Who is Yasmin Khalafallah? Tell us about your educational background, job, interests or hobbies
I studied Economics at the undergraduate level and then went on to obtain a graduate degree in Environment and Sustainable Development from the Bartlett School for the Built Environment, University College London. So it was a mixture of sustainable development issues with urban development and city management issues and concerns. My Master’s studies was really eye opening, as I learned a lot about the economic, political and social factors that influence the climate debate and that are behind some of the environmental problems we are experiencing today.
Outside of work I enjoy playing sports, and going to the beach. I love the sea and would love to one day live there. I am interested in planting and growing food but so far I have not been successful (unfortunately).
What motivated you to join ISNAD-Africa and what do you currently do for the organisation?
I believe that in order to really have an impact or make a change I need to move beyond what I do professionally and dedicate time and effort for worthy causes I believe in. I was really happy to find an organisation that focuses on sustainable development in Africa especially environmental and renewable energy issues and which supports young, ambitious African scholars on their journeys.
I am a Communications Associate at ISNAD-Africa. This entails supporting the organisation’s various communications and outreach activities ranging from curating content for the organisation’s social media channels to contributing to the monthly newsletters and the website publications. So far I have been mostly involved in writing articles, editing articles written by others, compiling content for the newsletter or putting the newsletter together.
Tell us more about your interest in urban and environmental issues with respect to political, social and economic factors?
I grew up in Cairo, a megacity that is loud and chaotic but at the same time beautiful and this is what sparked my interest in urban planning. I think cities are wonderful as they can be a hub for culture, innovation and they can be a driver for sustainable development, economically and environmentally. Cities are major contributors to climate change and are responsible for an estimated 75% of all greenhouse gas emissions. As the world is rapidly urbanising, especially in Africa, it is important to start thinking of solutions of how to make our cities more sustainable. Urban planning has a lot to contribute, for example cities which are dense, mixed use and walkable with a strong public transportation system can cut down the transport related vehicle emissions. However, more than the environmental benefits, cities with affordable, safe, accessible public transport systems enable their inhabitants (especially the poor) to access educational and employment opportunities which they may not be able to access in car-centric cities with no access to public transport. This is especially true for women and girls for whom safe public transport options is especially important.
How can women like you make the objectives of sustainability, environment and renewable energy a reality going by current clamour?
I believe there are many ways we can all contribute. We can contribute through our professional work in one of the above mentioned fields. We can also contribute by dedicating time and effort and volunteering for organisations that represent the ideals we believe in. Most importantly i think it is by trying to mainstream issues of sustainable (environmental) development in work (if it is not something that is already included in work) but also in everyday life by raising the awareness of people around us and presenting them with sustainable alternatives to include in their daily lives.
How can career women create a balance in their home while pursuing their passion?
I am lucky I am not in a situation where home demands a lot of my time (yet) so I am not sure. However, based on what I have seen from some amazing, inspiring women I have met, I believe that choosing a supportive partner is really important. Other than that I believe it is really necessary to be focused on what is important and to learn to prioritise and manage your time well.
Let’s talk more about your career. In what ways do you see yourself creating impact in the sustainable development sector in your current professional engagements?
Most of my professional engagements have aimed at influencing policy and decision-making at different levels. After my graduation I have worked as a researcher at a local think-and-do tank focused on integrated community development. It was a grassroots organisation that tried to impact policies from the ground up through documenting sustainable development practices and trying to push for a paradigm shift and a new way of thinking through events, publications, advocacy etc. I then went on to join the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) where I was working on the urban upgrading and housing portfolio. This engagement was at a much higher level with more contact with the government. The main aim was to offer technical assistance to the government and to implement (pilot) projects that could bring about transformative change. I think for sustainable development to be achieved it is not enough to spend money to implement development projects. Really important is to go further by pushing for innovative thinking and implementation, and to target changing policies for the better.