Alumni Spotlight: Maria Isabel da Rocha Lima

Maria Isabel da Rocha Lima

The IHS Alumni network wouldn't be the expansive worldwide community it is today without the dedication and involvement of our alumni. The network is represented by the Alumni Board, a team of passionate alumni volunteers, who enrol in a two-year mandate to help the network grow and respond to the needs of its nearly 10,000 members. As of this year, Maria Isabel da Rocha Lima occupies the role of Global Network Builder on the IHS Alumni Board. Read on to get to know her better!

About Isabel

Isabel comes from Sao Paulo, Brazil and she graduated from IHS with an MSc in Urban Management and Development. She started working during the second year of her bachelor's study in architecture, picking up internships in different areas connected to her study, as a way of discovering what she liked. During one of her internships, she worked on social housing in a favela. There she applied various minor urban interventions – a practice she would later come to know as urban acupuncture. This experience motivated her to write her thesis on the same topic. The positive feedback she received encouraged her to pursue a master's degree at IHS, specialising in Urban Strategies and Planning.

After her master’s, Bel returned to Sao Paulo, where she got involved in several organisations - hosting workshops and conducting research. Her path continued with a move to Portugal, which gave a boost to her career. She became more confident and better at presenting herself and her work, she learned about new tools and programmes, as well as relationship building. In Lisbon, she worked on a government-funded project for vulnerable communities, centred around urban rehabilitation, capacity building and sustainable development. She has recently moved to Barcelona, to work as a programme coordinator – a role that blends research and teaching activities. 

Trying out various roles

Isabel's professional experience and interests are very diverse, which is why she finds it limiting to define herself through one aspect only. In the past month alone, while getting ready to start a new job in a different country, she has worked on a social and community atelier which embeds social aspects with design, as well as on online alumni events and community building - given her role in the IHS Alumni Board.

Having such a multidisciplinary career path can make it challenging to convey it all in a professional context. In the past, it happened that her varied background was mistakenly perceived as a lack of focus, but to Isabel, the connections and network she built over the years are well worth the trouble. Moreover, having so many parallel activities has greatly improved her skills.

“Trying out several areas had a good influence on my career. I was able to make connections and expand my network in several fields and that felt very enriching. I am not just an architect. I graduated as an architect and urbanist, but I am many things.”

Key skills 

An often overlooked aspect in more technical fields, knowing how to interact with others is important to Isabel. Being able to communicate well with people and convey who you are, what you are looking for etc. is a necessary quality. Next to interpersonal skills, Isabel thinks that learning project management early on is very important for smooth work processes in the future. She deals with many urban strategy projects at her work, which start with planning, to ensure that everyone has a common goal and is familiar with the steps. Another thing she finds essential is flexibility around one's skills and roles and the openness to change.

"The secret of being successful in anything and everything you do is to maintain curiosity. Approaching everything with curiosity has the power to keep us aware of our environment and everything happening around the world."

Life in different worlds

So far, Bel lived in Sao Paulo (her hometown), Lisbon and Rotterdam. She has just left Lisbon for a new job in Barcelona. The three cities she has lived in are completely different and Bel expects Barcelona to follow suit as well. All the cities have similarities, but one only truly spots the differences when becoming a local. The unique character of each city she lived in is heavily influenced by its size and population.

What she likes most about sunny Lisbon is the ease of getting around. Life-work balance is good as well. People in Lisbon work hard, they enjoy their life away from their jobs and they cherish their time with their families. This is very different from her hometown Sao Paulo, a metropolis with a population of 12 million. That makes it a lot more chaotic and harder to get around. Being Brazil’s business centre means it is also a work-focused city.

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