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Recap Human Cities Coalition Launch Event

Last week Human Cities Coalition, along with current and potential partners, held its organisational launch: Building Liveable Cities Together. With work taking off in the two pilot cities Jakarta and Manila, the time was ripe to officially launch and update attendees on the progress of this private-public, sustainable cities initiative. Many have been interested in HCC since its build-up and presence at Quito, and to see how HCC’s mission has translated into action. After what was shared at the launch last Thursday (April 20) at the AkzoNobel auditorium, it seems as though HCC is poised to deliver a recipe for success.

The day’s esteemed guests included His Excellency Gusti Agung Wesaka Puja, Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and speakers such as Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister and current Chair of the Dutch Coalition for Sustainable Growth, Ton Büchner, CEO of AkzoNobel, and Christine Musisi from UN-HABITAT. Both HCC Directors, Fleur Henderson and Ronald Lenz, introduced the pilot cities of Jakarta and Manila.

Participants from further afield included William Cobbett (Director of Cities Alliance) and Britt Gwinner (Head Housing Finance at IFC). Ofelia Bagotlo (Slum Federation Leader Indonesia) and Emily Mohohlo (Management Committee South Africa) both represented Slum Dwellers International (SDI) at the event by describing pressing needs related to land tenure and sanitation in their home contexts. Each of these guests took part in small panel discussions at the launch.


While the speakers traversed much ground in terms of topics, several themes emerged from the day. These themes are important in that they outline the contours of what makes this coalition and their approach unique. One of the important themes was the ‘human’ angle of HCC’s vision for cities and its way of working.

In his opening address, Ton Büchner (CEO, AkzoNobel) noted that the ‘human’ element is too often forgotten when we think about megacities and fixing infrastructure. With HCC, it is the focus because the initiative concerns itself with safety, security, social cohesion, education, and health. These elements are all needed in order to create and sustain liveable cities together. The end goal is to co-create human, humane, and inspiring spaces for the millions of people who live and work in large cities.

As HCC Director Fleur Henderson stressed, HCC really puts people’s needs at the centre. Ultimately, you cannot create human cities without involving the people who live there. That is why close collaboration with the urban poor is fundamental to HCC’s approach. Both women from Slum Dwellers International later stated that locals play a fundamental and critical role in understanding and building-up communities. As Emily Mohohlo stated: ‘We know our own cities. We know our priorities because we live there day and night’.

Ton Büchner: ‘the best way to get traction and results is to do it together in partnership’.

One of the day’s strongest themes was that of partnership. From the outset, it was stated that SDG 11 – or any of the SDGs – cannot be achieved without cooperation. Ton Büchner (CEO, AkzoNobel) pointed out that this is more than just philanthropy or aid. HCC is an extensive cooperation with a long-term vision for improving the lives of millions of people. Building on this sentiment, Reina Buijs of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) expressed that she was glad that this was a coalition – because neither the Dutch government nor AkzoNobel or another partner could undertake these kinds of challenges alone. By acting together, the partners can achieve more and go further.

To drive this point home, the event highlighted the recent MoU signed between HCC and UN-HABITAT in March. Christine Musisi (Director of External Relations, UN-HABITAT) elaborated on the partnership in her presentation ‘Investing in the New Urban Agenda’. Musisi stressed that well-planned and well-managed urbanisation can be an engine for sustainable growth.


Given this commitment to working in partnership and with a human angle, the theme of inclusion and was also very present. Many speakers addressed the issue of what truly inclusive development looks like. Reina Buijs, on behalf of the Dutch MOFA, went on to say that it begins by convening those who have a stake, and that these individuals and institutions needs to be included from the get-go. William Cobbett from Cities Alliance stated: ‘You can’t have trust without first agreeing on who is a citizen – both individual and corporate – and hence who shares a stake in and responsibility for the future’. Here inclusive means benefitting all stakeholders while improving the lives of a city’s urban inhabitants. As such, HCC is neither a business initiative nor a form of aid, but cooperative partnership that benefits all involved.

In this way, HCC seeks to fill a knowledge and financing gap that, together with all stakeholders and partners, will shape the implementation of large urban renewal and improvement schemes for cities’ poorest inhabitants. As the launch emphasised, HCC is a unique urban initiative given the significant role private sector companies play as technical assistance partners and investors in developing solutions to urgent urban issues through blended financing.

Despite this full agenda, the moderator Mark Eddo kept the energy up and the pacing seamless – weaving the audience between the different sets of actors, their interests in, and their contributions to the HCC initiative. The day closed with André Veneman – officially the Director of Sustainability at AkzoNobel, but fondly referred to as the Founding Father of HCC – who proclaimed the entire day a call to action. He stated that all necessary elements were in place: the SDGs and the new willingness they’ve brought about for private and public actors to work together; the collaborative work undertaken by HCC partners had begun; and everyone was listening to and learning about active stakeholders’ and partners’ points of view about strengthening urban communities.

Ronald Lenz: ‘Our launch event proved once more the urgency and willingness of the private sector to invest and work collaboratively in inclusive sustainable urban development’.

Given that all founding and current partners are committed to the drive, vision, and objectives of Human Cities Coalition, Veneman stressed that the time to act is now.Ronald Lenz, HCC’s Director, later reflected that the launch served as an open invitation to speed-up and accelerate HCC’s work.


  • The goal of our event was to bring all our partners and stakeholders together and to highlight the importance of joining forces to build sustainable and inclusive cities.
  • Speakers included Ton Büchner, CEO of AkzoNobel, Jan Peter Balkenende, former Prime Minister and current Chair of the Dutch Coalition for Sustainable Growth and Christine Musisi, director external relations for UN-Habitat
  • The event emphasized HCC’s unique proposition by showcasing its distinguishing features: the human angle, the partnership approach and inclusiveness
  • The event served as an important call to action -the time to act is now- and an open invitation for interested parties to join the coalition.

More information

>> See all photos of the event

>> Learn more about the launch speakers

>> See the launch programme

>> Read the launch press release

>> See our press coverage:

Dagblad Trouw
Duurzaam bedrijfsleven
Duurzaam ondernemen
SDG Nederland
University of Twente

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