By Martín A. Maldonado*
What do public hospitals in St. Andrew, Jamaica, the global warming in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the access to land for housing in Port Harcourt, Nigeria and the cartoneros [waste pickers] in Argentina have in common?
First of all, they all strive to inhabit a physical space and to be recognized in the cities of the third millennium; and secondly they all shared their experiences and knowledge in the Sustainable Urbanization III Seminar of the International Social Science Council (ISSC) that took place on September 2015 in Durban, South Africa.
For the seminar, twenty young professionals from all the world and disciplines were called to share our studies on the current situation of some cities, urban governance, extreme poverty, and environmental sustainability. The International Social Science Council is an independent non-governmental organization created in 1952 and was set up under the auspices of the United Nations and UNESCO. Its mission is to increase production, communication and the use of scientific social knowledge to help states and international organizations to face the most important global challenges. The Council is constituted by the main associations and scientific committees of each continent, research centres and international associations of all social disciplines. Latin America is represented by the Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (CLACSO) [Latin American Social Sciences Council] and the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) [Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences].
At the meeting, researchers from India, South Africa, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Australia, Spain, USA, England, Jamaica, Nigeria, Uganda, the Philippines, China, Ghana, and Argentina presented their studies in six thematic sessions: climate change, governance and justice, use of soil, urban development, poverty and environmental sustainability.
What I found most surprising at first was the resemblance between the challenges medium size cities of those countries face, despite their geographical, economic and cultural diversities. All those cities have serious environmental problems derived from global warming and pollution; they all face typical economic restructuring of transition to production models that demand less labor. Besides, all those places look for creative ways of including growing portions of marginalized people whether migrants, poor or unemployed people, or ethnic or religious minorities, among other common problems. The challenges are similar and different at the same time because the solutions change according to the political, economic and cultural situations of the cities and the countries they belong to.
Another aspect that attracted my attention was the strength of the South-South cooperation in cities and, university and research systems. Brazil, South Africa and India have a well-established cooperation system that includes research and development, technology transfer and exchanges of management experiences. From these recent but solid cooperation traditions concrete urban practices and services emerge in the main cities of those countries. China is also entering the BRICS group (in international economics the acronym BRICS stands for Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) because it tries to broaden its current profile as investor in infrastructure and public services towards a more multifaceted profile that includes social and administration subjects. The South-South cooperation is a development horizon in which Argentina can provide and learn a lot.
Lastly, I was able to corroborate the importance and quality of the Argentine system of public universities and the national scientific research system. In other countries it is not common to have a state supporting a broad scientific promotion organization; furthermore, it is even less common that most of those researchers work to provide satisfactory solutions to the daily problems of neighbors in our towns and cities.
After four days of arduous work, the results of our presentations and exchanges were consolidated in one presentation given at the World Social Science Forum 2015 called “Transforming Global Relations for a Just World” in the same city of Durban. The WSSF is an ISSC global event that brings together international researchers to face current world problems and determine future international social science priorities. The forum promotes innovative and multidisciplinary work, collaborations among researchers of natural and human sciences; and the commitment to donors and decision-makers in the scientific community worldwide.
Both forums were unique experiences for my professional career in terms of research exchanges, comparison of cases and immersion in different cultures of the world. I returned from this trip with renewed commitment to sharing this new learning and experiences with the cities of Argentina that need it most.
*Martín Maldonado holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of
Florida (2009) and is an assistant researcher of CONICET at the Institute of
Research and Training in Public Administration [Instituto de Investigación y
Formación en Administración Pública] (IIFAP, UNC). He dedicated his research
to theories on poverty and to the design and implementation of social
policies. His career director is Aurelio Ferrero, independent researcher of
CONICET at the Experimental Centre for Economical Housing [Centro
Experimental de la Vivienda Económica] (CEVE, CONICET-AVE).
Translated version by Cintia B. González