September 10, 2021

Cities for sustainable and resilient communities

Transcript: 12 - Cities for sustainable and resilient communities — with Gemma John & Rachael Scicluna

In today's episode we are joined by Gemma John and Rachael Scicluna. As an applied anthropologist, Gemma is passionate about helping businesses find ways to innovate whilst delivering social value. By starting with the question ‘What does it mean to be human?’, she researches how the real estate industry should respond to shifting consumer priorities and create new places and experiences that address urgent social, economic, and environmental challenges. As Founder and Director at Human City, she leads an interdisciplinary team that deploys human insight and business intelligence to help clients craft a sustainable and inclusive value proposition, capture new market opportunities, and deliver social benefits through the design and management of their property assets.

She recently worked with Alterx Asset Management to redesign Vicar Lane shopping centre and improve its positive impact on the people of Chesterfield, UK. She was commissioned by Bell Phillips Architects to provide input into a new form of metropolitan habitat at Meridian Water, and explore how the social benefits of the scheme could be evaluated to inform its viability. Prior to this, she was seconded to Lambeth Borough Council to redraft its inclusive growth strategy, and create a comprehensive and robust framework for monitoring sustainable growth throughout the borough.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, Winston Churchill Fellow, and Honorary Research Fellow at University College London.

Rachael is an applied urban anthropologist and has conducted extensive research on the interrelationship between home, housing, and urban policy in relation to changing family patterns, modern home space, gender, sexuality and economy in England and Malta. She is currently based at the Ministry for Social Accommodation and Housing Authority as a Housing Policy and Strategy Development Consultant.

Rachael is also an active member of the Committee Bureau on Urban Development, Housing and Land Management within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). She is also a Visiting Lecturer in the Faculty for the Built Environment, University of Malta, Malta.

Today's call will be focused on understanding what makes the community happy in the neighbourhood so that interdisciplinary design may aim its efforts towards sustainable and resilient communities.

So welcome, thank you so much for being here.

I would like to kick off this podcast today by discussing the city and what makes a city happy, but what makes people happy to live in a city? How is it related to a state of being? And how can we make a city more accessible to people?

Gemma maybe some initial thoughts on this please.


Absolutely yes. So uh, my answer to your question around how to redesign accessible places and spaces really was about thinking more broadly about who’s voice counts in decision making process. So how do we as decision makers ensure that we're not just thinking and listening to the leading-edge consumer, but actually broadening our understanding through speaking to those who aren't always included in decision making process and hearing voices that often are silent. So, think broadening our awareness of the publics and communities that should be involved in decision making and actually ensuring that there are they are part of the process.


Yes, it's interesting that you say that, because there are these words tossing, being tossed around rather, sustainable and resilient, and they're being applied to communities.
And while maybe these are very familiar terms in anthropology, perhaps Rachael, would you be able to give us a background as to what classifies a community to be sustainable and resilient?


First of all, thank you for having me and inviting me and I would like to go back a little bit to what you started off with Jeanette, which is happiness, right? What makes and contributes to happiness? You know when it comes to any form of community, and I think it's a very politically- and culturally-loaded term which can't quite be explained, you know, in terms of the intangible. However, what I often like to do is to unpack such terms as, which, as you said, they're quite loaded. So, what does it mean to be happy, sustainable, and resilient when it comes to a community? I believe that this requires a clutch of different forces which come together. So, first and foremost, I believe that one way of going about it would be to have, for example, compassionate and proactive leadership when it comes to community and the community building. What are the needs, desires and wants of that community? So, we require that, for example, we have affordable housing policy which is both inclusive and accessible. But how do we get to that? How do we translate those needs and wants? So that to me is detrimental on the quality and type of leadership that is employed.

And another aspect which I am very much for, would be engagement. So, what does it mean? How does engagement look like or how does it feel? We tend to often look at GDP however we tend to side-line all the sentiments that come, you know, with engagement and which truly make a society or a community happy. So, the collaborative aspect needs to be an interdisciplinary and it needs to be also ethical when it comes to research, and we need to put accountability, you know, into the process itself. So, listening and planning and translation then go hand-in-hand with leadership and engagement. On the other hand, you mentioned resilience, so resilience is also dependable on other, you know, sectors, for example health, we have inclusive infrastructural design, good standards, the social value. There's a whole list that we can take, that we can incorporate. However that list needs to be then incorporated into a long-term strategic vision. So that is to me how you reach through a clutch of different forces and approaches towards what we like to refer to in anthropology perhaps as a culturally sensitive approach.


Brilliant and I don't know Gemma would you have anything that you'd like to add to these definitions of sustainable and resilient, when it comes to communities?


I think I would take it further again, which is actually ‘what do we mean by community?’. I'm sorry to be annoying, but I think anthropologists are really good at unpacking the familiar, and I think that's kind of part of this conversation really is, is what do we take as familiar concepts that actually need to be unpacked a little bit in order to ensure that what we're doing is meaningful, you know, for a broader range of broader number of people in a broader audience.

So, community is what makes a community. What holds a community together? There are communities and so how do we understand and appreciate what and how communities come together? What keeps them together? What's the stickiness that that holds them in place? And I think that really needs to be understood in the context of sustainability and resilience actually. So, you know, understanding communities and how they get formed and forged and reformed is part of the ambition to ensure there is sustainability and resilience, and then that can be achieved through understanding the makeup of communities.

And of course, now we have an online presence as well as offline, so it's not just physical communities - we’re thinking about that sleeping how people interact online and public and private dynamics across different spaces to really articulate how there are communities and subcommunities and various layers and kind of strata that exist in the context of any place.


