Home

  • Interview with Rosine Pema Sanga, New Orleans’ Head City Diplomat

    Interview with Rosine Pema Sanga, New Orleans’ Head City Diplomat

    What path led you to become a city diplomat?

    My experience as an international student from Toucountouna, Benin, to New Orleans, Louisiana, in the United States of America is what led me to become a City Diplomat. In 2007, I moved to New Orleans to pursue my education, starting with learning English as a Second Language at the Intensive English Language Program at the University of New Orleans (UNO). During that time, I met Mrs. LaToya Cantrell, then President of the Broadmoor Improvement Association, who was meeting with leaders from various African countries.

    I assisted Mrs. Cantrell with the visitors and loved interacting with them. In December 2012, I obtained my Bachelor of Arts in International Studies from UNO and was hired as the Executive Assistant of Councilmember LaToya Cantrell after she had been elected to District “B” in November 2012. Councilmember Cantrell has long believed in meeting people where they are and wanted to serve everyone in her district, including non-English speakers. In addition to English, I also speak French and Spanish, which was and continues to serve as a benefit when serving the city’s diverse population. While employed in this role, I continued to work with international visitors who met with Councilmember Cantrell from the New Orleans Citizen Diplomacy Council, the current Global New Orleans, through the United States Department of States International Visitor Leadership Program. Whenever I met with any of the groups and spoke to them in their own language, the visitors’ faces would light up as they exclaimed, “Wow, you speak our language!” They were always excited to meet someone who spoke their language. The reactions were priceless, and I loved it. Councilmember Cantrell also loved these meetings, and my passion for serving our people both locally and internationally grew from there. Even though I studied International Studies, I did not think I would ever find myself in this position. I knew I wanted to be a diplomat but did not foresee it happening locally.

    What was the most complex challenge you faced as head of New Orleans’ international relations unit, and how did you deal with it?

    The challenges that I faced as the Director of International Relations of the City of New Orleans stemmed from being a young Black woman from another country. It is already challenging enough to be a Black woman because you are never considered “enough” or equal to others, but also add to that being young and from another country really heightens the challenge. But I wouldn’t change any of that about me because that is what makes Rosine PEMA SANGA a proud daughter of my late parents. One example of the challenges as a young black woman from another country took place two weeks after I started my job. The Mayor was scheduled to give remarks at an event, and I was to go with her. That morning, I was informed she would no longer attend, and I would need to represent her and speak on her behalf. When I arrived at the event, I overheard people talking about the Mayor and Councilmember canceling their attendance, and both were sending representatives. The young Black woman in me wondered whether I should introduce myself. I walked away at first and came back to introduce myself as if I just arrived. I walked away again after they handed me the program. I felt their disappointment because I was not the Mayor. Moreover, I was a young Black woman. They didn’t know what I could do. When the event started, it was my turn to address the public on behalf of the Mayor.

    Facing intimidation, I remembered who I was representing and what she would have done if she had been there. I did not have to deal with it in any way other than getting my job done. I gave my remarks in English and transitioned into the audience’s native language. Everyone was shocked. No one expected me to be able to speak with confidence and to address them in their native tongue. Now, we have a better working relationship, and they are always looking forward to having me at their events. I treasured that moment because of the reaction before and after my remarks. I reflect on it often, and it helps me grow.

    There is something I learned from my pastor in 2007 when I was still learning English – while preaching, he would say never allow anyone to take your joy away. Though my English was not great, I managed to understand that, and I made that phrase my own. I wake up every morning with a purpose: to accomplish the task that the Mayor entrusted me with and serve the community who depend on me. The communities I serve are proud to have me, and I am proud of what I have accomplished with all our partners.

    What is the most treasured moment in your city diplomacy career?

    Every moment that I am serving the Office of International Relations for the City of New Orleans is a treasured moment for me. I love my job; it truly is a passion, and I believe I have the best job. I am grateful to Mayor LaToya Cantrell for awarding me the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. Through my work, I have welcomed people from other countries, from our Sister Cities, as well as traveled to different countries as part of my official duties. I have represented the Mayor numerous times in various countries at various events, including the International Association of Francophone Mayors’ Annual Summit, which I am always looking forward to attending every year. I also get the pleasure of conversing and sharing my work with international dignitaries and guests brought to me by Global New Orleans through the United States Department of States International Visitor Leadership Program. We invited President Emmanuel Macron of France in March 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic, and we were graced with his visit to New Orleans in December 2022. I was proud to be part of the planning committee, even standing by his plane late at night waiting for his departure. All these moments are treasured.

    I do want to mention one moment: this occurred this past March 8, 2024, on International Women’s Rights Day. I grew up watching my mother lead women’s associations and organize International Women’s Rights Day events. After I moved to New Orleans, every year at the end of January, I would talk to my mother as she started planning for March 8. In 2015, I lost my mother. Since then, from the end of January until March 8, I have always remembered my mother because she would be planning and talking about International Women’s Rights Day. When I began working here, I always wanted to initiate International Women’s Rights Day, but I lacked the (wo)manpower.

