What We Learnt at UN HABITAT World Cities Day 2019

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World Cities Day 2019. Picture courtesy of UN-HABITAT Communications

W e were at UN HABITAT World Cities Day 2019 in Yekaterinburg, Russia represented by our Team Lead, Anne Lawi. This year’s World Cities Day sought to explore challenges and identify solutions related to the the sub-theme Changing the World: Innovations and a Better Life for Future Generations. Pangea Accelerator led the discussion on “Digital Innovation for Urban Service Delivery” in a panel discussion on the first day and a keynote address on how we can build inclusive smart cities on the second day showing how we’ve been supporting startups in Africa in UrbanTech. So, what did we learn from World Cities Day 2019?

Anne Lawi, Team Lead at Pangea Accelerator giving keynote address on Second Day

The Challenge of Urbanization is Universal

In Maimuna Shariff’s speech, the Executive Director for @UNHabitat, she highlighted how more than half the world’s population is living in urban areas and this is projected to increase to almost 70 per cent by 2050. This means that we are addressing a set of of challenges related to green and sustainable housing, transport, energy, waste management and climate change, mobility among others.

Maimuna Shariff, Executive Director, UN HABITAT gives opening remarks during Word Cities Day 2019

While engaging with diverse industry leaders and experts across the continent at the event, we saw similarities in the challenges we are facing, from reducing Co2 emissions to managing waste and efficient use of water. Indonesia, for example, is relocating its capital city, Jakarta, due to rising sea levels and climate change, a common occurrence for coastal cities globally. However, we see these challenges presenting opportunities to innovate and collaborate and build solutions together.

Innovation is the key to addressing urbanization challenges

Amina Mohammed, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations added that, new technologies can make cities more inclusive, safer, sustainable and resilient.

Anne Lawi during the panel discussion on “Digital Innovation for Urban Service Delivery”

During the panel discussion, Anne Lawi expounded on how innovation can improve health, green areas, quality & access to education, service delivery & safety of the urban population especially in helping cities reduce its budget & allocate more for development projects. This starts from rethinking investment to focus on impact investing, advocating for sharing economies and circular economies. Still on innovation, we realized the need to debunk the myth of tech as a solution. Technology is a tool and has exponential effects when tied to a need. Lastly, the conversations also validated our work and our hypothesis at Pangea Accelerator.

Cities need to think how to be smart

It’s pretty clear right now that cities will need to think smart and be smart. Inger Andersen, Executive Director for UNEP, tweeted:

“Cities can help solve our environmental challenges. Well-designed cities could cut up to 54% off greenhouse gas emissions. They can make buildings 0-emission & resilient. They can implement nature-based solutions — such as re-naturing of urban spaces.”

Info-graphic on building inclusive smart cities by Deloitte Digital US Insights, read the full report here

For us, when we think of smart cities, we think of cities that use the most efficient and leanest way to manage resources and provide access to services to all its inhabitants. This means anticipating challenges and knowing who to collaborate with to find solutions. Paul Polman, Former CEO of @Unilever, shares that cities need to embrace change and work together on innovative city planning. The ball is in the court for city leaders and planners, globally.

So, what do we want and hope to see going forward? For us, it is to constantly keep working towards supporting more African startups that are providing solutions in urbanization. We will also continuously keep informing and collaborating with sector experts to support and encourage these innovations. Lastly, we hope to see more collaborations between government, corporates, investors, entrepreneurs, development agencies and academia because we cannot afford to work in silos.

World Cities Day 2019 was the sixth global celebration since its launch in 2014 in Shanghai. Within the overarching theme of “Better City, Better Life”. The aim of World Cities Day is to focus the international community’s attention on urbanization as a key element to successful and sustainable development and to encourage cooperation among countries in meeting opportunities and addressing urban challenges. This year’s theme was “Changing the World: Innovations and a Better Life for Future Generations.”

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