Indeed, and these communities are within their environment. We've talked about the physical as well as the online environment. If I were to just hone in a bit more about the physical environment and how people are, you know, behaving within their homes, within their neighbourhood, within their town, maybe city. There are various stakeholders at play that you know or various people that are involved in making a community and then ensuring that the Community is a healthy one. There are when the people themselves, to start off with, without which we wouldn't have a community. There are the designers that design homes, design places where people can work and enjoy themselves. We have real estate developers who are going to be the people who are going to be investing in these projects. We've got governments. There is a lot of people involved in making a community happy and healthy, so to speak. So, if we were to focus on most of these roles, what do you think would provide better housing, better commercial spaces, better public areas?

Gemma your thoughts.


I think in many respects there has to be a meeting of minds around these issues, and I think at the moment more often than not there are separate conversations taking place around some of these issues. So not to say that very quite simply take the private and public sector right, not to say that the private and public sectors disagree on what needs to happen; it's just there isn't really a common language, and we talked about Jeanette language earlier in one of our conversations, you know, there are multiple experts involved in these debates, and actually each expert has a very different kind of language that they bring to these problems. And so, quite simply across the private and public sector, you know, we could be talking about social infrastructure but mean very different things when we talk about that.

So, there are particular moments when communities and sorry experts have to get come together to explore and explain what local need looks like, but that's in very specific ways, for very specific parts of the decision-making process, so in context of planning, for example and planning decisions. But I think that conversation could be happening earlier on and more regularly so that there's more of a road map, certainly on the part of the public sector to kind of to illuminate what they mean by social infrastructure, what they mean by local need because local government tends to hold huge amounts of data and have very great clarity on what local need is and how to meet it. Uhm, that's quite often that data is not available in a translatable format for the private sector to kind of work with that. So I think there needs to be a way of coming together and much more seamlessly and regularly to explore and expand on what we mean by some of these things we've been exploring, such as sustainable communities and resilient communities, and so forth.


This brought to mind some of our conversations that I had with Rachael that depending on what we mean by interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary design and how we can get different people from different walks of life, different professionals come together at an early stage. Rachael from your experience locally, where are we at with this? Are we still in infancy stage? Are we already understanding the benefits of having such an open conversation right from the beginning of a project?


This is a very very good question, and locally I think we're starting to recognize the beauty that there is in, you know, taking a more of a holistic approach and an interdisciplinary approach. I think what we require locally because we are a young nation, right? We're shifting from a very informal type of society towards a more policy-based, human rights-based, type of society and that requires some training at, you know, the collective level so what does it mean to have you know these rights? And how you implement them. But it's also needs to come from above, so the below and the top you know approaches need to come together and you often require a cultural what I like to call mediator in order to address these similarities and differences between different types of governance because ultimately, we are dealing with an issue of good governance and how does it look like, but how it can be then implemented.

So, in the local context, I believe that it's the implementation phase that we need to really, really push forward and find ways of doing it alongside not only alongside, but hand in hand with our diverse communities. We have always been diverse locally, but nowadays you know the we haven't as yet somehow come to terms with the fact that we have a different kind of ethnic minorities now so how do we deal with that at a governance level in order to keep harmony with you know, between different communities. And that requires an implementation which to me finds - it should find - its roots in for example uhm, a regulated housing system, right? Because if you don't have maybe a light touch, you know, regulated system. If you don't have good standards, if you don't have, you know, and I don't know good amenities and then you're going to have a failure you know when it comes in the housing industry, because it all depends on accessing on accessibility of the rights to housing and how that would look like.

So in my opinion, and this is what Malta right now and requires – it’s this exchange between different disciplines but not to assimilate, you know, so not to collapse and lose sight of where you're coming from as a discipline, but to have that exchange and respect the differences in methodologies as well, because ultimately it is about trying to find a methodology that works for our current situation.


Indeed, and you've touched on well, you both touched on something, which is, I think is very important. This matter of language: language, meaning communication is not just speaking English without speaking within the same frequency, the same thought processes and how these can come together. And I've seen that certain areas of our cities are being transformed in ways that perhaps are not really tailor-made for we are calling sustainable and resilient communities, and one of the buzzwords that is going around as well is another buzzword, gentrification, when the low income households are forced out of their communities and you know we get these boutique places and everything that is quite shiny and new. And I have to say that I was very worried and I'm a bit dismayed at a comment by a local entrepreneur when I mean local - Maltese entrepreneur - talking about a real estate development and he said ‘you can only make money with people that have the money’. And this really worried me from a personal point of view, from a designer point of view that you know, I would like to do something for my community and pushing them out as something that I wouldn't want to do, but from an anthropological point of view, if I may ask this - should cities become boutique and inaccessible for people? Because in my opinion I think we should you know, try and consider everyone and design for everyone and pull these people out of their low-income background perhaps, but what would the result of that be? Are we going to break up communities? What are your thoughts Gemma on this?


Yeah, it's always a catch 22, isn't it? Because it doesn't matter what your starting point is that if there is success, it's bound to attract wealth, right? And so therefore you know, your the consequences of success is that quite often you've got rising prices and you know kind of consequences are that people end up if you started living in place or working in the place can't live there anymore.

So take an example here and where I'm based currently in South Africa and there's an example in Johannesburg of a developer bringing forward a retail development and providing space for local communities, particularly core creatives and entrepreneurs, to really develop their business skills and create new businesses in the context of this retail space that ultimately then would become occupiers. So you know, thinking about your I guess your grass roots businesses that then ultimately then become occupiers in a kind of now a commercial retail outlet. And that's been very successful, because of course it's been a way of, you know, providing opportunity to those who maybe furthest from the job market in a specific local context and also it's been a win-win for both the developer and the community, because the developer still gets longer term, you know good, you gets great tenants who are connected to the community and actually, you know, over the long term, get some you know pretty decent return and predictable return because you know the offering is very much, all the assets very much embedded in local community need.

And so that's kind of success story of how development can be a way of supporting economic growth in a specific local area and the challenges that, of course, is attracted, this specific development has attracted other developers to come forward, and they're being adjacent buildings now attracting, increase footfall and prices start going up of not only of price of rent, but housing prices and so forth end up going up because the area is overall becoming a better place to be, and a better and nicer place to to live in.