    Finally, this year, with the help of certain colleagues, we were able to gather over 150 women for International Women’s Rights Day. It was raining, but women came from different departments looking forward to taking a picture to commemorate that day. It allowed me to understand that many women wanted that event, and we look forward to a bigger and better International Women’s Rights Day in 2025. Even with the weather forecast and short notice, many people showed up and were interested in seeing more. I will never forget that day.

    When my mother visited New Orleans in 2008, one of the first English words she learned was “crazy,” so she could tell people her Rosine was crazy. That day, I could hear my mom telling the crowd that Rosine was crazy, and it always made me smile because I knew it was her way of telling people Rosine was my daughter, and I loved her.

    In your opinion, how will the work of city diplomats evolve in the coming years?

    I am unsure how the work of city diplomats will evolve in the coming years because this depends on future administrations’ willingness to commit to the program. The last time the City of New Orleans had an office of International Relations was at least ten years before Mayor Cantrell. If International Affairs were not a priority for Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s administration, we would not be having this conversation. However, for the past five years that I have been in this role, I believe cities like ours, meaning world-class and internationally recognized cities, deserve a fully functional Office of International Affairs/Relations. The city has almost 50 Consular Corps members, though many of them are honorary. I believe it is essential for a city diplomat to always be a part of any administration because our work aligns with the country’s interests in terms of the country’s foreign policy, and it allows us to maintain our relationships and cultivate new ones across the globe.

    What advice would you offer those wanting to pursue a career as a city diplomat?

    City Diplomat positions are limited. When Mayor Cantrell’s administration ends, the next administration might not be interested in having this office. The advice I would offer those wanting to pursue a career as a city diplomat would be to prepare to be a “diplomat,” not just a city diplomat. Always be yourself and relate to other people. Accept people and their culture as they are. Learn from other people and their culture, and do not judge those who do not speak the same language as us because they already know their own language and probably speak many others. Overall, always treat people the same way you want to be treated, with respect and dignity.

  • Fostering sustainable construction in informal urban areas

    Fostering sustainable construction in informal urban areas

    How can living conditions in informal settlements be improved while tackling climate change and urbanization challenges?

    Explore inspiring solutions to this urgent challenge by joining our March 21 peer learning webinar on Fostering sustainable construction in informal urban areas.

    This is the first episode of the Urban Innovation to Achieve Just & Sustainable Cities series co-organized by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)Cities AllianceUN-HabitatICLEISlum Dwellers International, the Centre for Affordable Housing Finance, the African Union for Housing Finance, and the City Diplomacy Lab. 

    This peer-learning series brings together a diverse group of experts and practitioners to engage in constructive dialogue on the development of sustainable urban planning, construction, and financing strategies for cities across the globe.

    Panelists:

    • Sheela Patel, Chair of Campaign For ROOH and Director of Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers (SPARC)
    • Alexandre Apsan Frediani, Principal Researcher, Human Settlements Group, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED)
    • Arne Georg Janssen, Urban Environment Lead, Cities Alliance

    Moderation by Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, City Diplomacy Lab Founding Director.

    🗓 Thursday, March 21, 2024, 9:00 a.m. EDT | 2:00 p.m. CET.

    🗣 Language: English, with simultaneous interpretation in Spanish and French.

  • Decolonizing relations between European and African cities

    Decolonizing relations between European and African cities

    Interview with Niccolò Milanese, co-curator of the Rhizome Cities project, which empowers European cities’ management of persisting colonial legacies, migration, and diversity.

    Q: Your network engages African and European cities in a discussion about the synergies between intercultural and decolonization approaches. How did this concept come about, and how were you able to make it a reality?

    A: Over recent years, city administrations have been challenged by decolonial demands and actions coming from their citizens. Whether this has taken the form of questioning street names or taking down statutes, controversies over the way history is taught in schools, or artworks presented in museums, or even questioning partnerships with other cities in moments of geopolitical tension, city municipalities both in Europe and in Africa have had to deal with strong demands in ways they may be unprepared for.

    And whilst the movement of people always has a geopolitical element to it, in recent years, geopolitics has become more conflictual, and these conflicts have an impact on the ways different groups interrelate. Of course, every city has a different experience, every municipal administration a different set of priorities, and so a crucial part of building the network was to be as responsive as possible to welcoming the different ways that each city wants to approach the topics whilst constantly finding the commonalities and underlying issues. This is why the network is called Rhizome Cities: it is both a rhizomatic network and one with a rhizomatic method. We see migration as a normal aspect of city life and develop an approach to migration and movement that is networked across cities, and that is as much about the journeys in between them as any one place.

    Q: Rhizome Cities emphasizes inclusive, participatory processes for co-creating urban solutions. What are the added values of involving migrants in such processes?

