RMIT students represent Australia at UN urban development conference

Two RMIT students have travelled to Ecuador as Australian delegates to the United Nations Housing and Sustainable Urban Development conference, after receiving prestigious Global Voices scholarships.

Habitat III is the UN’s Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development, which convenes every 20 years with the aim of strengthening the global commitment to sustainable urbanisation and promoting the integration of equity, welfare and shared prosperity into global development and climate change goals.

Bachelor of Communications (Professional Communications) student Cassie Cohen and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) (Honours) student Rufael Tsgay were among the 47,000 international delegates who gathered for the two-day conference.

Cohen and Tsgay joined a group of RMIT academics representing Australia including Professor Ralph Horne, Deputy Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Innovation for the College of Design and Social Context, Elizabeth Ryan, Deputy Director of the UN Global Compact –  Programme, and Professor Jago Dodson, Director of the RMIT   for Urban Research.

Cohen was fortunate enough to join the Opening plenary session where UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the event and Habitat III Secretary-General Dr Joan Clos discussed the importance of the New Urban Agenda in promoting equality and sustainability in cities.

“It was surreal to be in the company of these highly esteemed leaders, as well as delegates from the UN member states,” she said.

“I was also fortunate to attend the session ‘Urban Journalism Academy’, where journalists from the New York Times, The Guardian and Reuters discussed how urbanisation issues can be better communicated to the public to ensure the issues are understood and addressed.

“As a communications student, my key takeaway from this event was the need for effective communication with the public about the purposes and progress of policy formulation, in order to justify their taxpayers’ financial investment.”

After an enthralling morning of events and networking, Cohen and Tsgay met with Australian Ambassador to the United Nations, Gillian Bird, to discuss the country’s involvement at the UN including its role in negotiations, its operations in the Security Council and its recent campaign to join the United Nations Human Rights Council.

“We talked about working in foreign affairs and the nature of starting a career as a young diplomat,” Tsgay said.

“Second Secretary, Julian Simpson, then told us about how he began his career in foreign affairs from a media background, as well as offering some tips and tricks of the trade.”

Cohen credits her six-month internship with the The UN Global Compact – Cities Programme’s secretariat, hosted at RMIT, as crucial preparation for Habitat III.

“My supervisor, Deputy Director of the Cities Programme, Elizabeth Ryan, told me about the Global Voices opportunity,” Cohen said.

“This mentorship and support really helped me prepare for the UN Habitat III conference.”

For other students hoping to follow in the pair’s steps, Cohen recommends gaining as much internship experience as possible to get a better understanding of your key interest areas.

“Apply for as many opportunities as possible – even if you think you are unlikely to be awarded the position, the application is still a fantastic learning experience, and the chances are 100 per cent higher if you apply than if you don’t,” she said.

“My internship with Cities Programme resulted in this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from Global Voices, and I am incredibly grateful to RMIT University for supporting this experience.”

  • Header image: Bachelor of Communications (Professional Communications) student Cassie Cohen and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies) (Honours) student Rufael Tsgay at Habitat III in Quito, Ecuador.