June 13, 2016

Staff Spotlight: Naomi Mwaura

3 women biking in GuineaYou hear a lot about the work that we do but not much about the people who make it all possible here at ITDP… until now. This is the inaugural installment of our Staff Spotlight series where we discover more about the passionate people who work to drive forward ITDP’s mission. In light of the #AfricaForAll campaign, our first feature is Naomi Mwaura from the ITDP’s office in Kenya.

Naomi Mwaura started working with ITDP Africa as an intern in April. She has over four years of experience in the public transport industry focusing on the prevention of sexual harassment and violence. She is a Mandela Washington Fellow with the Young African Leaders Initiative, a program launched by President Obama in 2014. At ITDP, Naomi contributes to the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan for Kisumu, Kenya, helping to analyze issues around gender and equity.

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ITDP Africa Team

What brought you to ITDP?
I was intrigued by ITDP’s work and its vision towards sustainable and equitable transport in Africa. My dad and I would have discussions about pan-Africanism but I had never had an opportunity to contribute to this vision. Pan-Africanism is an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide. It is based on the belief that unity is vital to economic, social, and political progress and aims to “unify and uplift” people of African descent. Working at ITDP Africa enables me to ‘talk and walk pan-Africanism’ by being part of an organization working towards helping African cities develop sustainable, safe, and equitable transportation.

What has surprised you the most about ITDP and the work you have done thus far?
How dire the need is to sustainably develop African cities. The current choices we make for cities have far reaching consequences that are hard to undo. It is estimated that more than 50% of the African population is in the midst of moving to cities. According to the U.N World Urbanization prospects, by 2015, 472 million people in Africa lived in urban areas and by 2050, 1.34 billion people will call urban areas in Africa home. Fortunately, most African cities are at an early stage of urbanization so we can still address challenges and ensure that African cities have the opportunity to serve as true drivers of economic growth.

Can you tell us more about your work with the Sustainable Urban Mobility Plan at ITDP?
I have been working to increase the number of key transport stakeholders engaged in developing the Kisumu sustainable mobility plan by holding focus groups and conducting surveys with public transport operators, passengers, and vendors. I am also helping to design a household survey to gather information on how Kisumu residents travel and the issues they encounter during their daily commutes . A key goal of these surveys is to assess gender equality and access in transportation. I am also involved in strengthening ITDP Africa’s engagement with local partners and increasing its brand visibility.

Naomi speaking at a transport forum

What is your hope for sustainable transportation in the future in Africa? In the world?
Transport is a crucial driver of economic growth and poverty reduction. I hope for a transportation future in Africa that is affordable, efficient, safe, and enhances mobility across the continent—all with due attention to climate change.

You’ve done some interesting work on gender violence in public transportation. Can you tell us what sparked your interest in that topic and more about your work on the issue?
In May 2013, there was a video clip circulating on the internet of a lady being stripped of her clothes at a Kenyan bus terminal. I got together with three friends from university and founded Flone Initiative. Flone Initiative mapped out ‘stripping hotspots’ and trained public transport operators in these areas on gender equality and prevention of sexual violence. Over the years, the program has expanded to include trainings in customer service and professional development. Flone Initiative is currently developing a Women in Transportation program whose mission is to cater to the professional women in the transport industry.

What is your favorite public transportation experience?
I have fond memories of the New Orleans streetcars. The streetcars were affordable, convenient, reliable, free of air-conditioning, and have a good feel to them. I find air conditioned areas uncomfortably cold and have never gotten used to the temperature differences between the outside and inside.

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, all expenses paid, where would you go and why?

I would love to go on a tour of Africa by road on Harley Davidson motorbikes with female bikers from different African countries. We would be wearing leather jackets with the map of Africa embedded on the backs and our different national flags proudly mounted on our bikes. We would symbolize regional integration, feminism, pan-Africanism, and our vision of affordable equitable transport for all in Africa. Of course, we would blog about our experiences.”

Naomi and our team are working hard in Africa to make sure it’s rapidly changing cities are developed around people, not cars. You can help us create an #AfricaForAll by making a donation or becoming an ITDP member with a $40 gift. Follow our #AfricaForAll campaign on our website, Facebook, and Twitter to learn more.

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