What attracted you to your chosen course?
I explored a variety of programs in Canada, the US, and the UK. Many of which had successful track records in my subject area: urban planning and development studies. This MA ticked both of these boxes. Few programs were geared towards integrating both of these subjects with the objective of educating urban planners for careers in the developing world; a path that inspired my overall pursuit of postgraduate education. The focus of the program was to prepare students theoretically on the fluctuating environment that characterizes everyday life in the global south (poverty, lack of resources, cultural dynamics, etc.). Furthermore, the program was designed to equip students with analytical skills and tools that would be attractive for future employers. Having contacted the department directly and hearing of the remarkable success of previous graduates – working in global organizations, private sector and academia – I quickly realized that the department would be a good fit.
What is your fondest university memory?
Camaraderie was quickly engendered within the MSc programme. The department treated the students professionally, demonstrating the importance of integrity and good intentions as part of the role of planning and development professionals. They exposed us to the socio-economic dimensions of the global south and the importance of involving a range of stakeholders in the development process. At the same time, the students were able to get to understand each other on a deeper level as a result of collectively challenging conventional thinking and exploring alternative ideologies – be it social, political or cultural. Discussions naturally evolved into life-like negotiations or role-playing exercises where disagreement was more common than consensus. The importance of which we all learned to appreciate.
Tell us a little bit about your current job?
Currently, I am pursuing a PhD in the Department of Urban and Regional Studies at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. My research aims to demonstrate that rapid urbanization experienced in the global south today is following a remarkably different trajectory from that of the classical form of urbanization experienced by early industrializing countries. This can be defined predominantly by pace, scale and lower purchasing power. Examining the cases of China, India and Nigeria – which is projected to account for approximately 37% of urban population growth by 2050 – my research will be directed toward remaking theory, policy and practice for urban development in the global south.
This builds on my previous experience working for various United Nations agencies in both Kenya and India- namely, UN-Habitat and UNIDO. During this time, I was able to experience firsthand the urban transformation that was taking place in the global south and the challenges and opportunities it presented for urban dwellers. This experience helped bring the knowledge I learned during my studies to life, and provided me with the confidence I needed to do my job and advance my discipline.
How did your degree help you with what you are doing now?
Internationally, there is a shared appreciation for the quality of education that one attains from a reputable University in the UK. Those who know the academic system in the UK understand that along with the qualifications one receives as part of their program, they are also being exposed to a diverse atmosphere. Given that I am originally from Canada, uprooting myself and moving to the UK to pursue a postgraduate degree has helped expose me to a variety of different experiences, a diversity of approaches to solving problems and a new appreciation one gains from being ‘an outsider’. Adaptability under a variety of cultural conditions has been my greatest asset since leaving graduate school; my time at the University of Sheffield played a major role in this.
What are your ambitions for the future?
Currently, my time is occupied by PhD research, supporting the United Nations on multiple initiatives, serving on the Board of Directors for a non-profit geared towards participatory urban planning and also brushing up on my Chinese language abilities. Concerned that my research might end up on a dusty bookshelf in the archives section of the University, I would like to make an effort to ensure my research finds its way to policy circles and into mainstream discussions on urban development in the global south. I would like to work in parallel to transform my findings into white papers, popular articles and potentially a book. What is clear to me, is that my heart belongs in the ever-transforming environment of the global south, so after graduation, I will likely be seen boarding a plane to somewhere unknown!