    A: People who move and people with diverse backgrounds are part of our urban settings. Urbanisation is by definition a process of people moving. So it is crucial not to exclude people with a background of movement when designing urban solutions: in fact, by ignoring them, it is the municipal administration that is cutting itself off from the reality of the city – the people living there make the city, whether the municipality wants to pay attention to them or not. So the question is how to bring about the co-creation of the city in a way that turns diversity and the multiplicity of histories and geographical connections into a source of dynamism that ensures that a city is shaping politically and culturally a process of constant reinvention and is not passively being shaped by external forces or private interests. 

    Rhizome Cities – Workshop in Braga, Portugal, 2023

    Q: Your cities engage in peer learning and knowledge exchange. Can you give us some examples of best practices that have been transferred within the network?

    A: Athens trained migrants to be tour guides of the city, giving a different intercultural perspective on one of the most symbolic cities in the world; anti-rumor and antidiscrimination campaigns of the municipality of Braga were very important during the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce intercultural tensions; Montpellier showed excellent practices of providing literacy and numeracy to recently arrived migrants; Marseille examples from their museums of how objects have migrant journeys like people; and Bergamo examples of school education in interculturality by students becoming aware of their own frame of reference and how that might different to other people. In each of these examples, what was striking was that the municipality often had to work across different departments and government services and include migrant populations themselves in the design and delivery of the practice.

    Rhizome Cities at the 2023 Euro-Africa Water Days in Montpellier

    Q: At the 2023 Montpellier Water Days, you presented the Rizoma Cities Mayors Declaration. What is the expected impact of that text on the future of the network?

    A: We see the Declaration as the closing of the first pilot phase of the Rhizome Cities network and the first moment of the consolidation and expansion of it. We already have the interest of many more cities to participate in the next round of meetings that will develop communities of practice around specific interests, foresee targeted forms of engagement for city actors who are not elected or administrative officials, and will elaborate in more detail our unique approach which integrates culture, education, social services, urban planning, economic development and international relations of a city in its approach to diversity.

  • Introducing our new webinar series: Cities and Social Solutions

    Introducing our new webinar series: Cities and Social Solutions

    Join our moderated webinar series featuring the inspiring voices of those who design and manage some of the world’s most impactful urban social policies.

    Inequities of all kinds often find their most pronounced and visible expression in cities. In response, a growing number of municipal administrations are combining local participatory action with national and international knowledge exchange, thus becoming laboratories for impactful and sustainable social solutions.

    This series, co-organized by City Diplomacy Lab and Columbia Global Centers | Paris, aims to bring together the representatives of cities that have implemented some of the most impactful and sustainable social actions.

    Events will take place as webinars beginning in February 2024 and will cover the local challenges and solutions regarding social justice, gender, inclusion, and age. Each webinar will see the participation of representatives of three cities from different continents and will feature opening remarks by a representative from Columbia University.

    This series celebrates the leadership of cities and provides inspiration for the thousands of cities and local governments around the world committed to shaping an equitable future for all urban residents.

    Upcoming webinars


    Cities and Social Solutions | Inclusion

    April 18, 2024, 8:00 a.m. New York | 9:00 a.m. Montevideo | 2:00 p.m. Paris and Barcelona | 9:00 p.m. Gwangju

    How can cities promote inclusion through policies and services? And how can they join forces to accomplish such a purpose?

    Key topics: migrant and refugee reception and integration; accessibility of municipal services to migrants; integration of migrants into local political life; countering fake news; diversity; sanctuary cities.

    Partner: UNESCO International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities − ICCAR.

    Cities represented: Barcelona (Spain), Gwangju (South Korea), Montevideo (Uruguay).

    Panelists:

    • Ana Isabel Rodriguez Basanta, Director, Department of Human Rights, City of Barcelona
    • Gyonggu Shin, Special Adviser to the Mayor of Gwangju and Executive Director of the Gwangju International Center
    • Fabiana Goyeneche, Director of International Relations, City of Montevideo

    Moderator: Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Founding Director, City Diplomacy Lab


    Cities and Social Solutions | Age

    May 16, 2024, 9:00 a.m. Cardiff | 10:00 a.m. Paris | 12:00 p.m. Sharjah | 4:00 p.m. Cockburn

    How can cities foster the full participation of senior citizens in community life and promote healthy and active aging? What is the added value of international city-to-city cooperation in achieving such a goal?

    Key topics: child rights at the local level; participation of older people in community life; healthy and active aging; integration of age-related equity goals into urban planning.

    Partners: WHO Global Network for Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center.

    Cities represented: Cardiff (United Kingdom), Cockburn (Australia), and Sharjah (United Arab Emirates).


    Past webinars

    Cities and Social Solutions | Social Justice

    February 15, 2024, 10:00 a.m. New York | 3:00 p.m. Leeds | 4:00 p.m. Paris | 5:00 p.m. Durban

    How do we transform cities from hubs of multiple and intersecting inequalities into laboratories for developing and deploying the most effective solutions for social justice?

