First day of the conference! I had never been to one of these before so I really didn’t know what to expect. I made a terrible call by wearing a black silk blouse, jacket, and a matching skirt with stockings on a four-inch heels, carrying a full backpack, a handbag and a tote! I felt like I hit the sauna from the moment I walked out the hotel lobby, and I didn’t get the joke someone had mentioned about being a ‘camel’ until I had to walk in a 30 degree heat along the pier at Cais de Porto, where the conference was set up. The exhibition booth was right at the end of the stretch of rooms and other administrative quarters, and the first thing I had to do when I arrived at our exhibition stand was to drop my luggage, sprint to the portaloos and take my stockings off! It just occurred to me that I’d left my jacket at the venue today, so I’ll be paying a visit to lost & found tomorrow. Would I have to wear the same skirt again so I can prove that it’s mine??? Anyway, I digress.
The opening ceremony was delayed by about an hour, in full Brazilian fashion, and once everyone was seated, they opened the event in quite the Brazilian style with a hip Brazilian musician blasting away on his electric guitar, and a line-up of girls on colourful assortment of percussions. It was followed by a prompt Portuguese opening by the mayor of Rio, a message from UN Secretary General Ban K-Moon, then an inspiring speech by UN-HABITAT Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka. Her speech was wrapped up quite nicely with a string of one-liners from Kennedy, Mother Theresa et al. adapted to UN-HABITAT’s mission statement: “It’s not the big things, but small things that make up big things, that count”. Over 20,000 people registered for this year’s World Urban Forum, which is the largest to date, and apparently the host country had to cap registration due to venue and service capacity.
From two o’clock onwards, there were 20 separate networking events and a few side events, and I made sure I went to one of the sessions that would most resonate with my research. I never thought I would consider it, but I wished I had cloned myself, as I was torn between sessions I had wanted to go to.
The first afternoon session I went to was hosted by Habitat for Humanity International on “Donors and Non Governmental Organisations’: Is Shelter a Priority?” The four panelists represented two NGOs and two donor organisations, namely: Asian Development Bank, USAID, World Vision and of course, Habitat for Humanity. The dialogues got me really fired up and I had a couple of questions I had wanted to raise, but the questions were answered naturally through the dialogue between the panelists and of course with input from insightful academics from other institutions whom of course are way ahead of the game than myself.
In the second session I stretched myself and ended up in three different networking events, the first session showcased best living example of a successful attempt at bridging the urban divide: “Participatory approach in bridging urban divide in mega cities: examples from Lagos”; I slipped into, “Korean green growth strategy and eco-city concept” but I was kicked out in the first 10 minutes by the support crew for bringing a beverage into the room; the last one I ended up in also happened to be on similar area as the first, “Post disaster shelter: a first step towards permanent housing solution”. It was encouraging to see organisations working harder towards collaboration, and recognising the fact that we can no longer work in silos when the urban problems we face are far greater than what any one organisation can handle.
After heading back briefly to the station to touch base with the rest of the delegation, we went to the welcome concert thrown by the government of Brazil. I think a lot of the people were quite hyped up about this after party as the Brazilians had been quite amazing hosts all day, and were disappointed when the samba band on the stage was not accompanied by nibbles and alcohol off the stage. It was quite amusing to see a warehouse full of people who had been in an all-day sauna in all their backpacks and sweaty shirt and ties! It reminded me of an awkward dance party at my primary school, where all the girls file to one side, and the boys group into corners to the other side. Perhaps life doesn’t become much different past your pre-pubesent years!