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Sean Grisdale - Blog Post 2: So what exactly does Sean do again?

Sean Grisdale - Blog Post 2: So what exactly does Sean do again?

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I’ve been in Japan for over three months now and I am still learning from and enjoying every aspect of my experience here. Many of things which at first seemed so novel to me are now background noise to my new daily rhythm. I’ve read almost twenty books, mostly for pleasure, I’ve assumed a better daily workout and diet routine, I’m slowly learning Japanese through a tutor, and every day I’m trying new foods and meeting new people. And that is not even to mention the valuable experience I’m acquiring in my internship placement, with CITYNET Yokohama, which I will discuss in this update.

Of the various placements offered by CAPI this year, the Yokohama one stood out to me because of its relevance to my academic and personal interests. This involves addressing issues around urban development and infrastructure, and urban environmental and social justice, while also having the opportunity to flex my graphic design skills. As a geography student you spend a lot of time looking at the global picture of things, of cities and how they connect to bigger structures and processes, but there is a certain limit to understanding these topics in a classroom context alone. For a geographer, one who “writes about the Earth”, travel and international exchange are valuable experiences which can cultivate a more holistic perspective both in one’s self and others. However, holistic approaches to understanding and action can also suffer from a lack of focus or clarity.  The broad scope of my degree in “Urban and Development studies with a minor in Environmental Studies” (does that degree sound comprehensive or indecisive?) has always been difficult to quickly explain to friends and family, and this is no different with CITYNET, whose objectives are equally broad and difficult to pare down to a one sentence.

Founded in Yokohama in 1987, CITYNET (aka the Regional Network of Local Authorities for the Management of Human Settlements) is an international organization broadly focused on developing the sustainability of human settlements in the Asia-Pacific region. Rather than operating as an NGO (non-governmental organization), or a United Nations appendage, CITYNET functions as a network which facilitates knowledge exchange between local governments across Asia. This exchange of knowledge, support, and assistance between cities happens variously through workshops, projects, seminars, training exercises, technical advisory sessions, and symposiums, etc. These projects tend to fall within one of four thematic clusters, each headed by a member city with expertise in that field: the Climate Change cluster headed by Jakarta, Indonesia; the Disaster cluster headed by Yokohama, Japan; the Infrastructure cluster headed by Seoul, South Korea; and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Cluster headed by San Fernando, Philippines. As Yokohama is heading the disaster cluster of the CITYNET network, it has been the main topic of my internship here.

Our Yokohama office is also unique within the CITYNET network as it is the former headquarters of the organization. A few years ago, the Secretariat was moved to Seoul, and the Yokohama office was downsized and repurposed as an independent project initiator. CITYNET was originally created as vehicle for sharing Japanese technology and expertise with “developing” Asian countries, and while some of this mandate has been shifted to Seoul, Yokohama continues to formulate independent projects aimed at sharing that knowledge.

Currently we are engaged in a number of projects, of varying scales, while also developing new ones. Our biggest engagement is a multiyear community-based disaster resilience project in Iloilo, Philippines called CBARAD, which only last week, was renewed for another few years by the project’s funder, the Japan International Cooperation Foundation (JICA). This project has seen us coordinate disaster related training sessions and workshops with respect to: hazard mapping, coordination of person with disabilities (PWDs), public awareness, evacuation procedures, and capacity building. Another project had us develop an online course to introduce examples of Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) practices from Japan to CITYNET members, while a more hands on initiative brought experts from Yokohama to Sri Lanka to run environmental themed field schools for elementary school students, to learn about issues like biodiversity loss and the importance of natural ecosystem processes to disaster mitigation.

While the history of these projects goes back further than my arrival in May, I have contributed to the office in other ways. Fundamentally my job could be split into two main themes: a) research and proposal writing, and b) media relations and graphic design. On the more academic side I’ve been compiling research on disaster related activities in our member countries, in order to identify gaps and needs around which we might design future projects. This web surfing has also included research on projects being conducted by other NGOs and UN initiatives in member cities, as well as compiling information on relevant future international conferences like the upcoming United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction, scheduled to take place in Sendai, Japan (the closest major city to Fukushima) this coming March, 2015. At the same time I’ve recently finished writing a project proposal which will utilize funding from the World Bank to implement unique disaster related initiatives in five cities within the Philippines, Nepal and Thailand. This is my first time writing a project proposal and to be told that our Secretariat is currently in the process of introducing it to World Bank officials in Washington is surreal considering its $1 million budget.

I have also been tasked with updating and creating content for media relations whether that means updating and designing aspects of the website, updating our Facebook page, or designing our bimonthly newsletter. My final task in this regard has been designing individual posters representing those member cities participating in the disaster seminar our office will be hosting at the end of August.  Ultimately, this seminar will represent the finale of my internship, where I will be recording minutes, conducting interviews, participating in site visits and attending Yokohama’s annual earthquake drill.

This placement has offered me a multi-faceted learning experience that could never be replicated in a classroom, and has been especially valuable to me in demonstrating how the various skills I’ve developed through my degree can be applied towards real world initiatives. Why must it end so soon?