    Key topics: inclusive growth; housing, employment; education; access to amenities; support for families and young people; social security; safety.

    Partner: Global Leeds

    Cities represented: eThekwini (City of Durban, South Africa), Leeds (United Kingdom), and New Orleans (United States).

    Panelists:

    • Roshini Bob, Project Executive, Community, and Emergency Services Cluster, eThekwini Municipality
    • Liz Jarmin, Head of Locality Partnerships, Leeds City Council
    • Kahlida Nicole Lloyd, Director, Office of Human Rights and Equity, City of New Orleans

    Moderator: Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, Founding Director, City Diplomacy Lab


    Cities and Social Solutions | Gender

    March 14, 2024, 1:00 p.m. Louisville | 2:00 p.m. Buenos Aires | 5:00 p.m. Freetown | 6:00 p.m. Paris

    Ambitious gender equity goals are driving the local policies and international advocacy of a growing number of cities. What are the concrete results of this engagement in urban communities? What impact does the “voice of cities” for gender equity have on the international stage?

    Key topics: gender equity; gender-based discrimination; women, gender diverse and feminist leaders; equitable gender representation in local politics; care and well-being; feminist municipal movement.

    Partner: City Hub and Network for Gender Equity (CHANGE).

    Cities represented: Buenos Aires (Argentina), Freetown (Sierra Leone), and Louisville (United States).

    Panelists:

    • Micaela Saban, General Director of Women’s Economic Autonomy, City of Buenos Aires
    • Manja Kargbo, Team Lead, Mayor’s Delivery Unit, City of Freetown
    • Gretchen Hunt, Director, Office for Women, Louisville Metro Government

    Opening remarks by Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi, City Diplomacy Lab Founding Director.

    Moderation by Leslie Crosdale, CHANGE Co-Executive Director.

    Languages: English and Spanish, with simultaneous interpretation.

  • Cities and Climate Solutions | Waste

    Cities and Climate Solutions | Waste

    Webinar | December 20, 2023 | 6:30 a.m. New York | 12:30 p.m. Paris – Montpellier | 1:30 p.m. Quelimane | 5:00 p.m. Maharashtra

    Waste management represents a major challenge to the sustainable development and health of urban communities worldwide. Long considered simply something to dispose of, waste is increasingly becoming a cornerstone of ambitious urban sustainability strategies. According to the principles of circularity, waste management makes it possible to reduce air, water, and soil pollution, foster equity and economic growth, strengthen urban-rural bonds, and improve public health.

    Through the accounts of Quelimane in Mozambique, Montpellier in France, and the State of Maharashtra in India, the Cities and Climate Solutions | Waste webinar will explore and discuss the challenges and opportunities of urban waste management, drawing valuable insights for cities around the world.

    The Cities and Climate Solutions webinar series is co-organized by the City Diplomacy Lab and Columbia Global Centers | Paris. This webinar is co-sponsored by the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF).

    Speakers

    Quelimane

    Dr. Manuel A. Alculete Lopes de Araújo has been the Mayor of Quelimane since 2011. Dr. de Araújo’s extensive experience spans civil society, academics, business, and politics. He is deeply involved in advocating for issues linked to urban and climate change. He plays a key role within institutions such as UCLG as well as ICLEI, where he is a member of the Global Executive Committee and Global Co-Chair for Resilience. In 2019, Araújo was elected Deputy Chair of the National Council of the Mozambican Mayors Association (ANAMM) Congress. Araújo holds a PhD from the University of East Anglia and an MSc from SOAS, University of London.

    Maharashtra

    Mr. Sameer Unhale is the State Joint Commissioner of Municipal Administration, Government of Maharashtra. Currently, he is working on digital transformation and data initiatives, affordable housing, and issues relating to the larger urban areas. He has worked in the executive/leadership position of Municipal Commissioner of Municipal Corporation in the cities of Ulhasnagar, Dhule, and Nanded. Mr. Unhale wrote several books, including How will India solve its urban problems: stories of innovation, sustainability, inclusion and smartness (co-authored with Dr. Biniti Singh, October 2020), and City Reflection : Practitioner’s Experience in Urban Governance amidst Uncertain Times (October 2022).

    Montpellier

    Ms. Clare Hart, Vice-President of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole. A social change maker and expert in Corporate Social Responsibility, London-born Clare Hart is passionate about gender equality and social inclusion through grassroots mobilization and a fervent charity activist. She is Vice-president of Montpellier Méditerranée Métropole for European and International Relations and a City councilor for Montpellier alongside Mayor Michaël Delafosse.

    The discussion will be moderated by City Diplomacy Lab Director Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi.


