of ongoing activities; and reached out to over 2,500 relevant stakeholders.
    • Created an online MSF Urban Spaces Toolbox, which contains ideas and tools for organizing and sustaining action.

Learning from past successes and failures, the team took an intentional and collaborative approach to organized action. This approach included four steps: 1) Creating Partnerships; 2) Developing Strategy; 3) Taking Action; and 4) Sustaining Engagement.

Steps of the approach

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During this process, MSF members and volunteers had the opportunity to offer their skills, creativity, and energy; to work together with other civil society actors; and to drive initiatives of empathy and humanity in their cities and neighborhoods. Under these terms of engagement, individuals supported MSF in its social mission as a caring organization – spreading the message that what we, as MSF members and citizens, do every day, matters.

What is particularly special about MSF Urban Spaces is that we have built partnerships with diverse groups, creating space for those “most in need”. Migrant and refugee communities have had an active role in defining our action. Other civil society actors that have had an active role include grassroots initiatives, municipalities, academia, as well as individual citizens. On a global scale, we exchanged knowledge and tools with international networks, such as Greenpeace, the International Coalition of Cities Against Racism, and the “Resilient Communities, Resilient Cities?” project from the London School of Economics.

The project is helping to ground MSF to its home societies and the collaborative approach bridges the perceived structural gap between the associative and executive in MSF.

This initiative has found wide support within the movement and in our next phase (2020-2021), we will:
• Implement, test, and adapt our approach in new and more diverse locations: MSF West and Central Africa (WaCA), MSF East Africa Association (EAA), MSF South Asia Regional Association (SARA), MSF Latin America (LATAM), and MSF-Brazil.
• Deepen the impact in existing implementation sites: MSF-Greece, MSF-Italy, MSF-Canada, MSF Southern Africa Association, MSF Mexico Branch office and Operational Centre -Barcelona-Athens.
• Connect the key findings and learnings of MSF Urban Spaces to broader MSF strategic orientations across the movement.

The desire and focus of MSF Urban Spaces to create change is especially evident in what MSF members and partners have shared with us:

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“We were treated as equals and we felt that our voice was heard. We were given the opportunity to speak out for many critical issues for migrant and refugee communities.” – Representative, Greek Forum of Refugees, Athens

“Just today, I was reaching my breaking point emotionally and then the volunteers arrived and gave us a wonderful experience. We felt calm and relaxed for the first time since arriving.” – Refugee from Mexico, Welcome Sessions, Montreal

“This initiative is benefiting local communities as well as refugees particularly in the wake of the recent violence… it not only strengthens our existing program but also promotes social cohesion and tolerance for people from different backgrounds” – School Principal, Workshop, Johannesburg

“It is a very new approach, to work without a preconceived project and we are not used to this.” – MSF Urban Spaces Local Partner, Turin

”I finally had the opportunity to do something in my own city.” – MSF Member, Athens

“The biggest value of knowledge is to give more consciously to society as better citizens. Collaboration with operators in the field, to reach this goal, is fundamental.” – Educator, Schools Program, Turin

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The outcomes and lessons learned from the project to date clearly demonstrate that there is a huge potential to implement MSF Urban Spaces approach on a broader scale. We believe it can set a new standard on how we collaborate more effectively – both internally within the movement and externally with civil society – and how we mobilize our social resources.

MSF Urban Spaces is not just about taking action. It’s about envisioning change and taking responsibility for making that change happen!

For more information on MSF Urban Spaces, please visit: