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"People-centered Partnership" @ 1st UNHA
28 May 2019

Visions of People-centered Partnership”: HIC-HLRN at the first UN Habitat Assembly, Nairobi, 27 May 2019

NAIROBI—On 27 May 2019, Habitat International Coalition – Housing and Land Rights Network organized a side event at the first UN Habitat Assembly (Nairobi) in collaboration with UN Habitat’s stakeholder Youth Caucus. The inter-active event sought to collect participants’ “Visions of People-centered Partnership” with UN Habitat in the implementation of the “New Urban Agenda” (NUA) toward the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the Youth Tent, HIC-HLRN presented the outcome of its review of stakeholder partnership with UN Habitat in a graphic. It charts the ups and downs of that relationship, particularly with civil society and local government stakeholders, in the UN Habitat policy spaces since 1976. HIC-HLRN has projected that pattern upon a “ladder of participation,” applying social science criteria to measure the degrees and quality of civic engagement in policy decision making and implementation.

HIC Board Member Ify Ofong (Women in Development and Environment, Nigeria) opened the session, and HIC former president and Wisdom Keeper (Davinder Lamba (Mazingira Institute, Kenya) welcomed the participants. Davinder shared the HICstory of advocating strong and effective partnership of diverse civil society organizations and municipalities since UN Habitat’s inception 43 years ago.

Joseph Schechla, coordinator of HIC-HLRN in the MENA region, presented the methodology and chart of UN Habitat stakeholder-engagement milestones, then opened the floor for the participants to express their visions of people-centered participation to be channeled to the Concept Committee that has emerged from the previous weekend’s Global Stakeholders Forum, and through the Stakeholder Advisory Group newly appointed by the UN Habitat Executive Director.

The comments and questions from the participants were critical of existing stakeholder-engagement structures and aligned with the UN General Assembly’s call for UN Habitat to rationalize its stakeholder-engagement policy. The participants reflected on the UN Habitat advice for stakeholders to self-organize their engagement mechanism, which also coincided with HIC’s proposal for a self-organized civil society mechanism for UN Habitat. More specifically, the participant observations and recommendations called for:

  • A thorough evaluation of civil society’s cooperation with UN Habitat, considering the interactivity within UN Habitat policy spaces toward creating and developing effective civic-engagement structures and processes in the NUA-implementation period.

  • Re-thinking civil strategy to ensure the regular engagement of grassroots groups and communities affected by housing- and habitat-development projects, including small-scale farmers and indigenous peoples as Habitat Agenda Partners that have been alienated by the narrowing of the foregoing Habitat Agenda in the “New Urban Agenda” and corresponding Habitat III processes.

  • Taking heed of the historic lessons learnt and experiences of the “wisdom keepers” and human rights defenders in civil society through their habitat struggles over the past decades.

  • Advocating alternatives to the trend of commercialization/commodification of basic human needs and services in the local and national spheres, which has become a detriment to people’s right to an adequate standard of living and livelihood even greater than typical corruption.

  • Expanding opportunities to collaborate and engage with local government and municipalities, which—like civil society—have been excluded intermittently from the global policy processes, notably in UN Habitat’s history.

  • Recalling the UN Charter as a central reference, in order to hold UN Habitat and its offices to their duty of integrating and simultaneously operationalizing the Charter’s three purposeful pillars: human rights, sustainable development and peace and security.

  • Orienting the new self-organized stakeholder mechanism(s) accordingly to build stakeholder capacity and to distribute and complement efforts, building on lessons learnt, while continuing to reinforce engagement with UN Habitat in the future.

  • Ensuring that any new stakeholder-engagement mechanism(s) enable free and critical thinking to be expressed to UN Habitat governance structures without forcing consensus or homogenizing messages to the lowest common denominator by mixing self-interested stakeholders with public-interest and plural-interest civil society organizations.

  • Applying the repeatedly learnt lesson that top-down appointed stakeholder bodies of self-representing individuals invariably fail to achieve legitimacy, credibility or relevance among constituents.

  • Reviewing and comparatively analyzing current stakeholder mechanisms across the UN System to arrive at one, or a hybrid model that best suits the diverse civil society among the multiple stakeholders and purposes of UN Habitat and the NUA. This recommendation coincides with the expectation that the Stakeholder Engagement Forum’s Concept Committee producing a proposal for the engagement mechanism(s) to be presented at World Urban Forum 10 (2020).

See also:

HIC-HLRN “Charting UN Habitat-Stakeholder Engagement” (chart)

HIC Open Letter to UN Habitat Executive Director Maimunah Mohammad Sharif

Extended version of “Milestones of UN Habitat Cooperation with Stakeholders: Forward and Backward” (chronology)

HIC proposed civil society mechanism for UN Habitat

HLRN Publications

Land Times

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