And so, what are the consequences of that? Well, the existing tenants potentially have to move on because they can't afford the rent anymore and you know, you can see the scenario kind of spiralling. So, I think it's trying to contain regeneration so that it benefits those that need to be benefitted. It doesn't mean that others are penalized I think it's a really difficult thing to do, but I think it can be done if you ensure that rents are capped and that there is some kind of agreement around what areas and where there is possibility for increase and I guess how to ensure that there's still affordability and these spaces are still affordable for those who most need them to be affordable, whilst where there is growth, that the growth happens and that developers can benefit from that. But I think that has to be very, there has to be clear on the part of the developer what they are prepared to do and might require some kind of public sector intervention to ensure that rents are capped for those that are most needy of affordable opportunities. So, I think it's a really, really difficult one, but I think it has to be a mix of policy and a mix of private sector. I guess impacts and business models.


Rachael, what are your thoughts on that?


Yeah, I mean gentrification often has you know a negative connotation to it. However, I believe I go back to what I said earlier, you know, it's how things are done, how things are implemented.
If gentrification had to take seriously both the social and physical side of infrastructure then I believe it could reach a harmonized, a relationship between the different stakeholders of the public, the private and the non-governmental stakeholders as well, including the government. Because to me ultimately infrastructure… What is infrastructure right? What we're dealing with this aspect, as I mentioned earlier, it's both social and physical, however, we must, and I think this is my call, in general, that we must see infrastructure as part of a complex web of relations, you know of why their society, whether it's you know, coming from different cultural backgrounds, different diverse communities as we mentioned earlier, so it can really be the glue of society. To me infrastructure is the enabler of social cohesion, but it requires a well-regulated system, and it also requires compassionate governance. I move away from the term of participatory governance because like resilience and sustainability, become a buzzword, to me it must be compassionate and meaningful, so it must be true and accountable to the needs of society, because ultimately, we're dealing with issues that are related to the government and of course, the state the government is there to serve the people.

So, in my opinion, and we need to again bring these aspects together where we start it off from the beginning of having this cross-sectoral, and interdisciplinary approach, in order to have more community engagement, which ultimately would lead to human flourishing. So, infrastructure could be a connector, like it could promote this type of community engagement, it would promote human flourishing and it could also connect green infrastructure, our ecosystem, because we tend to side-line the fact that infrastructure needs to be part of the ecology, of the ecosystem.


So, we were talking about the gentrification - how part of the community sections of the community, the low income, the high income, how we can design for both, and as Gemma was saying, it is a very difficult thing to do because you're trying to reconcile almost two different parts of the society together. But if we were to add into the mix cultural diversity, social inclusion, cohesion within the city. It's very difficult to understand how this is going to come about. And I was wondering whether you could perhaps shed some light to as designers as to what we should be taking into consideration when designing spaces to cater for social inclusion and cultural diversity.


Yeah, it's a great question, and we're increasingly necessary to ask ourselves that question as part that you know, aspects of cities are becoming increasingly diverse, but also desperate at the same time.

So, I'm thinking of a project I'm working on in London at the moment and a part of London that is undergoing change because it's attracting a lot of wealth to the area, but of course it's also creating this disconnection between those that are wealthy and those that maybe our existing residents and haven't really benefited from wealth creation. And so, at the same time you've got increased diversity where you've got parts of cities now becoming increasingly mixed not only in terms of age, but also in terms of ethnic background and heritage, and they're not being spaces necessarily for people to spend time together in kind of very much mixed and inclusive ways. And many of the developments being brought forward are quite often more mostly commercially-led, which means there's an emphasis on there being a retail and leisure and recreation opportunities or facility amenities such as cinemas and and you know, so forth.

So, the emphasis being on, you know, acquiring a higher cost of living to use some of these places being brought forward, and that are very much supposed to be about, uh, providing leisure and cultural opportunities and cohesion. So, I think there needs to be a consideration of what really brings people together. How do you ensure that there are places that people can use that are encouraging and supportive with mixed use and inclusive development and diversity?

And some of these don't require much design, you know there are literally about just providing space for people to spend time together. If you look at the data and I think the data here is really useful. If you look at the data and I'm just talking about some of the data routinely collected in the UK and it will be also collected in elsewhere. If you look at the data in terms of how people spend leisure time, actually a lot of most people, certainly under the age of 35 spend their leisure time hanging out with friends, right? You know they don't spend the time going to the cinema or you know, shopping. They actually just hang out with friends and family. So how do we provide what kind of spaces do we need to provide so that people can spend time with family and friends. In the context of cities where there's decreased amount of free public space and homes are getting smaller, right? So what does that kind of communal space look like? That maybe there is an in between space, neither not in your home nor really kind of in the public realm, but it's something in between that enables people to spend time together across age groups and across ethnic backgrounds and to really support that diversity that's emerging in cities.


Speaking about social and sociable spaces, these areas that we're talking about having people from different walks of life, the different backgrounds to be able to use these areas, which are neither in the public realm and neither private. But all of this is complementary to retail and commercial spaces, which are now revitalizing town centres and I wonder Rachael if you can give us some insight on how we can make social spaces more affordable, maybe even looking into affordable and accessible housing? And what does the data say people need? Do they need informal spaces, domestic spaces? How can spaces be equitable? There are many questions that come out of this, but maybe some initial thoughts.


Yeah, sure, it's a very very important question, especially as you know communities or the population demographics of cities is going to increase, so migration is shifting more towards urban zones, so we definitely need to ensure that these spaces are speaking to the people that are dwelling in such spaces in the 21st century. So, one way of going about it, and which is often which has proven to be successful, goes back again to what type of methodology one is using in order to understand these diverse needs. So, for example let's take into consideration teenagers. What do teenagers need in a society, especially one like Malta and many other European cities, is quite car-centric? Or children as well - where do they find space to create their own sense of belonging, identity, and community? And one way is to actually hang out or immerse yourself with these different sub communities and listen carefully to what they require.

