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The United Nations in an Urbanizing World

By Andrew Horne

Disclaimer: The views are those of the author's alone and do not represent the views of UNA-Canada.

Over the last several months, I have been honoured to be a part of the United Nations Association in Canada’s International Internship Programme for Students (IIPS). Through a partnership between the Balsillie School of International Affairs (BSIA) and UNA-Canada, I have been able to serve as a Junior Professional Consultant with the United Nations Human Settlement Programme (UN-Habitat). Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies I looked for opportunities to work in the UN-system, and when I came across the IIPS, I knew I had struck gold.

It goes without saying that the last two years have been extremely challenging for most people, as the Covid-19 Pandemic continuously evolves and impacts our lives. In my own context, I have learned to work in a primarily online environment as a result of the Pandemic. Despite the challenges that online environments can present, I have undoubtedly become accustomed to ‘work from home’, and now enjoy the unique benefits of working remotely - such as seeing my nephew during breaks in my work!

Andrew completed his graduate studies in August 2021

I officially started my internship with UN-Habitat in September 2021, working with the Human Rights and Social Inclusion Unit (HRSI). Like my graduate schooling, my time with UN-Habitat will be entirely remote, as a result of the current public health environment. My team is based in Nairobi, Kenya and has done a great job of scheduling meetings to be friendly for those who live in different time zones, which has made the time-difference between Canada and Kenya no more than a minor challenge.

As I am working remotely, it is important for me to maintain a good workspace. I am fortunate to have a quiet room to myself where I can complete my work!

Andrew’s workstation setup

To get a grasp of what I’m working on with my team, I believe a brief background on UN-Habitat is in order. In short, UN-Habitat is the UN program focused on issues related to human settlements (such as cities and urban areas). UN-Habitat plays an important role in monitoring the state of informal settlements, and collecting and analyzing data related to a variety of urban issues. In an increasingly urbanizing world, the work done by UN-Habitat is important to ensure the equitable and sustainable development of settlements.

UN Secretary General António Guterres meets youth as the Youth2030 Strategy is Announced. Photo Source:

My team at UN-Habitat specifically looks at challenges related to urban youth, and the work currently being done by my team falls under the broader initiative of the ‘Youth2030 Strategy’. Youth2030 was officially announced by UN Secretary General António Guterres in 2018. The strategy itself was co-authored by UN-Habitat, and sees UN-Habitat commit to meaningfully engage young people through its programmes on sustainable urbanization, especially for those in informal settlements.

Under the name ‘Youth2030Cities’, UN-Habitat is engaging in an 8-month urban governance initiative, which aims to increase the capacity of youth leaders in 6 countries. The objective is to encourage youth to engage in meaningful participation, and increase knowledge and understanding of the SDGs and how they can be localized. Countries from Africa, Asia, and Latin America are participating in the program. The program is done through a partnership with Healthy Cities for Adolescents (HCA), a global initiative funded by Foundation Botnar and managed by the International Society for Urban Health.

The program kicked off with a series of focus group discussions held in specific cities, followed by the release of a global online survey - seeking to understand how youth organizations around the world are engaging with the SDGs at a local level. The program includes a number of training workshops on the SDGs, helping to build the capacity of youth leaders and organizations. Of particular focus is the New Urban Agenda (NUA) and the ways in which the SDGs can be localized.

This process will culminate with the development and presentation of ‘Youth DeclarACTIONS’ at country-specific Youth2030 forums, which will then feed into presentations and a global DeclarACTION at the World Urban Forum in June 2022. The Youth2030Cities program interacts with a number of SDGs, including SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 13 (Climate Action), 10 (Reduced Inequalities), 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 4 (Quality Education), and 5 (Gender Equality).

Complementing this process is the development of a ‘Compendium of Promising Practises’. The compendium will be published by UN-Habitat, and will feature 10-20 inspiring youth initiatives or projects. Of these, 5 will be highlighted as the most notable examples of youth engagement on sustainable action. Beyond the compendium, the selected groups will also be featured in an online-based exhibition. As a backbone of both the compendium and the larger Youth2030Cities program, UN-Habitat is engaging in a social media campaign, supported by global partners, in raising awareness and sharing inspiring stories.

I have also worked on a number of events linked to UN-Habitat’s ‘Community of Practice’. In short, the HRSI unit at UN-Habitat hosts Community of Practice events to share the expertise and knowledge of internal and external experts and practitioners. The events are intended to improve the awareness and understanding of UN-Habitat employees, and also inform interested members of the wider public on various important topics.

I contributed to research and background work for a Community of Practice event on LGBTQ+ inclusivity in urban spaces held in January 2022. In March, I contributed to a month-long series of Community of Practice events for International Women’s Day/Month, linking women’s rights to climate change and climate action. We had expert speakers, both from UN-Habitat, other UN organizations (like UN-Women), and various external organizations contributing to the sessions. The series was titled ‘Women as Changemakers for Climate Action’, and covered various dynamics of gender and climate. The four sessions covered various topics, such as education and advocacy, disaster risk reduction and public health, agriculture and food security, and economic empowerment through nature-based solutions

These events linked to various SDGs, including SDG 13 (Climate Action), 12 (Sustainable Consumption and Growth), 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities), 5 (Gender Equality), 4 (Quality Education), and 3 (Good Health and Well-Being). Evidentially, both the Youth2030Cities and the Community of Practice programs are expansive, and therefore likely touch on every SDG in some way. As such, I have presented only the most obvious and apparent SDGs that each program meets!

I have had a fantastic time seeing the Youth2030Cities project unfold throughout my internship, and contributing to the Community of Practice at UN-Habitat has been a true highlight of my experience. As I approach the end of my time with UN-Habitat, I am truly grateful for this experience. I count myself lucky to have had the opportunity to work in the UN-system, and I am excited to see what the future holds!


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