    Overview of the Cities and Climate Solutions series

    In the face of the climate crisis, cities across the world are emerging as integral problem-solvers in the development of an effective, multi-layered response. This series, launched in Spring 2023 with events on food and water, aims to bring together the representatives of cities that have implemented some of the most impactful and sustainable actions.

    This second season of the webinar series kicked off in November 2023 and covers the topics of air, energy, and waste. Each webinar will see the participation of representatives from three cities and will be moderated by a representative from Columbia University. In order to encourage geographic representativeness, each webinar will host city representatives from different regions and countries.

    This series celebrates the leadership of cities and provides inspiration for the thousands of cities and local governments around the world committed to shaping the global response to climate change.

    Earlier Cities and Climate Solutions webinars:

    Food (Spring 2023) – https://youtu.be/3OzxcUFOYA8

    Air (Fall 2023) – https://youtu.be/H_n-ddT6gJw?si=v2O74Iph3sk894-S 

    Energy (Fall 2023) – https://youtu.be/TD7odDcFRgA?si=6nhC5BnfN083_fQb

  • Cities and Climate Solutions | Energy

    Cities and Climate Solutions | Energy

    Webinar | 9:00 a.m. New York | 11:00 a.m. Santiago | 2:00 p.m. Braga | 3:00 p.m. Paris | 5:00 p.m. Nairobi

    The Cities and Climate Solutions webinar series is co-organized by the City Diplomacy Lab and Columbia Global Centers | Paris.

    This webinar is co-sponsored by Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi, Columbia Global Centers | Santiago, and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF).

    This webinar brings together representatives from Santiago, Braga, and Nairobi to discuss the topics of energy poverty, urban renewable energy, building energy regulations, energy retrofit, and just transition. The discussion will be moderated by City Diplomacy Lab Director Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi.

    Overview

    In the face of the climate crisis, cities across the world are emerging as integral problem-solvers in the development of an effective, multi-layered response. The Cities and Climate Solutions series, launched in Spring 2023 with events on water and food, aims to bring together the representatives of cities that have implemented some of the most impactful and sustainable actions.

    This second season of the webinar series kicked off in November 2023 and covers the topics of air, energy, and waste. Each webinar will see the participation of representatives of three municipalities and will be moderated by a representative from Columbia University. In order to encourage geographic representativeness, each webinar will host city representatives from different regions and countries.

    This series celebrates the leadership of cities and provides inspiration for the thousands of cities and local governments around the world committed to shaping the global response to climate change.

    Speakers

    Braga

    Hélder Costa’s mission is to support organizations, both public and private, in incorporating sustainability principles and values, ensuring that they conduct their activities responsibly, become more competitive, and promote innovation and sustainable development. To achieve this, he draws upon the knowledge acquired throughout his career, serving as a researcher in the development of sustainability assessment methodologies for university campuses and as an advisor to the Vice Presidency for Infrastructure and Sustainability at the University of Minho. The university was recognized in 2017 among the top 50 in the world in this field. Currently, he is a member of the Office to Support the Presidency at the Municipality of Braga, supporting the city’s sustainable development strategy. He holds a degree in Civil Engineering with a specialization in Hydraulics and Environment. Recently, he completed a postgraduate program in Management Control and Strategic Execution at Porto Business School, an institution where he has been a speaker at events related to Sustainable Development. He was identified in the list of ‘100 Oportunidades,’ a project by Global Shapers Lisbon of the WEF.

    Nairobi

    Ibrahim Otieno is the county Chief Officer in charge of Environment, Climate Change, and Natural Resources. Previously, he was the Deputy Director of Environment in charge of waste management. He holds an MA in Environmental Planning and Management (UoN), BA (Geography & Environmental Studies, UoN), Post Grad Dip-Green & Circular Economy (DTU, Denmark) and Water Sector Governance & Operations (CHU, Denmark).

    Santiago

    Mauricio Fabry is a veterinary doctor from the University of Concepción with studies at the University of California and Adolfo Ibáñez University. He is currently a doctoral candidate in the Doctorate program in Biodiversity Management and Conservation at the Universidad Santo Tomás de Chile. Mauricio worked for 18 years at the Santiago Metropolitan Park, of which he was its director for 7 years. He led the Ecoparque project at the Ministry of Housing and Urban Planning. He is currently Head of the Department of Environment, Biodiversity and Climate Action in the Metropolitan Regional Government of Santiago.

    Moderator

    Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi is the founding director of the City Diplomacy Lab. He is a lecturer in City Diplomacy at Columbia Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE | Paris), Sciences Po – PSIA, and École Polytechnique. He regularly advises international organizations, national governments, city networks, and municipalities on how to fully unfold the added value of city diplomacy. Author of City Diplomacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), he holds a dual PhD in Political Theory from École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris) and Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali (LUISS, Rome).

    View the Spring 2023 conversation on Food at https://youtu.be/3OzxcUFOYA8


    The views and opinions expressed by speakers and guests do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of City Diplomacy Lab and Columbia Global Centers | Paris.

