Robert Muggah

Co-Founder, Igarapé Institute

Bachelor of Arts (Hons.), Political Science and International Development Studies, 1997

So I have just one question: What are we waiting for?

Robert Muggah moves about the red stage, engaging the audience, left, right and centre. He speaks with passion and determination.  Robert is giving a TED talk in Rio de Janiero on how to protect certain cities from failing.

“We need to start a conversation,” he says. “We can’t only focus on those cities that work…We’ve got to bring those fragile cities into the conversation.”

The cities he worries about are not necessarily the most impoverished, nor the biggest. “No,” he says emphatically, “it's the speed of urbanization that matters. I call this turbo-urbanization, and it's one of the key drivers of fragility.” He points to Karachi, Pakistan that grew from half a million people to more than twenty million in fifty years. It is, he says, one of the most violent cities in South Asia.

Robert’s goal is to find ways to help the world’s fragile cities. He is a globally recognized specialist in security and development. He co-founded the Igarape Institute – a “think and do” tank focusing on security, justice and development challenges in parts of South America and Africa. He is also co-founder and research director at SecDev in Ottawa. Its focus is finding ways to use new technologies to help people out of conflict, insecurity and oppression.

The Igarapé Institute is also expanding its technological portfolio with new projects, including specially designed Android apps for police smartphones that capture audio and video.

“It’s a delicate issue, because we’re talking about balancing the requirements of public safety against individual privacy, but it’s a debate that needs to be had,” Robert says.

After getting his undergrad, which included the Foundation Year Programme (FYP) at King’s, Robert went on to get his MPhil from Sussex University and a PhD from Oxford University. He has found that academia and fieldwork complement each other well.

“Working with warlords, militia and soldiers in Darfur or diplomats and negotiators in New York, you need to weave together the links between theory and practice,” he says.

He credits FYP for building his own intellectual and ethical foundation for debate and critical reflection, which has informed much of his work.

“What I loved most was this idea of spending a year reading, maybe 70 or more books, and you would then go and defend your ideas orally – and also written – on a routine basis. It opened up a whole side of inquiry that we’re often not able to engage with in our North American education system,” he says. “We are in the midst of an extraordinary moment of change, geopolitically, environmentally, technologically. We need to be aware of history to make the wise decisions of the future.”

Back in Rio on the TED talk stage, Robert challenges the audience to make the wise decisions to reduce the violence in fragile cities. He concludes: “If I have one single message for you, it's this: There is nothing inevitable about lethal violence, and we can make our cities safer. Folks, we have the opportunity of a lifetime to drop homicidal violence in half within our lifetime. So I have just one question: What are we waiting for?”

Watch Robert Muggah's TED Talk

Robert Muggah - Fixing Fragile Cities

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