For example, a recent study has shown that young teenage girls would love to have swings and playing fields. So, how can you create a space that is accessible and safe so that young teenage girls are feeling, do feel comfortable to hang out in a city which is often quite androcentric, and male dominated. So how can we move away from you know the obvious, or that we take for granted, and this goes back to how we started off to question the familiar. And I think one way is to actually design smaller, small-scale, spaces that are interconnected so they create a sense of inquisitiveness. They create a sense of belonging and safety. Because let’s face it, if you have a football match going on an open space, you're obviously side-lining people who are, for example, visually impaired, older people, perhaps families with children. So how can we ensure that these spaces are supportive and embracing and nurturing of our diverse communities?

And I think the mistake that we have made in the 20th century is that we thought that social mix is the way forward. Indeed, it is, but it should not erase the needs of specific communities and so to me it's about integration and not assimilation. So, having say an open space, which is perhaps too, I don't know, broad and open might not solve the issue, but I believe that we need to have spaces where each group could feel familiar, could recognize a little bit of themselves. And that is where equity comes in, because you're taking into consideration accessibility, needs, so you often put what I like to refer to as the periphery as your yardstick. So, your periphery should be your measuring stick and not for example, the able-bodied or the white privileged person at the centre of your vision or of places. So you know this is one way of, in my opinion, of how we can bring communities together, but at the same time remain true to their desires and aspirations.


Yes, and in fact this ties in with the conversation we had on the intersectional approach. I remember we talked about this space, which is influenced by, you know, different relations of power, so to speak.

Gemma following on what Rachael just says. Do you have any further thoughts?


Yeah, I mean this is some relationship of power is a really, it's a really interesting one and it's being explored increasingly in cities. So, decision making is taken quite seriously and I'm talking about the London mayor because I'm familiar with the UK context. Taking quite seriously what power looks, what power dynamics look like, particularly between decision makers, you know, developers or other decision makers and communities.

And actually who - and get back to what we were saying at the beginning - which is who’s voice counts and who really gets to be part of that decision making process and so, ensuring that power dynamics are understood and transparent. So, where there is power that, that there is that dynamic is made transparent, but also there is some increased autonomy are possible if at all possible. But through increased participation, through increased transparency, through increased accountability that actually come that there are processes and structures in place for development to happen in much more of a public forum, in the much as part of a public discussion. And that in the context of the UK has been taking place through discussions like statement of community participation or community involvement, which are clear statements being proposed that the lobby, that are being lobbied for, that the mayor has and stands by and then is used as a kind of best practice tool of best practice in the context development and there are others beginning to campaign on this basis to certainly get certain kinds of voices into the room. So particularly youth and young people who've been being perceived to be most marginalized by COVID and the impact on the economy will affect them probably the greatest, uhm, arguably, and so actually, how do you ensure that when developments are being brought forward, the voices of young people are very much part of that conversation around, you know what's in their interests and what would be beneficial to them not just now, but moving into the future.

So, I think we were talking about intersectionality I think in an earlier call, so it's not just young people, it's obviously LGBTIQ people, it's about, it's going back to their different diversity and inclusion question of ‘what are the intersections between different groups’ and ‘how do we cater for those people at the intersection’ as well as obviously for very specific categories that in a sense are in many respects, uhm, false categories. They're convenient truths. They're not actually reality, so I think Rachael could probably talk to that intersectionality a little bit more.


Yes, I was reading a case study in Glasgow where they're using the Place Principal – a principal, uhm, in which everybody works with the assets and managers, communities and spaces and they work together rather than in the isolation and the community needed to get used to these certain principles so that they can really benefit from it.

May be Gemma, from a UK point of view, it's something that even the UK will be trying to implement.


I think so yeah, you have to forgive me. I haven't. I would have to look up the Place Principle. I think I've come across it many years ago many months ago, but I think it's a framework, isn't it?
For participation, yeah. So, I've seen that and actually I've used that as a model for advocating how decision making happens in the context of architectural design, so actually, how do you ensure? Or how does one support as practitioners and Rachael and I are practitioners in this space? How do we support others, other experts?

I guess, kind of build in certain considerations into their decision making, so in the context of architecture and planning, it's actually how do you help architects and planners appraise options according to locals and and/or social need. As well as according to other considerations like technical and financial needs. So, I think the Place Principle really helps with that, because it really identifies what human need looks like in a generic sense and then you know provides practices with the tool for consideration or certainly for discussion around how to incorporate or address some of those needs in a very much a practical way as part of design development and options appraisal.

I mean, I work near a social value and it's similar in that respect which is you want creates that social value framework that also helps create enable decision making at an early stages of design development to ensure that social value is considered as part of and during the exploration process and phase and as part of the evaluation of various options as well as financial considerations and other much more technical considerations. So you know these frameworks and policies really help with supporting a discussion that is not a science it's very much an art. Is about balancing of multiple interests, and I think particular when it comes to social value or community need because they are going back to what we're saying about communities there are multiple and sometimes conflicting interests in the context of the same sites, so actually whose interests do you prioritize? You know which group and whose interests hold more value than others? And I think that's a really difficult dynamic. But I think these frameworks that are being brought forward help architects and developers, planners to tread that line more carefully.


Yes, and one of the most important aspects is that I believe is that the society in which we'll be applying this in needs to be open-minded enough to be able to participate.

Rachael, perhaps, could you shed light on this aspect of how willing would the Maltese community be to partake in such an initiative?