  • Interview with Luz Amparo Medina Gerena, Bogotá’s Head City Diplomat

    Interview with Luz Amparo Medina Gerena, Bogotá’s Head City Diplomat

    What does it mean to lead the international relations of a global city? What are its main challenges, lessons learned, and rewards? Our new series on chief city diplomats opens with an interview with Luz Amparo Medina Gerena, Director of the Office of International Relations in Bogota and Member of the City Diplomacy Lab Advisory Board.

    What path led you to become a city diplomat?

    This experience in Bogotá was my first experience in city diplomacy. I had previously worked at the national level in various diverse sectors such as culture, education, science, technology, and disaster risk management within the field of international relations. I also worked for intergovernmental organizations, such as the United Nations Development Program and the General Secretary of the Organización de Estados Iberoamericanos (OEI) in Madrid. So, while I had a strong background in international relations, the opportunity to engage in city diplomacy arose with the election of Claudia López as Mayor of Bogotá. She invited me to be part of her team, and it has been one of the greatest experiences and honors of my professional career. I must acknowledge, though, that I did not have significant prior experience in the field of City Diplomacy until this opportunity came along.

    What was the most complex challenge you faced as the director of Bogotá’s International Relations Office, and how did you deal with it?

    My job entails a constant problem-solving attitude. The success of city diplomacy in materializing international partnerships comes with a never-ending series of challenges of different natures and scales. However, perhaps the most challenging task I faced in this position was during the first year of our term in office in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic hit only two months after the start of Mayor López’ mandate. In that context, the office of international relations had to provide information to the Mayor and her cabinet to inform two parallel processes. On the one hand, the response to a global pandemic in a city like Bogotá, home of 8 million people and that holds relevant competencies in the sanitary system, required close consultations with cities around the world to confront a challenge that humanity had never experienced before. At the same time, we also engaged in international benchmarking for the design of the Development Plan of Bogotá, which was approved in June 2020 by the city council. So, the first semester of 2020 was a very challenging time for all of humanity, for this office, and for me as the director. Meeting the demands at these two complex and intense levels was perhaps the greatest challenge. It required mobilizing resources and knowledge, as well as engaging in crosscutting interactions with the entire administration. However, the role of global relations at the local government level truly made a difference in terms of saving lives through the measures implemented and became an opportunity to gain legitimacy within the administration.

    What is the most treasured moment in your city diplomacy career?

    I am fortunate enough to have led a team that accomplished numerous milestones through rigorous international action over the past four years. A significant achievement in city diplomacy was the compromise we reached with Guangzhou’s authorities to have a shared term for Metropolis’ Presidency in 2021. The two cities agreed on splitting the three-year term into two periods of 18 months for each city, something the network had never done before. This involved not only engaging with all Western countries’ cities supporting Bogotá but, particularly, speaking with cities in Asia and Africa that supported Guangzhou’s candidacy. The campaign triggered truly enriching conversations conducted virtually amid the pandemic. Securing that Presidency, even if shared, was very exciting, especially because it was achieved after negotiations with a city that had been working towards it for more than six years. Metropolis is an interesting political and technical platform to foster interactions between metropolitan spaces around the world. Bogotá’s innovative approach to the creation of its own metropolitan region was positively impacted by its role in the network but also influenced the discussion on the challenges and opportunities of collaboration between different levels of government.

    Another highly exciting moment for me as a city diplomat was Mayor López’ intervention at the United Nations in April 2022, in the framework of the convening to assess the progress in the implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). She was designated as one of the four voices of local governments from around the world to report on the challenges, opportunities, and difficulties in implementing the New Urban Agenda. I will never forget the image of her addressing the United Nations General Assembly, calling for the recognition of local governments as the key implementers not only of the NUA but also of the main global development agendas such as the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. Her approach, which is based on caring for the people, democracy, and the planet, I believe, truly resonated with the audience. This opportunity consolidated her role as a strong voice from the cities of the Global South and paved the path to her designation as UN-Habitat Ambassador for the New Urban Agenda in the framework of the World Urban Forum held in Katowice in the summer of 2022.

    In your opinion, how will the work of city diplomats evolve in the coming years?

    I believe we need to understand the context we are immersed in today. There is a profound questioning of the effectiveness of the multilateral state-based system that emerged after World War II. There is a growing comprehension that there are other actors implementing global development agendas beyond nation-states. These actors include not only local governments but also representatives from the private sector and civil society. In these diverse entities, we find the ones that make things happen.

    In that sense, I believe that the role of city diplomacy or, more precisely, the global action of subnational governments, will have a significant opportunity to have a much stronger presence and voice in the multi-level and multi-actor global conversation in the coming years. Perhaps, city diplomacy will even become a formal dimension of a renewed multilateral system. I think the goal of this process is to influence and contribute to transformative actions to address the global climate and social crises by creating opportunities, especially for young people and women, and ultimately contributing to greater well-being in societies. I believe that the global action of local governments will play a leading role in many of these transformations in a world shifting from highly vertical power structures to more horizontal ones. In this horizontal landscape, local governments are likely to become more important and relevant for global development.

