A short course student reflection: Mbali McBrown


Meet Mbali McBrown, one of the fortunate OKP beneficiaries of the Urban Management: Good Governance in Complex Contemporary Cities 3-month short course at IHS. Mbali is from South Africa, born and bred in the beautiful coastal city of Durban. She works as an Investment Urban Planner at the National Treasury, and she is also a qualified Town & Regional Planner. In today's interview, we asked her about her experience at IHS and her reflection on the Urban Management short course.

Why did you decide to do a short course at IHS?

Mbali: The work I do entails eradicating spatial inequality to create livable, sustainable, resilient, efficient and integrated human settlements. Accordingly, I felt that enrolling in the Urban Management postgraduate course would assist me in achieving this, as it is designed for individuals who are contributing or would like to contribute to the holistic and equitable sustainable development of cities.

What new skills did you acquire during the short course? How will these skills help you improve your work/ how do these skills contribute to your further professional development?

Mbali: During the past three months, I have polished up some essential skills. First and foremost group work, that is never an easy one. As every group has its dynamics, I learned to be patient, listen more and not impose and contribute quality inputs. Furthermore, I was able to develop my negotiation skills. Working with classmates from across the globe teaches you to think outside the box and get out of your comfort zone. I also got the chance to improve my time management. With so many deadlines from the course, I have learnt to spread and manage my time better (procrastinating never helped anyone).

How will the knowledge gained during the programme enrich your work experience?

Mbali: Part of my roles and responsibilities at work involves critically assessing and evaluating credible municipal project proposals to ensure that they can become bankable projects in the long term. 

"Having been exposed to some of the courses, I will now have an even greater advantage at looking into city problems with a more holistic view – and find more sustainable solutions."

What are your favourite things about the programme?

Mbali: I cherish that the group was so dynamic, rich in culture and full of interesting characters. IHS did very well with the selection process – we all came from all walks of life that have widened our networks going forward. In addition, I got to learn about the different ways countries operate on a policy level, rules and regulations - this was really eye-opening. 

"Bringing some international experiences home will be very helpful and refreshing in solving some of our own challenges."

What was your favourite group project? 

Mbali: It was definitely the Gentrification workshop. As part of our Urban Management module, we had to do a rapid urban appraisal within a neighbourhood in Rotterdam South called Afrikaanderwijk. This exercise was such an amazing learning experience for me. My group was assigned a theme to cover "Cultural and heritage values: cultural backgrounds of inhabitants, local activities, festivities, listed monuments, historical value, attractiveness". 

What was your favourite course?

Mbali: I would highlight the Urban Governance, Policy, Planning and Public-Private Partnerships and Local Government Finance and Investments courses. UGPPP taught me more about the complexities of using Public-Private Partnerships for projects. The LGFI course made me reflect on our state of borrowing policies in South Africa compared to other African states.

"I thoroughly enjoyed both of these modules thanks to the lecturers who actively engaged us during class."

What are your best memories with your classmates?

Mbali: I appreciated how easily we bonded, considering just how different our backgrounds are – this was truly special. I loved sharing different cuisines, playing our traditional games night on Fridays or Saturdays that we always seal off with the "Jerusalema UM2021 Dance".

Tell us a bit more about the OKP scholarship? What are the benefits of being an OKP student in the IHS classroom?

Mbali: The Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) is a full scholarship opportunity to study at IHS for professionals from 37 specific countries working across many fields. The eligible countries in the programme each focus on their specific local needs according to the agreement reached with the Dutch Embassy. 

"Being a part of this programme gave me the chance to exchange experiences with international students and experts that refined my own knowledge and expertise."

 If you could solve a single urban issue yourself, which one would that be?

Mbali: Urban poverty and exclusion. The central notion of my work aims to create economically viable, institutionally and socially empowered, environmentally safe, people-centred neighbourhoods. So, if a genie could grant me a wish – it would be the abovementioned. I think this change would unlock so much potential in poorer communities.


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