Making an Impact at the City Level
About this webinar
The first webinar of this series ‘The Road Less Traveled’ focused on graduates working at the city level. The importance of cities is growing due to decentralisation, other reforms of the last decades and other geo-political factors. The organisations of mayors in different networks such as the C40, the United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) and the Human Rights Cities Network now represent an emergent global governance power and some of the most efficient platforms for addressing the current challenges such as climate change, etc. We asked our guest speakers how they use human rights knowledge and expertise in their work. Which difference do they make at the city level? What are the rewards of working at the local level?
I was amazed by all the things I learned.
Dr. Lydia Malmedie (she/her)
Deputy head of the LGBTI Unit at the Berlin State Ministry for Justice, Diversity and Anti-discrimination.
Her role involves providing expertise to the political level, project funding as well as campaigns on topics such as lesbian visibility. Alumna of GC Europe
At the local level, there is so much proximity to the population and a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges.
Federico Batista Poitier
International policy expert and advisor on accessibility and the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; particularly in the context of urban development and the frameworks of the Sustainable Development Goals and the New Urban Agenda. Alumnus of GC Europe
We can do a lot more than what is written on the paper.
Making an impact at the city level
After completing a degree in human rights, a lot of students think of working for State governments, international organisations, well-known NGOs. But what about working at the local level? What rewards and downsides are to expect? The three guests in the first webinar of the series “The Road Less Travelled” shared their experiences of working at the city level.
Working for a rainbow city
It was the cause that brought Lydia Malmedie, now Deputy Head of the LGBTI Unit at the Berlin State Ministry for Justice, Diversity and Anti-Discrimination, to work at the city level. “Berlin has labelled itself as a rainbow city, so we work to remind everyone on a regular basis that we have to live up to this reputation”, says Lydia. She is coordinating an action plan on LGBTI rights in the state of Berlin that was created in cooperation with LGBTI communities. Now, every ministry has to implement the measures. “I can see and feel the change I make”, says Lydia. She refers to the projects they fund and work with as well as helping to set the agenda. “When I hear ministers speak about LGBTI issues, I know I have contributed to that.” Nevertheless, Lydia underlines that working in public administration also means working for a specific leadership that is depending on the party in power as well as the respective person in the position. Some are more concerned with LGBTI issues whilst others are not as much (yet).
Her piece of advice for working at the city level:
Within the public administration, it depends on where you end up, there are so many different jobs. Choose carefully!
If you are looking for a challenge that provides you with knowledge on how the state functions, public administration is a good fit for you. I was amazed by all the things I learned besides having studied political science and human rights. It took me at least one year to understand some of the processes. This knowledge is useful, no matter what you might do later in your career.
At least in Germany, there is a generation shift in the public administration. A lot of people will retire in the next years. It is a good moment for young people who have an awareness for human rights to start at the city level.
Fighting the status quo
In her different jobs in the human rights field, Mélina Pelé noticed that she wanted more concrete action, especially in the area of climate refugees. Thus, she decided to get politically active for the Green Party in France. For her, her concern regarding the climate crisis and her human rights core beliefs are deeply linked. “If we don’t fight climate change, there won’t be human rights or peace in the world”, says Mélina. The elected member of the municipal council of Pantin (in the suburbs of Paris) always tries to disrupt the status quo. “When an issue arrives in the city, people automatically say: Oh, that is not our competency; It’s the competency of the state, the EU, or the region”. But Mélina is convinced that with human rights awareness, sensitivity and connection, there is almost always a window of opportunity for change. One example of the many opportunities would be through partnerships with other cities or organisations. “We can actually do a lot more than what is written on paper”, says Mélina.
Her insights of the work at the city level:
Be aware what you personally represent and act! I am a woman, almost 40 years old, a working mum with two young kids. The municipal life is not adapted to me, not at all. All the meetings are at night from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. All the representative tasks you do are on the weekend. It is really hard for me sometimes to say no to a meeting, but at the same time it is a political act for me to demand a change here.
The impact that we have or might have in the future, is not always immediate. But I already saw changes in the city as well as in the way we work.
In my case it is not a job, I see it as another way to be an activist. It is really interesting and it gives me a lot of freedom in this activity.
Cities know better
Federico Batista Poitier’s focus on disability rights was already there before studying human rights. Now as an international policy expert and adviser on accessibility and the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, he often finds himself as the link between the many good practices that already exist, the implementation of the UN convention and the political will to engage in the cause. Federico sees a great potential in the work of cities. “At the local level, there is so much proximity to the population and the city has a better understanding of their day-to-day challenges.” Often, the federal state decides where the financial resources are going without knowing the local context and needs. One of the downsides of working at the city level can arise with a change in the political leadership which translates into a change of work of the whole municipality. “I experienced this 4 or 5 times”, says Federico, “But it always feels like starting again to link all the different departments and to build connections”.
His piece of advice for working at the city level:
At the local level it’s a lot about learning the culture and the language spoken there, and the ability of adaption. Always try to understand the culture of the local place.
It is very rewarding work, but it can be tough when you try to link the different departments in a municipality.
Summary: Milena Österreicher | LinkedIn