From our inception, NAFI/NFI was built upon a set of core values that remain central to our ongoing operations. The agency’s longevity and continued relevance can be attributed to our dedication to the beliefs that:
- People can change
- All people deserve to live in a stigma-free environment
- Given a supportive environment, tools, and opportunities for success, all people can become positive, proactive community members
- Community can be a powerful source of healing and growth
Throughout NAFI/NFI’s expansion from a single program to many, these beliefs have shaped our vision to create communities of support for all people. Our founder, Dr. Yitzhak Bakal, developed the Normative Community Approach (NCA) to ensure this vision served as the agency’s beacon. In this unique, systematic approach, each program becomes a community in which all members participate in defining their mission and developing “norms” to guide the community in living it. Although roles and responsibilities vary between members and programs, everyone – clients and staff – is an equal partner in shaping the norms and holding each other accountable to observe them.
At NAFI/NFI, community means that “we’re all in this together.” In this regard, engagement and empowerment are key ingredients to building Normative Communities. By creating on-going forums throughout the agency to share these core beliefs with all staff and clients, leaders engage them in constantly asking the question, “how can we get better at living our beliefs?” This creates a culture of mutual learning and respect.
- By experiencing communities that seek understanding, members learn empathy.
- With the support of a mission-driven community, they gain the courage to take risks.
- And with a clear, consistent set of beliefs guiding their activities, they learn to be reflective about their actions.
The desire to belong motivates individuals to become part of a group by accepting the social norms of that group. This creates a high level of ownership in the community. A strong, healing culture develops in which the community can be a force for drawing socially isolated individuals toward other people.
It also creates a culture that is equipped with the ability to change and adapt to the evolving conditions of the larger society. Over the many decades that NAFI/NFI has existed, there have been many economic and social challenges. Leaders are encouraged to take positive risks in an environment where learning is valued as much from failure as from success. The pillars of the Normative Community Approach have given us the tools to view crises as opportunities and become a more resilient and innovative force in collaborating with funders and peers to find new, creative solutions to the problems our clients face.
With NAFI/NFI’s growth, the agency has taken a decentralized approach to governance. By encouraging regional autonomy while still being united as one agency, our five subsidiary organizations are able to monitor local needs and form relationships with area funders while still benefitting from the support and cross-fertilization of ideas from their aggregate efforts.