Yeah, this is a very valuable and important question and I think we need to again differentiate between the type of societies that we are referring to. For example, we referring to the United Kingdom or other Nordic countries. They are imperial societies, so they have, you know, had a different kind of expertise even of participation-wise. In Malta we're at a very different stage, remember our past history for the past 5000 years has been that we have been colonised. So only now we're finding our feet that were actually leading, so we've become leaders as well of our own nation, and that needs to be taken very much, taken into consideration and appreciated that we are still finding to some extent our feet. So how does participation look like? You know, in a country in a nation state that is, you know, a young nation as opposed to a nation which has been there before. So in in my opinion it's like from whose perspective are we implementing this Place Principle and participation.

So that is why in the beginning I go back to what I said earlier and what we require is how to implement because this is something that as a country, we still need more experience of. We need more training even at, you know at the higher, the state level. So, my call would be to have more social scientists, you know who have the right kind of expertise to implement such methodologies, and again to have this as you said earlier Jeanette, you know to be open to this form of debate instead of, you know, taking it perhaps from a different perspective of negative criticism. So, in my opinion, we need to move towards more of a balanced, harmonious and form of governance but what I think is important across, I think across the globe, and I think this is we're starting to move away from this linear and masculinist form of leadership. And I think we need to shift more towards the politics of nurturance in order to sustain and enhance diverse communities but also ultimately, uh, I believe that it's all about human flourishing, so we must take that into consideration in our framework.


Yes, so I would ask the very difficult question now. I was wondering whether you know of a single great idea, so to speak, a silver bullet, that would make our cities better, and if so, how would we go about implementing it?


Goodness, that's a massive question. Uhm, I think I think, Uhm, I hate this phrase, but I can't think of another one the moment which is ‘joined-up thinking’. We have to think. I think what Rachael and I've been saying all along, is that there's a tendency to simplify, and decompartmentalize in order to resolve problems, and I think actually, you know there is value in the messiness, there's value in and seeing that there are connections where we don't want to see connections, and there's value in seeing issues as being entangled and in a way that can't be separated, and then the question is how do we address that entanglement?

So, I think this goes back to and another phrase I don't like, but it kind of it resonates a lot at the moment with the industry, which is ‘systems thinking’ or ‘systemic approach to problem-solving’ which is seeing not categories of person or even kind of sectors in the context of the built environment not seeing separation but actually connection where we need to see connection to resolve problems. And that goes back to, which also thinking about the experts that need to be in the room and I think there's a real value in having social scientists in the room and seeing that there is expertise attached to the social that requires some scientists in the conversation around change and change making in the built environment.


Rachael, if I may ask you the same question, your silver bullet.


It is not an easy question to answer, so I would take it: First of all that it should be always contextual. This question should actually be asked every so often as we progress in our history, and I think what, how I would go about it is by the phrase of ‘small is beautiful’ and what do I mean by that? I believe that perhaps what we, what the world requires is going to have to move away from grand, you know, shiny projects and instead it should move away, it should move towards smaller projects that are tangible and that they put the person at the centre of its framework. So again, I would say and repeat myself that needs, desires, and wants should be at the core of such projects, but I would go for long-term and cross-sectoral projects that are holistic and that they are achievable and doable and that they could have, you know, a meaning both for this state but also for the people that are involved that they can see themselves in that project. It also becomes their own projects, and instead of, you know, waiting, you know for the state to do it for them. So I think this is how I would go about it. Small is beautiful.


Joining us today was Gemma Jones and Rachael Scicluna, and you were listening to ‘The Human Agenda’. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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September 3, 2021

The Importance of graphic design in today’s society

Transcript: 11 - The Importance of graphic design in today's society — with Joseph Scerri

Our guest today is Joseph Scerri. Joseph Scerri is a Maltese award-winning graphic designer and illustrator. He emigrated to Toronto (Canada) in 1982 where he worked with the design house – Rous Mann & Brigdens. He returned to Malta in 1987 and worked in different design studios until 2011. He established his graphic design atelier in 2014. He describes himself as a resourceful and passionate. The purpose of this call is to bring awareness about the importance of graphic design today and how the industry has changed over the years, so that brands and people have a much greater understanding of the importance of our profession and our role in society.

So, Joseph, thank you for joining us today.


You are welcome.


I would like to start today's conversation with your story. Your first steps in the industry.


Ok, yeah. I left my secondary education in 1971. Before that I already had some knowledge of graphic design. My dad was a graphic designer himself. He's been, I’ve heard this from different people who have been in the same [industry] that my dad was, actually one, if not the first, one of the first graphic designers in Malta, as we know them today. You know using different methods and using different tools, etc. So, I was still in my nappy when I was going around his drawing board and see his Indian ink and his ball pen and his ‘Letraset’.

So, by the time I left school I had this knowledge of graphic design. Besides that, I used to as, you know, Malta is a football-mad country. I used to do all these club badges in gouache and sell them for extra pocket money. So, I already was like honed into design. But when I left school in 1971 immediately, in those days my dad was employed with Malta Crown Corp, which was the only tin printer in Malta. And, because I was still young, you know, and for me not to stay loitering, running after girls, my dad said ‘You have to come and work where I'm working’. He was like the chief designer there, so I went there, and I learned a lot because they had tin printing thing and I was doing design because they had a little shop for screen printing and I was managing this shop going to the designs and learning etcetera, etcetera. After that, immediately I left and I went to a local printer, which was, I think in Dormax. I think he's still around or his children, and after that immediately I went to Giovanni Muscat who was a reknowned printer in Valletta doing design again and some lithography. Things like ‘Rapido’ graphs and film making, things like that, so I learned hands-on these things.

In 1980 there was a major breakthrough for me because I that was the year… It was actually 1979-1980. Yeah, that was the year where I joined ‘Perfecta’. They're still around and that was the first time as I joined the studio as a graphic designer. And actually, in those days what it wasn't even called graphic design, it was called graphic artists. Because the designer had to be an artist, you know. I can come back [to that] later.