    Therefore, city diplomats will play a substantial role in facilitating the integration of global perspectives into local processes and, at the same time, impacting local policies from global trends. In times of wars led by national states, city diplomats should be open to keeping the conversation at the local level and preserving channels of dialogue in an increasingly multi-polar and diverse world.

    What advice would you offer those wanting to pursue a career as a city diplomat?

    As I mentioned before, in a rapidly changing world, cities are key implementers of the global agendas. Professionals entering city diplomacy will need to balance soft skills with technical knowledge. They must acquire and maintain a constant willingness to learn sectoral matters essential for the implementation of global agendas with the instruments local governments can provide. A minimum capacity to understand the specifics of the different sectors is necessary, and this requires an open mind to get acquainted with new knowledge and perspectives.

    Unlearning is also crucial; we must learn to adapt because the world is changing rapidly, and technologies are advancing. What is valid today may not be tomorrow, and this speed of change will progressively increase.

    I also believe that new professionals will need to develop a certain level of resilience to frustration and detachment from results. As city diplomats, we serve as facilitators between global stakeholders and local government officials. Often, outcomes and impacts do not depend directly on our performance but on sectoral servants responsible for program design and implementation.

    Furthermore, developing an interdisciplinary approach to our work is essential. If this is not provided by academic training, professionals must have an open disposition to cross knowledge, disciplines, and information in real time. Collaboration is the backbone of city diplomacy. If there is no collaboration or potential for collaboration, city diplomacy loses its meaning. Therefore, city diplomats need an attitude that facilitates and smooths the work within the local government, with different levels of government, and other cities and international stakeholders. Through this collaboration, collective action can be leveraged to positively impact the significant challenges humanity faces today.

    Mayor Claudia López and Luz Amparo Medina Gerena with Bogotá’s International Relations team

    Watch the interview with Mayor Claudia López

  • Migration and city diplomacy: empowering cities on the Central Mediterranean Route

    Migration and city diplomacy: empowering cities on the Central Mediterranean Route

    From December 13 to 19, the City Diplomacy Lab, in partnership with the Mixed Migration Centre and Columbia Global Centers in Paris, Tunis, and Nairobi, will empower cities on the Central Mediterranean Route through this highly interactive virtual training on mixed migration and city diplomacy. Participating municipal officers will be supported in developing their own action plans for mixed migration and for working along the Central Mediterranean Route.

    • Participants: this free training is open to municipal officers from cities in countries along the Central Mediterranean Route*. Participants who attend at least 80 percent of the course will receive a certificate of completion.
    • Dates: 13, 14, 15, 18, and 19 December 2023, 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. CET.
    • Format: highly interactive virtual training featuring classes, group work, and guest lectures.
    • Language: the training will be conducted in English.
    • Deadline: applications must be submitted through the form below by Monday, December 11.

    Course description

    Mixed migration refers to cross-border movements of people, including refugees fleeing persecution and conflict, victims of trafficking, and people seeking better lives and opportunities. Motivated to move by multiple factors, people engaged in mixed migration have different legal statuses as well as a variety of vulnerabilities. In an increasingly urbanized world, cities are at the forefront of mixed migration. This applies whether refugees and migrants transit cities or settle in them for longer periods of time. Despite cities not having clear mandates on migration issues and raising funds for migration programming, local authorities, national governments, international organizations, and international policy processes are increasingly recognizing the importance of working at the city level to advance protection and solutions for refugees and migrants. This course shall explore: What does it mean for cities to work on issues of mixed migration and to work along migration routes? What are the various types of activities that cities can undertake? What tools, partnerships, and other resources are available? At the end of this one-week intensive course, city actors will be supported in developing their own draft action plans for mixed migration and for working along the Central Mediterranean Route.

    The training is co-organized by City Diplomacy Lab and Mixed Migration Centre.

    It is jointly hosted by Columbia Global Centers | Paris, Columbia Global Centers | Tunis, and Columbia Global Centers | Nairobi.

    Institutional donor: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

    Registration is now closed


    * The training is open to municipal officers in the following countries: Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Italy, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Spain, Sudan, The Gambia, and Tunisia.

  • Cities and Climate Solutions | Air

    Cities and Climate Solutions | Air

    Webinar | 6:30 a.m. New York / 11:30 a.m. Leeds / 12:30 p.m. Paris, Lagos, and Stockholm / 5:00 p.m. Mumbai

    The Cities and Climate Solutions webinar series is co-organized by the City Diplomacy Lab and Columbia Global Centers | Paris.

    This webinar is co-sponsored by the Columbia Climate School, Columbia Global Centers | Mumbai, and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF).

