Recently, Gabriella Fredriksson, head of RWI’s Inclusive Societies team, was joined by civil servants from Indonesia, Zimbabwe and Turkey in Lund as part of a new programme on Sustainable, Inclusive and Climate-Resistant Cities.
This was the second step of the three-pronged initiative to join sustainable development goals and human rights by engaging local actors within their own municipalities.
During their visit to Lund, participants encountered a number of interactive lectures, urban walks and workshops administered by Lund University Commissioned Education, in cooperation with the Center for Environmental and Climate Research at Lund University.
We sat down with Gabriella after the week’s events to discuss this vital phase of the project.
What is the relevance of environmental sustainability to human rights and in what ways can each be strengthened by joining them together?
I would say that environmental security is a human right. If you want to make a climate-smart environment that is friendly for human beings, you need to involve people because it’s their concern and that — participation — is another human right.
The second phase of the programme involved the participants coming to Lund for a hands-on visit. What are some key takeaways from that?
They have gotten a good variety of human rights input, participation and project management experience. I spent one day with them in Malmö where we looked at inclusion as well as green housing. That was quite interesting. It also included a walk here in Lund where participants looked at human rights issues in the city as well as climate-resilient solutions to environmental issues.
There was also a study visit to the technical faculty to look at the accessibility of public spaces. During that time, participants attempted to mirror the experiences of a blind person and feel how it works to use a wheelchair. The trial spaces set up at the faculty of technology made it a very hands-on experience.
The programme also addressed how you work with a human rights based approach — I think they benefited greatly from that as well. There have been many different aspects that gave everyone a lot of food for thought.
What obstacles could be faced by the participants when they begin to implement what they’ve learned upon return to their home countries? What resources have they gained to deal with those hurdles?
As with all change projects, it’s a matter of getting people engaged.
We will support them through mentorship until the end of the programme. There will be online sessions and we will also meet them on the ground in their home countries. Given that these people have full-time positions already, time is also a factor. Change projects take time. If you want to shift the mindset of a person you won’t do it over a day.
One needs to have the perspective of; what is feasible to expect by the end of the year — or by the end of the programme? Some of the ideas initiated here might go on for a couple of years but this is a start-up phase to set the grounds for bigger projects.
What will the home visits look like when you go to the participating countries to help them on the ground? What sort of activities will be happening?
There are various aims and activities in each country. In Indonesia, where I’m mentoring, they’re looking at a waste management project from a human rights based approach. The goal is to change the mindset of people in a smaller town to actually start separating their waste because they don’t have a good system for collecting waste or separating it.
In Zimbabwe there are a few different projects under a joint umbrella. They will look at accessibility to public spaces. To enable all people to use the public park, they want to construct a toilet that is all-inclusive. They’re engaging universal design thinking, how to make toilets sustainable and exploring the use of solar panels for electricity. It’s really a combination of accessibility and sustainability.
Finally, in Turkey they are going to design and disseminate guidelines to have more inclusive parks and eventually do a pilot in Istanbul.
The focus of this program is to get civil servants engaged to strengthen their communities in various ways. Do you have suggestions for what others might do to promote those same ideals in their own areas?
I think what’s important is to talk to the people who are concerned.
Try to reach out in the community, to all types of people, especially those who perhaps don’t have as strong voice as others.
See what is important for them, it might be green spaces or it might be accessibility. It is important to ask before you start because then you can improve engagementt, fill gaps and be exposed to new ideas that you haven’t considered because you’re not in that situation.