In 1982-83 I took a risk and I immigrated to Canada. I still had my daughter was like one year or two-year-old I think, and I said, let's I had all the I papers in place because I had a trade. I had a place that I saw then I had money, so the Canadians said ‘OK, you can come we don't need anything’, but again, this was a lucky break because I believe in these things, and I met a great creative director there. Immediately, it was ‘boom’, that's it. That's the Rous Mann & Brigdens. Today he's near the big designers up there was they popped off, I think 15 years ago, but he loved my work. In, those days, my portfolio was a bit of haphazardly made up, I wasn't like, you know, over there all the designers were running with these big bags, you know.


Hehe, yes!


So, yeah, and he told me ‘Joe one thing I will tell you fix your portfolio because you have great work, but you won't have time to explain to clients if they're not put in proper’ and I said ‘OK, Jim’, but anyway. In Toronto I had four - five years, which were very well. I had my work exhibited at the Toronto Directors Club. I had the awards from the printing industries of America, so it was very good.

In ’87 I decided to come back to Malta and obviously with a portfolio of Canadian work, coming to Malta, I mean, I was in request in those days and immediately I was employed with ‘Promotion Services’.

In those days ‘Promotion Services’ (I'm saying ‘Promotion Services’, then it turned out to be ‘Miranda publications’). They are the guys who do all these beautiful big coffee table books. But I spent there 13 years and obviously in 13 years we did a lot of work, you know, book design, a lot of promotional material, a lot of corporate design. And by the way in Toronto, my main work was in annual report design because basically the job I did at Rous Mann & Brigdens - corporate design was their line.

When I came here, I then continued where I left with ‘Perfecta’ and I was doing advertising too because over here was, you know, as you all know the designer has to be a corporate designer, has to be an illustrator, he has to be a copywriter, you know, an ad-man and he has to write copy. I know I'm seeing you smiling because you know.

I left ‘Promotion Services’ in 2000. And it was a bit of a risky move. Actually, ‘Promotion Services’ were toning down their work. They were like going more into publication. And at that time Marc Spiteri of MAS, I don't know if you know him, he is still a very good friend of mine. He was a young entrepreneur who had established MAS.

MAS was quite a big advertising agency and had some big clients, some big accounts, mainly HSBC which in those days in 2000 was acquired in Malta, they had bought of Mid Med Bank and I went to MAS and this was quite a shock for me because I was already about, I think 45 [years old] and I joined this studio with a lot of young designers, you know, a lot of new coming out of school. So, for me, but Marc wanted, Marc had an idea, he said ’I want your experience to influence these young designers‘ And unfortunately, I'm not a slave driver, I mean my character is quiet and amicable and I told Marc listen…Anyway there were four fruitful years. We did some really good advertising, really good, and I have to say it in this thing, in this podcast, Marc always had respect for the designer in the way that the designer his idea was obsolete. If the idea is good and it works the client should buy it if not, no. You know. And that that was his philosophy, and it was quite rare in those days, and it's very rare today as you well know.

In 2004 I left MAS and I joined BPC, which are now still operating. Again BPC, the HSBC accounts moved onto BPC. BPC knew I was working on that account and a post came up and I applied, and they took me like, yeah. Always I was paid always extremely well in those days. The salaries were fantastic. I mean, I was earning 30+K. Basically I mean. But anyway in 2011 that's seven years after there was a small crisis in Malta where there was that upheaval in Libya, you know and the company wasn't doing that well and I was made redundant, that was because I was, 58 [years old]. I only had three years left to get my pension. So, you can imagine. I tried to fit in. I actually had jobs here and there, but I couldn't fit in in another studio. It was too much for me to take and I had problems even health-wise. It affected me a lot. But anyway, that's life and you have to just take it on the chin.

You know, and in 2014, I said, well, [let me] start doing some stuff on my own, you know, trying to do some illustrations but now I'm more of a painting-illustrator rather than designer. Sometimes I get some old guys, listen Joe, I need a good Iogo I want I know that you're great creating logos but believe you me, I mean, there's so much competition out there and so many cut-throats and everybody cutting prices and I don't want to be a prostitute after all. I mean, you know I just want to do a good job and that's the way I want to leave it.

Well, that is my now I'm just doing painting Chinese painting. Have wanted to as I'm doing sketching everyday so I hone in my skills. You know to keep me aware and to keep me well, so I won't get the dementia in my old age.


What a story! Many times, we have to make decisions that allow us to keep growing in the profession. And this is not easy. It's not just about learning how to use the tool, you also have to observe, listen and learn from other professionals in order to really gain experience. I have often been asked how much time I have to invest to get to a good level, the reality is that it takes a few years. It is not something that will happen overnight and not everything applies in the same way for everyone.

You mentioned the experience you had at MAS and how the voice of the designer was taken into consideration. This is something I've been talking about for a while now. The designer has a lot to contribute, not only the creation, but also ideas and opinions.

You also touched on how important it is for you to keep moving, whether it's learning new techniques or creating illustrations to keep your mind healthy. There is no better therapy than one that not only helps you but also fulfils you and makes you happy.

Also, you mentioned that many of your colleagues while you were in Canada always had a suitcase with all their work in it as a portfolio. Nowadays it's a simple pdf. How have things changed in Malta from the graphic design perspective?


Ok, yes. Definitely, it has changed. The tools have changed since. I am lucky enough that I've started like even the ‘Rapido’ graphs were not invented when I started. Letraset was in it is infancy. You know, so I had to do lettering by hand. I was lucky then that I things started to come in line, and ‘Rapido’ graph and things like that. In the meantime, in 2000 when the Mac came, and it was a revolution, and the revolution was because you were in control of everything. Before that you had to check your copy, make your calculations where the computer “paper computer” it was like, you know, what you have to tell the typographer “I want this 10 on 13 Helvetica light” You know a tight but not touching kerning and you calculate and you actually get the actual copy, the copy then you get the copy you do put cow gum or wax and you build up your layout and prepare it for printing. Today, that is you know. I mean, today is easy. I mean today I mean designers can't grumble at all. But the advent of the computer especially, I mean the Mac, has a revolutionized everything, but it has made designers lazy, and I will tell you why… Besides making designers lazy, it made clients more arrogant. Sorry to all clients.

