From Beirut to Barcelona - UN-Habitat exchange

Beirut, 1 September 2017
More than four years into a job that I am passionate about, as Urban Knowledge and Policy Development Officer at UN-Habitat Lebanon, and I suddenly found myself dreading the sound of the alarm clock every morning. It was a reminder that I will be doing the same thing I have been doing for the past four years. I needed something new on the professional and personal levels.

Since quitting my job and going to Bali was not an option, I approached my boss, the UN-Habitat Regional Office in Cairo, and the UN-Habitat Barcelona office, who fully supported that I undertake a one month mission exchange with the UN-Habitat Urban Resilience Programme in Barcelona during July 2017. The aim of the mission was to promote a knowledge exchange between both offices and find complementarities between the UN-Habitat Barcelona urban resilience profiling and the UN-Habitat Lebanon City Profiles. Moreover, having experience in urban crises responses specifically in addressing the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, the aim was to propose how to integrate migration issues in the urban resilience profiles especially with the issue increasingly becoming a global challenge falling heavily on cities.

Since day one, I was welcomed by a young, warm and impressively professional team, who introduced me to the City Resilience Profiling Programme and the Global Alliance for Urban Crises. The team showed a genuine interest in learning from my experience working in the Lebanese context, especially in relation to governance mechanisms, planning, and the Syrian refugee crisis. Thus, I tried to portray the reality of working in a complex country, and the importance of understanding the multiple layers that make up a city prior to offering humanitarian or developmental solutions. By explaining how our UN-Habitat Programme in Lebanon responds to the increasing pressures on cities, colleagues in Barcelona were able to integrate new perspectives and issues within the urban resilience tool so as to respond to a context similar to Lebanon. With Lebanon currently hosting the highest refugee per capita in the world, I have learned that we as humanitarians/development actors have a long way to go to fulfil our responsibility to develop adequate tools to address such complex crises. As such, during my mission to Barcelona, I was keen on expressing the importance of integrating migration in the CRPP tool, to enable the Programme to assess this global challenge and address its impacts on cities around the world.

One challenge I faced during my mission was balancing between work and play as I was in a vibrant city at the best time of the year (July) and my colleagues were always ready to go out and have a good time! The most memorable were the days at Barceloneta beach, the walks around the green and vibrant city and in the parks, our dinners trying different cuisines, rooftop yoga, watching outdoor movies under the stars, and mostly I loved the way we ended our nights gathering in some public space along the way talking about everything and nothing until 2 am in the morning. This experience was truly beneficial and rewarding. In terms of work it was great to see that I had a lot more to give especially that you tend to take that for granted once you have been in a job for a while, and on the personal level I felt that it gave me a lot of energy to come back and immerse myself in new adventures in Lebanon the same way I did in Barcelona.

While this exchange was an individual initiative, I hope to see it formalized and promoted in the UN System, as exchange of knowledge and expertise is optimized when it is a face-to-face experience. Finally, to the Barcelona team, thank you for making this experience truly worthwhile!  

Marwa Boustani
Urban Knowledge & Policy Development Officer
UN-Habitat Lebanon