Meeting in Rio de Janeiro in late March, some 10,000 specialists in sustainable urbanization gathered for the Fifth Session of the UN-HABITAT World Urban Forum. Clearly the need is there, and as experts, heads of state, government ministers, mayors, executives of leading global foundations, business leaders, and interested observers met March 24 – 26, it was obvious that the work UN-HABITAT is doing is critical. And becoming more critical all the time.
The numbers are slightly overwhelming, but when you stop to think that just a little over 50 years ago one-third of the world’s population lived in cities and now it’s over 50% (and expected to climb to two-thirds of the global population – six billion people – by 2050) you recognize that a sense of being overwhelmed is absolutely appropriate. Attention must be paid.
The main theme of the conference – Bridging the Urban Divide – provided the occasion for much open and frank debate, and UN-HABITAT’s oft-expressed characterization of “sustainable urbanization” as simply “a better city, a better life” provided many conference attendees with a noticeable attitude of uplift and enthusiasm. For these folks, WUF5 (as the forum was called) provided the impetus for going back to their homes and workplaces with an optimism that many global citizens aren’t in a position to share.
Which made the whole experience that much more exciting, for now charged-up urban studies professionals will have the energy and motivation to see that attention is paid.
For KM/knowledge services professionals, the Rio pay-off came with the many discussions, strategic learning opportunities, and just plain networking that took place. Both formal and informal knowledge-sharing activities were happening all over the conference venue (unused dock warehouses that were being converted into a huge conference center), and a highlight for those of us who look to KM/knowledge services as the bridge across any of the professional, societal, or economic divides we encounter was the opening of UN-HABITAT’s new World Urban Campaign. In announcing the campaign, Nicholas You noted that the agency’s next major effort would acknowledge and focus on the role of knowledge sharing in achieving the agency’s mission.
That mission, generally referred to as the Habitat Agenda, is to promote socially and environmentally sustainable towns and cities with the goal of providing adequate shelter for all. In launching the new initiative, You – who serves as Strategic Policy Advisor to Dr. Anna Tibaijuka, UN-HABITAT’s Executive Director – made it clear that there would be two key areas of focus to the campaign, one of which is the agency’s knowledge network system (with the other being The 100 Cities Initiative, an experimental initiative in which 100 cities would make pledges for urban reform).
The knowledge networking system has a more fundamental purpose, one that affects all levels of all the many efforts involved in the larger sustainability movement. As You described the initiative, the UN-HABITAT knowledge networking system is defined by and being developed to enable all people working with sustainable urbanization to take full advantage of the diversity and wealth of knowledge, tools, and methods being gathered by UN-HABITAT. The system will focus on lessons learned from best practices, good policies and operational tools and methodologies, and constitute a one-stop shop for knowledge, expertise, and experience.
With the sustainable urbanization knowledge services community poised to reap the rewards of strengthened information management, KM, and strategic learning, could not other organizations take up the knowledge networking system as a model, to achieve their own organizational effectiveness?