So, you had to be skilled. You had to be an artist. Besides, when I was in Toronto, I had a good, another good, art director who was an excellent marker render. I've never seen marker renderings like this guy. A friend of mine, Myron Lasko. He was phenomenal. So, I learned to do a rendering like this for clients. Ok. Marker render, hand lettering etc before the computer. So, the change has been phenomenal and for us old designers it was a godsend because you don't, before you had to go to the typographer and see that he does, it doesn't swap your type. Now you come in. Now what's happening, people have all the types, you know there are many, their type menu in Quarks hits the floor probably. You know it's so big. They are stretching, pulling. The atrocities I see in type. Especially over here in this country [Malta] it is abominable. It is immense.

You know, before you knew how to you know you had six seven different fonts and you know how to design with them. You learned how to, if you have a family and you knew that this whole family, you have 10 fonts and you had a beautiful design with them. So anyway, so it's had the advantages, but it has its disadvantages too. As I'm saying I mean, clients now pretend, one client once said “even my kid could do that” not the computer. I said, ’that's it, give it to your kid‘. You know, because clients tend to be patronisers a bit, you know.


So, this is basically the fault of the client or is the fault of the graphic designer per se?


It depends. If you're working in a studio and I worked in a studio where the client has the last say, even if he's throwing it up, excuse my English, and I'm seeing this even today on some ads. I'm seeing ads and I said I say, ‘oh, this is really nice’. I'm seeing ad right now I'm not mentioning any names, OK? of an insurance company going on. It's very very nice. Very nice and very well produced. And the idea, the concept, because advertising is a concept. No matter how many flashes and how many dancers you get at holding… If it doesn't have a concept, it's not good. A concept that you remember. In 30 years’ time I still remember a Budweiser ad. You know? Anyway, I'm seeing ads from local pop, local companies I don’t want to... Their adverts are horrible – horrible – and I'm sure probably the client wants that, and you can't say ‘no’ because you're employed. I can't tell the guy ‘go to hell’. But I'll get fired, obviously. But I mean sometimes then if you have your own atelier, then it's up to you and say, ‘hey stop look, is this worth it?’ You explained to him you give him a rationale why you did this, how did you it. What was the process? How have you come to this? Show me your sketches. I tell them ‘listen, that's how we came up with this’ and your client will say ‘this guy knows his s***’ and I'm saying this through experience.


I agree with what you have just said, however, I believe it is the responsibility of all 3 parties: the agency, the designer, and the client. The agency should have a process that allows the client to be involved from start to finish. The designer should be able to communicate the reasons that led to that solution, or as you put it ‘concept’. As you mentioned a moment ago, "if it doesn't have a concept, a reason for existence, then that solution is not good", no matter how pretty it looks. In the case of the client, they must understand that their role is to provide information, to participate in the entire process, take decisions and to be open to ideas.

It is disappointing to hear from a client "that his son can do the same job". What they are not understanding, let's take the creation of a logo as an example, is that in order to come up with that solution (logo) it takes more than just drawing. It requires research, it requires knowing the industry, your customers, the reason why your company exists.

Much of the responsibility for the profession being in the state it is in at the moment lies with us. We don't value what we do, and we often see the profession as something banal or just something to make money. There is no love, no passion.

On this basis I would like to ask what is the role of a graphic designer in a society? The reason I ask this is because in the end what we create, be it posters, billboards, packaging, has an impact on society.


Ok, yeah today more than any other time the designer is almost an educator. And we're seeing this with the environment today. If the designer doesn't think in that sense for example, my big question to young designers is this: If you have a client that he's selling a soft drink that you know it's harming people, will you design for him? Or that you know that he's hurting the environment big time, will you design for him? I think today more than ever… I have to mention this.


Please do.


Have you seen the Ronaldo ad?


I saw the Ronaldo ad.


I loved it. He's got 80 million subscribers on his channel, ok, on Instagram. I mean and it was so powerful that that company lost 20 or millions or how much on the stock exchange. That's how powerful it is. No, he didn't do anything this guy, he didn't design a poster, but he did what he felt is right for humanity. Now the designer and we've seen posters I mean if you go to the famous Polish posters, their exhibitions are phenomenal, you know. The Latin American posters I always mention. They've made the revolutions with them. So now it's even more. We can't keep on saying, you know, ‘uh, nice, pretty, good’ - it has to have a voice. It has to be an agent of change. If the designer today is not an agent of change, he will be failing his mission.

Personally, I can't start restart my career. You know. If I restart my career, that would be my mission.


Should that be the mission of every graphic designer?




I mean, I understand that we need a salary. But I think that the communities, that people also deserve someone that can help them with their voice. We should do that part. Right, to communicate visually all these issues that are happening in society.


Exactly. We're seeing this taking the knee in football. Come on, these are players getting millions. Why do certain teams do it, and certain teams they don't? Or in teams you have half of them, they do it. And this is things that that have happened, that there's life problems.


I completely agree, but if we change this from the community side and we start looking it from the brand side, are brands nowadays reacting to this sort of social responsibility that we are talking about?


I'm just trying to think ut they've I think they've marred their... Today I'm reading France are taking them to court. It's something I've seen today. I think the profits for the brand is number one obviously that is there main, or they won't exist. But I think some of them are doing everything to compete, especially a brand the same, the same kind of genre of the other brand and they will go that extra mile, and that extra mile sometimes it will put them in a bad position. Like what happened, with Apple. We've seen what how they treated their people in China. But I think as you said, the challenges are more. They are not one fold, they are tenfold today and I can understand their position. But again with the Ronaldo thing, did these people need this? Do you need to do it, like that in your face? I asked them because these people, they've been having this brand since the ‘40s and the ‘50s. I mean it that had damaged their brand. So that was a challenge, and they knocked it off. We see a lot of branding on films. For example, I don't mind that, but again Apple is phenomenal for it.


