Multi coloured houses built into a hill

Dispatch from UN Habitat in Kenya: Harry Deng’s first blog from the virtual field

Photo credit: UN-Habitat

By Harry Deng, MAGG student

As I write this first blog, I am sitting at my desk – an extra desk – in an office in one of those co-working spaces some old co-workers have rented out, and generously agreed to let me use it at no cost to myself. There is at least some semblance of a regular, pre-COVID work life under this arrangement. However, there is still a strange feeling knowing that I am working for UN-Habitat’s African Regional Office in Nairobi, while reporting to the UN Association in Canada in Ottawa, and, of course, writing a blog for the BSIA in Waterloo. Nevertheless, I am glad to have started as a Junior Professional Consultant with UN-Habitat’s Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit (HSRI).

Let’s get the challenges out of the way first. The most obvious challenge is the time difference. Nairobi is a full 10 hours ahead of Vancouver, where I am situated. This means a lot of late night and early morning meetings. However, this does not mean that the meeting times are set in stone, rather, my colleagues have been very understanding and accommodating. I just recently had to suggest an alternative meeting time because a 4am meeting (5pm Nairobi time) was just not feasible for me and my colleagues were more than happy to accommodate. Lastly, while my colleagues are never more than a call, text, or email away, there is just no substitute for physical proximity.

On to the work. Within the HRSI Unit, I was put on their Resource Mobilization team to co-lead the Climate Changemakers workstream. Both are quite new and evolving organisms, and we’re working on how to better understand and articulate them. The Resource Mobilization team was formed to develop alternative financing strategies in reaction to the contraction in member state contributions. So far, the Resource Mobilization team has identified 2 projects to seek approval for: 1) Upscaling Blue Economy Projects 2) Climate Changemakers.

The Climate Changemakers project targets two primary groups: 1) youth climate leaders, such as those who organized the Friday for Future Movement, and 2) governments (national and local), civil society, private sector, and international organizations. The overarching objectives of this project are to develop and promote youth participatory methodologies within climate governance, enhance youth capacity-building, and to improve support/outreach from UN-Habitat. Research from UN-Habitat has demonstrated that youth have the ability to effect change many times more than the resources invested in them. Our goal is to ramp up their capacity to effect change – to provide them with resources, skills, knowledge, and alternative financing strategies. At the same time, we are providing governments with normative and operational understandings of how to apply these ideas through policies and practices and to shift climate governance processes.

Action points include 1) the development of an online curriculum 2) surveys and analytical reports to better understand youth challenges, needs, and assets 3) project papers to provide insights for more cities to join the SDG Cities program 4) action plans connecting youth to climate policy. However, before any project outcomes are realized or operationalized, the team needs to first develop a concept note that will need to be reviewed and approved by the UN-Habitat Executive Director.

While I listed some challenges earlier in the blog, they should not be overstated. As I spend more time with the team, the more I learn from everyone, and the more I feel energized to do the best work that I can. I am proud to be working for an organization at the forefront in developing innovative solutions in pursuit of urban sustainability.

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