Since the fall of 2016, Ronald Lenz and Fleur Henderson have been working as directors for the Human Cities Coalition (HCC). Under their leadership, the foundation of the coalition has been laid. Local teams in Manila and Jakarta have been set up, the inception phase is in progress and the strategic positioning of the organisation has been established. Therefore, it is high time to learn more about their background, ambitions and aspirations for HCC.
Fleur and Ronald, could you tell a bit more about your background?
Fleur: I have a background in international development and healthcare. Before I joined HCC, I worked in various functions in health insurance and health systems in combination with operational research and mobile innovations in Sub Saharan Africa and Indonesia. Amongst others, I worked for PharmAccess on making health systems work for the poor through a public private approach with blended finance models. At PharmAccess, I gained a lot of experience in working at the interface of the public and private sector and working with international financing institutions, social impact funds, governments and local private sector players. Together with M-Pesa in Kenya we have developed a mobile health wallet for which I have mobilised investments for the scale up phase. This experience comes in handy in my current position.
Ronald: I have a technology and innovation oriented background. I have always been interested in creating innovations that have a positive impact on society and urban development has been a red thread throughout my career. Amongst others, I managed the research department at Waag Society where we worked on the use of mobile and wireless technology in urban development. Later on, I switched to a more entrepreneurial career. I founded my first tech start-up 9 years ago. This has given me first-hand experience on what it is like to create a solid organisation and all this entails. The combination of entrepreneurial skills and innovations in city planning are useful qualities as a director of HCC.
How did you end up at Human Cities Coalition?
Ronald: Previous to my current role, I was working as the business director for 1%Club. In this job, I was already involved with HCC from a partner point of view. The bottom up approach of HCC appealed to me as well as the strong involvement of the private sector. My job – transitioning 1%Club from an NGO to a social venture – was completed around the same time HCC was looking for a director. A cup of coffee was quickly planned and one thing led to another.
Fleur: After spending 12 years in the international development sector, I explored to switch to the private sector. I was exploring my options when I got in touch with the Public Affairs team of AkzoNobel. They introduced me to the work of the Human Cities Coalition and informed me that the board of HCC was looking for someone who was capable of working on the interface of the public and private sector. They also wanted someone that was experienced with mobilising funds and developing programmes for the poor and some familiarity with conducting research. This matched my experiences and qualities. After a successful application procedure, I joined Ronald as a director.
You both work as directors, how did you divide your tasks?
Ronald: My focus is on the business side of the coalition. I am responsible for all of our partnerships and setting up the organisation. Furthermore, I will use my know-how on innovation and community assessments in the field and am responsible for a solid learning programme.
Fleur: My responsibility lies more on the substantive side of our coalition. I concentrate on the research and assessment plans in our pilot cities and make sure that we involve all the right parties. For the last couple of months, I’ve worked on the strategic design of the inception phase in Manila and Jakarta.
Why did you decide to join the Human Cities Coalition? What appealed to you?
Ronald: I strongly belief in HCC’s approach to engage the private sector and to include civil society in creating strong business propositions. HCC’s ambitions are high and I find that very inspiring and motivating.
Aiming high is the only way we can really make a difference for the urban poor living in the slums of megacities. With a board with people like Ton Büchner, CEO of AkzoNobel and Sheela Patel, Chairwoman of Slum Dwellers International, I feel we are equipped to create something ground-breaking.
Fleur: Like Ronald, the fact that we are a broadly supported coalition that originated from the private sector appeals to me. I’m convinced that a public-private partnership is the best way to deal with complex global issues such as rapid urbanisation. Following this line, I’m a strong supporter of creating long term viable business propositions to deal with complex global issues
The recent launch of the Human Cities Coalition was themed ‘Building liveable cities together’. Why did you choose this theme?
Ronald: HCC invites urban poor communities to participate as equal partners, and builds scalable, commercially viable business propositions together with the private sector. This unique way of working is reflected by ‘ Building liveable cities together’. By adding the word ‘together’ we have explicitly chosen to integrate a call to action in the event. We want to stimulate a movement of private sector companies that are willing to create an impact on sustainable urban development. We envision a model where we combine forces to realise the unthinkable. If we combine the strengths of all private sector companies that are involved in urban development, imagine what we could achieve!
Fleur: When you visit cities like Manila or Jakarta, you can see with your own eyes that these cities are ballooning. To improve the livelihood in these megacities on the long term, public-private cooperation is essential. Innovative solutions are only possible if governments, private sector companies, universities NGO’s and civil society join forces. That is why we believe in building liveable cities together.