On January 26, 2015, the top three winning authors of the Fifth Annual Graduate Student Urban Poverty Paper Competition presented their work at a seminar sponsored by the Wilson Center in collaboration with USAID, International Housing Coalition, World Bank, Cities Alliance. Students were paired with experienced urban professionals who commented on students’ research.
Eric Chu, PhD candidate in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology presented his work examining how city governments in developing countries understand and plan for the impacts of climate change. Chu’s research draws from case studies of three Indian cities – Bhubaneswar, Indore, and Surat – to focus on the influences of external incentives and mandates on climate adaptation efforts. Victor Vergara, Lead Urban Specialist, Social, Urban Rural and Resilience, at the World Bank, highlighted some of the issues raised by Chu, such as the motivation and impact of external actors on the relevance of decisions for a city’s needs. Complex urban systems require an approach that looks at the whole city, concluded Vergara.
Clifford Amaoako, PhD candidate from the Social and Political Sciences Graduate Research Program at Monash University’s Faculty of Arts in Australia addressed the economic, sociocultural, and political factors of flood vulnerability in informal settlements in African cities. Using three concepts of urban informality, vulnerability, and urban governance, Amaoako presented a case study of informal settlements around Korle Lagoon in Accra, Ghana. Jeff Szuchman, Acting Deputy Director of USAID’s Office of Policy in the Bureau for Policy, Planning, and Learning commented on how Amoako’s presentation “disentangles urban informality and urban vulnerability, issues that are often conflated.” Szuchman outlined USAID’s approach to building urban resilience as a sustainable foundation for poverty reduction.
Signe Jung Sorensen, who holds an MPA in International Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and is currently an Overseas Development Institute Fellow in Madagascar, analyzed the informal microenterprise sector (IME) in Ghana to examine its potential to absorb urban unemployed youth. Her findings show that there are micro- and macro-level constraints for youth’s future such as the lack of infrastructure and formal education. Sorenson recommended a more comprehensive approach at the policy level in investments, macroeconomic trade policies, and education. Jacob Risner, Program Manager at the International Youth Foundation, emphasized some key points from Sorenson’s research including the dilemma of linking education and workforce development in the IME sector and the assumption that the IME is a “catch-all” for anyone who cannot find a job.
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By Yury Higuchi
Intern, Urban Sustainability Laboratory, Wilson Center