    This webinar brings together representatives from Lagos, Leeds, Mumbai, and Stockholm to discuss the topics of air pollution, local public health, carbon neutrality, climate budgets, and equity and inclusion.

    Overview

    In the face of the climate crisis, cities across the world are emerging as integral problem-solvers in the development of an effective, multi-layered response. The Cities and Climate Solutions series, launched in Spring 2023 with events on water and food, aims to bring together the representatives of cities that have implemented some of the most impactful and sustainable actions.

    This second season of the webinar series will kick off in November 2023 and will cover the topics of air, energy, and waste. Each webinar will see the participation of representatives of three municipalities and will be moderated by a representative from Columbia University. In order to encourage geographic representativeness, each webinar will host city representatives from different regions and countries.

    This series celebrates the leadership of cities and provides inspiration for the thousands of cities and local governments around the world committed to shaping the global response to climate change.

    Speakers

    Lagos | Babatunde Ajayi – General Manager, Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA). Dr. Babatunde Ajayi is a systems efficiency expert and a Public Health Physician with training and experience in the epidemiology of disasters. A public health fellow of Erasmus Mundus, Dr. Babatunde Ajayi obtained his Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery (MBBS) degree from the Lagos State University before proceeding to the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where he obtained a Master’s in Public Health and subsequently a Master’s in Business Administration at Warwick Business School.

    Leeds | Andrew Hickford  Senior Project Manager in Sustainable Energy & Air Quality, Leeds City Council. Mr. Hickford works in Leeds City Council’s Climate, Energy & Green Spaces service which has responsibility for their Climate Emergency program that includes energy purchase and generation, decarbonization, air quality, tree planting, and energy-efficient corporate buildings. He leads across a range of areas, including fleet decarbonization, supporting the delivery of one of the largest ZE fleets in the country, as well as working to encourage ZE uptake across the city and region. He also delivers EV infrastructure, working on charge point delivery for their fleet in addition to working on public charging facilities, delivering a 100+ unit rapid charge network across the region, Leeds schemes in residential areas, across their council estate and hub provision, including Park & Ride locations including solar generation and on-site battery storage. He has responsibility for the Leeds Air Quality strategy and delivery of the action plan for improvement and also engagement and works with the Combined Authority on Transport decarbonization, EV, and air quality strategy development.

    Mumbai | Revati Shidhaye – Assistant Engineer, Environment Dept, BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation. Ms. Shidhaye works in the Environment Department of BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation. They work in tandem with the Pollution Control Board for monitoring and mitigation measures for air pollution. With concerned departments, they also coordinate funds received from the Central Government for drinking water improvement, sanitation facilities, re-usage of sewer water, and solid waste management.

    Stockholm | Magnuz Engardt – Environmental Analyst, Environment and Health Administration, City of Stockholm. Dr. Engardt has a Ph.D. in meteorology. He has worked with air pollution and climate throughout his scientific career. His present position is with the Environment and Health Administration in Stockholm, where he focuses on urban air pollution. Prior to that, he spent 20+ years at SMHI (the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute) working with regional air pollution. Engardt’s experience is mainly in the field of modeling and covers the cycling of acidifying and eutrophying species, near-surface ozone, and particulate matter.

    Moderator / Dr. Lorenzo Kihlgren Grandi is the founding director of the City Diplomacy Lab. He is a lecturer in City Diplomacy at Columbia Undergraduate Global Engagement (UGE | Paris), Sciences Po – PSIA, and École Polytechnique. He regularly advises international organizations, national governments, city networks, and municipalities on how to fully unfold the added value of city diplomacy. Author of City Diplomacy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020), he holds a dual PhD in Political Theory from École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS, Paris) and Libera Università Internazionale degli Studi Sociali (LUISS, Rome).

    Upcoming Cities and Climate Solutions Events:

    Wednesday, December 6, 3:00 p.m. (CET): Energy

    Key topics: just transition, energy poverty, urban renewable energy, building energy regulations, energy retrofit.

    Participating cities: Braga, Nairobi, Santiago.

    Program and registration

    Wednesday, December 22: Waste

    Key topics: waste management, waste reduction, waste valorization, public health, circular economy.

    View the Spring 2023 conversation on Food at https://youtu.be/3OzxcUFOYA8


    The views and opinions expressed by speakers and guests do not necessarily reflect the official policies or positions of City Diplomacy Lab and Columbia Global Centers | Paris.

  • Happy World Cities Day!

    Happy World Cities Day!

    Climate change, migration, inequalities, epidemics, armed violence: everywhere in the world, cities have an enormous responsibility to manage today’s major challenges.

    On World Cities Day, the City Diplomacy Lab wishes to celebrate the inspiring leadership of its Advisory Board cities, whose daily work demonstrates how to effectively address these challenges through participatory, innovative, and impactful international synergies. The work ahead is vast, but such is the impact of city diplomacy. Happy World Cities Day to all!

    The City Diplomacy Lab team