Sustainable Buildings Housing CityChanger Orna Rosenfeld: “I Created My Job Because I Believed in Something”

CityChanger Orna Rosenfeld: “I Created My Job Because I Believed in Something”

Iris Fiebiger
Nature provides us with everything we need. Not just in terms of sustainable resources but also on an emotional level. Being outside and connecting with your surroundings brings so much joy. This is what I find worth protecting.

Do you want to drive change in cities but can’t find a role that allows you to do so? Why not be like our CityChanger Dr Orna Rosenfeld and create your own job?

Tackling the housing affordability crisis, advising international banks, and passing on knowledge to students – housing expert Dr Orna Rosenfeld does all these things! A decade ago, Orna identified the problem with housing and, wanting to change the status quo, decided to take a unique approach.

A Helping Hand

The housing newbies amongst you might not have heard of Orna before. Those who have been into housing and housing policies for a while know that she is one of the experts in the field. Orna is an award-winning advisor on housing and works with international organisations in the Global North. Her list of clients is long and features the European Union, the United Nations, and the European Investment Bank. Since Orna always gets excited about new challenges, however, she does not “just” work as a global advisor on housing. Orna also teaches at Sciences Po – Institute for Political Studies in Paris. There she passes on her expert knowledge to younger generations.

Advocating Against All Odds

When asked how she feels about being an advisor, Orna laughs and exclaims: “I love my job! I basically created my job because I believed in something”. What Orna means by that is that she realised the housing sector was in crisis and decided to do something about it.

Back in 2012, the question of housing didn’t receive much political attention in the Global North. But Orna, who at the time worked as an academic in the field of urban regeneration and development, knew that the “question no longer applied only to the assumed low-income countries and their no- to low-income groups, but to all”. And so began several years of extensive research and writing on housing-related issues. Gradually, her work attracted international attention, and – as more states realised how crucial housing was – Orna was (and still is) asked for advice by organisations in the Global North.

The lesson we learn from this: if you believe that an issue is important, don’t wait until others realise it themselves. Actively advocate for it.

Being An Advisor Is Awesome

For Orna, taking this step paid off. She says her work as a global advisor allows her to combine the three things she loves most.

First, Orna enjoys being involved in the built environment. She is an architect by training and therefore passionate about buildings and the layout of cities. “I’m first and foremost an engineer, an architect,” she says enthusiastically.

Secondly, our CityChanger finds joy in science. Orna takes what she sees in the field and researches it. She looks at urban challenges and tries to find their root cause. This requires expertise in many fields: politics, social science, and business, for instance. Once Orna has analysed a challenge thoroughly, it’s time to get cracking.

This is where Orna’s third passion comes in: making an impact. For her, there is no point in researching an issue if the information is not used to develop solutions. That’s why Orna deciphers the output and makes it accessible to those wanting to drive change. She makes the science behind a challenge digestible and shows how an issue can be tackled step by step. Our CityChanger exclaims:

“I want to make people feel that this is nothing to be afraid of, that we can tackle this challenge together!”

And it’s working! By knowing about the built environment and its challenges, dealing with the science behind it, and using that to provide people with concrete solutions, Orna aids change.

To give you a taste of the scale of her work: one of the projects she was involved in is the EU Urban Agenda – Housing Partnership. Its goal was to achieve good and affordable housing in Europe. To reach this goal, Orna and other experts devised a massive action plan. It gives concrete advice on how to tackle the challenge of housing affordability. From finance to regulation and governance – the action plan covers it all.

A Symbiosis

However, Orna underlines that to drive change it takes the right partners. In her case, these are international leaders.

“When you’re an advisor, you’re helping, you’re serving the leader, you’re serving the organisation wanting to go through some sort of innovation and novelty,” Orna stresses, and adds, “I bring everything that I can with me to be able to help them implement change”.

Orna calls this collaboration a ‘symbiosis’. While she provides leaders with the right resources and tips, they have the energy and patience to push through and implement her suggestions. She says dedicating several decades to implementing action plans is not her strength; she enjoys developing them. As Orna puts it:

“So, I give them the ‘ammunition’, and they march on. You know, I give them all the tools that they can use, arguments, evidence, and they march on.”

Values Over Skills

To develop the “ammunition” for driving change, certain skills are needed. Or values rather, as Orna would say. To her, a person’s skills mean nothing if they don’t have certain values. These values are:

  • commitment to providing quality,
  • loyalty to the cause and the leader you are serving,
  • personal rapport and professional trust.

These values, Orna stresses, matter so much because leaders “put a part of their career or part of their mission, part of their job in your hands”. So, as an advisor, you must be committed to providing high-quality and valuable advice that will actually help others change the status quo.

And the Challenges?

When asked which challenges she faces as an advisor, Orna is quick to reply: “I never thought of my work as being challenging!” She rather sees her job as tackling challenges, i.e., highlighting what isn’t working and finding ways to fix it. Orna concludes:

“This commitment to making challenges visible and surmountable and addressing those same challenges is what pulls me forward and inspires me to act and work.”

To get more first-hand advice from Orna, check out this article about housing crisis truths we still don’t seem to discuss.

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