Who we are

Our Mission

We work with communities in under-resourced areas to enable sustainable urban development, establishing a basis for long-term well-being, inclusive growth, and climate resilience.

Cities have the potential to contribute meaningfully to the most pressing global challenges: from widening inequality to the climate crisis. The speed of these advancing challenges is not being matched, however, by a necessary shift in the way development projects in urban areas are conceived, designed, financed, and delivered. In short, there is a gap between the ambition of the Sustainable Development Goals and on-the-ground realities in rapidly urbanizing societies.

We believe that integrated solutions are required. ISD Foundation works deliberately in this gap to test the viability of new approaches and shape the conditions for market-based actors to ‘build better’. By facilitating strategic partnerships and investment while ensuring that communities have a seat at the table from conceptualization to implementation, we aim to accelerate patterns of sustainable development and create replicable models that are able to be adapted and applied in a range of contexts.

Our seven principles for more sustainable urban development

  1. Safety and security
  2. Education and training
  3. Health and wellbeing
  4. Food security
  5. Economic development
  6. Inclusive mobility and accessibility
  7. Climate adaptivity

Our Team

ISD Foundation is an operationally active, charitable foundation registered in Basel, Switzerland. Our activities are governed by a board of directors. The foundation is able to draw upon a collective pool of expertise that is global in scope, including a board that is highly experienced in developing and managing solutions to complex challenges with social, political, economic, and environmental dimensions.

Prof. Dr. Lindsay Blair Howe
Foundation Member of the Board
Prof. Dr. Lindsay Blair Howe
Karin Howell
Foundation Member of the Board
Karin Howell
Ben Mansfield
Foundation CEO
Ben Mansfield
Ernesto Vilchis
Head of Strategy
Ernesto Vilchis
Hannes Zander
Planning and Design Researcher
Hannes Zander

Our approach

We work collaboratively, partnering with communities to conceptualize and deliver transformative projects. By assembling local teams that draw on international expertise and embedding capacity development at each stage, we ensure our projects have long-term viability. We are unafraid to deal with complexity and view our work as a way to identify and address barriers to systemic change through projects and strategies that can be replicated and scaled to deepen their impact. In practical terms, this means ISD Foundation operates in four key modes:


We evaluate possibilities and identify the ‘lever points’ to drive sustainable change. This involves working with stakeholders to articulate needs, facilitating ongoing community involvement in processes of co-creation, and connecting local actors with institutional networks and private sector opportunities.


We approach design in a holistic sense and operate flexibly across scales – a design project can range from a physical prototype, to a masterplan, to a business model. Sensitivity to context lies at the heart of all of our design work. We place a heavy emphasis on research, participation and iterative feedback.


We collaborate with university research groups and startups to integrate and test emerging technologies in projects where relevant. By identifying potential impact-led applications we seek to influence and accelerate approaches to product development that maximize social benefit.


We view the knowledge generated through our work as a collective resource. Bridging disciplines, sectors, and geographies, we are building a platform to bring together changemakers, innovators, philanthropists, and researchers to shift how sustainable development is understood and pursued.

Our story

Our story began with a simple observation – that when urban development went wrong it tended to do so in predictable ways. We learned that the failure to create a holistic and inclusive system for conceiving, designing, and delivering projects often resulted in superficial solutions rather than truly sustainable outcomes grounded in the lived experience and latent strengths of local communities.

ISD Foundation has its roots in the Lukhanyo Hub project in Khayelitsha initiated by the Resilient Civic Design Collective (RCDC), a values-aligned collective of built environment companies, NGOs, and academic researchers. In 2021, RCDC co-founder Ben Mansfield and Prof. Stefan Allesch-Taylor joined forces with a view to scaling and replicating the project’s core ‘Resilient Neighbourhood Model’ in other locations grappling with the interlinked challenges of rapid urbanization, inequality, and climate adaptation.

Recognising Switzerland’s unique position as a hub of technical expertise, research, philanthropy, and market-led impact investment, ISD Foundation aims to operate as a new kind of sustainable development actor. One that more effectively brings together local and international stakeholders united by a common vision to effect systemic change, whether through partnership facilitation, design, involvement in on-the-ground project delivery, or knowledge sharing and capacity building.