Collaboration between diverse actors such as knowledge institutions, private and public sector, civil society and the people of the city are more than often seen as an important part to finding solutions to our complex urban challenges. It is also understood that collaborations across these actors are not easy and various tools and processes are set up to facilitate.
From being engaged with these tools and processes in this intersection between the actors in Sulangan/The Philippines, Cairo / Egypt, Port au Prince / Haiti, etc. we ended up in this intersecting space in Malmö / Sweden too. Although our overall aim of a more just city remains the same, the platform, the International Non-Governmental Organisation (INGO) or similar agency, we found ourselves often working from has been replaced.
The INGO platforms have been replaced by MESHWORK**. MESHWORK is both the name of our new company (thank you Kartik for the spot-on name!) and the way we visualize what we do. The mesh spans between the various organizations where we are found employment, consultancy assignments or voluntary engagement but also beyond the professional realm. In other words, Akbar Modan and I are now a couple of boundary workers with one foot in each sector and our fingers in many pies!
A couple of boundary workers
I never had a word for what we did. I learned about Boundary Work from the academics I recently wrote The Guidelines for Urban Labs with. The Guidelines advocated for an Urban Lab to actively engage in boundary work. It continues, “boundary work can be done by individuals, for example, the lab coordinators, or by the urban labs as (temporary or institutionalized) boundary organizations.” It defines boundary work as ‘transcending boundaries created by different interests, values, knowledge domains and institutional logics.’
As I wrote, Akbar Modan and I used to work in the international development and humanitarian sector and there our platforms were mainly INGOs. In this sector, these types of collaborations (or multi-stakeholder processes as we called them) are a common practice in urban development, housing, and reconstruction projects. These multi-stakeholder processes could if successful make your budget go further, further local ownership and above all empower the marginalized communities that you were there to support. The INGOs became this boundary organization (or what we called broker and process manager). INGOs or similar agencies are helpful as they more than maybe other organizations are rights based, independent, often an outsider of the context, and flexible in the way that they operate.
When we moved to Malmö / Sweden some years back we landed in yet another city being formed by the global trends of globalization, urbanization, and migration. What is more is that Malmö is acutely aware of its challenges including a housing and refugee ‘crisis’ and is looking to do things differently. Akbar Modan and I thought that maybe the skills and experiences we gathered from working in the cities of the global south would be applicable in the global north too!
To explain our global south doings to our new local context, we created these 9 squares instead of translating our CVs into Swedish and into something that Sweden would understand.
And we started to say ‘yes!’ to everything that came our way. Something will lead somewhere we thought, but little did we know that being part of all these projects and processes at the same time is what makes our work so fruitful. Each assignment informs and even strengthens the other directly.
credit of many of the photos: CORDAID
one foot in each sector and our fingers in many pies!
It is easier to be and remain connected to people similar to you, i.e. other professionals for reasons such as they speak the same professional language, you meet them during working hours in an office environment, they have an interest in the subject and are paid, …
Also, practically, if we said yes to all meetings, workshops, seminars at the University, Municipality and other official institutions, we would not have the time to keep in contact with anyone else but professionals. It is important that Akbar Modan and I remind ourselves to assure that we remain true to our own purpose and ability, to turn things on its head and assure that we make time to be equally connected to the non-professional including the marginalized actors of Malmö.
**MESHWORK: “By this I mean an entanglement of interwoven lines. These lines may loop or twist around one another or weave in and out. Crucially, however, they do not connect. This is what distinguishes the meshwork from the network. The lines of the network are connectors, each given as the relation between two points, independently and in advance of any movement from one toward the other…the lines of a meshwork, by contrast, are of movement or growth. They are temporal ‘lines of becoming’…Life is a proliferation of loose ends. It can only be carried on in a world that is not fully joined up. Thus the very continuity of life – its sustainability, in current jargon – depends on the fact that nothing ever quite fits..” Tim Ingold, ‘Lines and the Aether’, Vital Beauty, 2012