I think that they forget sometimes that is not only about profit it is also about the people that they are supposed to care about. The conversation goes like this “I love you; I am here with you; I will be with you the entire journey and at the end is just taking money from you. That is where they fail. They are not true. Now going back to the responsibility of the graphic designers, how important is to design for the people and not just for the client?


If you're employed with a company, you can't really, you know you have a certain amount of control because I mean, you're not generally you don't meet the client, it will be the accounts executive, and you know how they work.


Now for all those young graphic designers out there what advice would you give them?


I think the first thing I would say is passion. No matter what you do - if you're doing a two column ad or a business card, or you are you doing annual reports, or you are doing an exhibition and exhibition design or doing a great website for a client - the passion has to be the same. That is the number one.

And perseverance because we get, you get dips here and there. I have them a lot. As I told you in my life, but I've always put passion in it. And I question myself and I'll ask myself is this going to work? This is not going to work, you know. You find designers today they do everything on a tablet. They don't even, you know, they've lost this [pencil], this is lost. When I was in Canada, I had a couple of young designers with me. I used to tell them I want to see your sketches. I want to see where you're coming from with this. I would understand, and even in over in Malta, especially when I was with Marc, with MAS and even with BPC. I encourage them to sketch, even if you don't know because I know that not all the designers are artists and I understand because today the designer is a thinker more than an artist. You know, but even if you're thinking, you can scribble your idea, you can write it down, you know, and you know, listen now, this is where I'm getting this idea from. Or this is where I am getting this thing from.

But I encourage them. Ok, if you don't want to sketch, you know I want to see you reading, listen to music, to good music not rubbish, because there's a lot of rubbish you know. There’s a lot of good music, but there is a lot of rubbish too. If you to Tick Tock, you see the rubbish there. But again, if you don't have a culture behind you, you won't be able to design it properly. It's very important that you read books. Reading is very important. And you start with classics, with the Russian classics - Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Pushkin, you know these are the basics of culture. You know. Look at Italian art. Look at South American art. Look, you know, at European art. Inform yourself. You just got sticking to into Instagram. To show yourself with selfies. People are lost then and then, you know. Where is the Eiffel Tower? Yeah, I don't know. That means you design from what you have, from your baggage. If you don't have that baggage, what are you going to put then? What are you going feed your crowd, your followers? If you have garbage, you are going to feed them garbage? But if you have culture, you're going to come up with a great ad with a lot of thinking in it. You know there's a lot of psychology in it. That you make them think. This is what this guy wants to say. Listen, this is there, you know. But as I'm saying, you know it's even today, even if you if you have 20 and 30 [years old] there are so many things and things that we didn't have [in my day]. And this is I really cry when I see these things, we didn't have these things and we had to dig deep to get these things and then today there's there for you on the web, use them. If you go and see a magazine which is one of the best magazines in the world for design, you'd want all these papers that you can read from California, from Los Angeles, and you see how these designers think you know, and you see that's what I'm saying it's there. But you don't have to, you know, read a book. I mean, OK, it's it is not happy. But you can search and find.


I totally agree. It is important for the designer not only to know about the tool he uses, but also to know about the history of art, the culture of different countries, about great designers whether they are architects, engineers, painters, sculptors, and their contributions. I always try to advise new colleagues to read, to learn new things and not only about design there are many other subjects like theatre, poetry, psychology, science fiction, our planet. All this enriches us as people, but also as designers.

So, Joseph, as a graphic designer what do you want to leave as a legacy?


I think. First of all you want to leave, your work. The work that you did that you think “this work came out of my soul” I did everything to do a good job with it. And hopefully you leave a bit of this world a better place with maybe a good poster you did. That you steered a bit of controversy, that people stopped and thought about it and said yes, I mean no, I never thought about that thing. I mean again, coming into the question before this, because this you pull a punch below the belt with this Luis. You're a naughty man. But before this for young designers, one other thing I would suggest ‘be humble’. Be humble. It's very important. Humbleness in design and you know when you're humble you will be elevated, without even knowing. But again, if you do crap, you leave crap. If you do good things, you leave good things, you know. As I told you last time, he told me what are your best things? I told you that local within DC and a book I designed I can show it to you. This was a landmark and landmark thing. It was a, it should have been a brochure, yes, but it ended up as a book.

So, I it this was for Fort Chambray, now they're building this high-class project. They wanted something up-market so they go to banks and get people to invest. So, I said this needs to be, this was my last job I did with ‘Promotion Services’ and I said this “I want to give my best about this” so I put in some of my modelling there of the Fort and the cover and everything is designed as it should be on the inside, with the illustrations and everything. And the photography is great too. But this is what you leave after all, and after I die, which is going to happen for sure and that's one thing that is, it is a fact of life. But at least you'll be remembered for some good pieces you've done, you know, and of not being arrogant. That means that you've been humble all your life. That is very important.


Ego will not take you far.


It won't. I've seen people going down very, very easily. Very easily.


So just finishing this podcast and can you please give us some takeaways for the general public and your last words for designers.


My father had this thing. The three P’s he used to call them: Perseverance, patience, and passion. If you if you have those three, those three you will do it. And for the public. The public has to understand designers. And have to help designers, in what way? In many ways. First of all, by getting what brands [are]. Because obviously the public and the and branding is synonymous with their buying this product, not this product. But for the public to be aware of what they buy. Of their products, of what they get, of what is right for them. You know, sometimes as you said, brands try to put you in a position to buy this not that, but you know. You have to be very careful. And be choosy. And discerning. I find that sometimes have people just go for the for all that glitters. But as we say all that glitters is not gold. And as I said that again before, I've followed some brands and some brands that I really believed in, today I think the public, the brands you believe in, be careful. Make your own decisions.


Yes, I will close with that. Thank you very much.


I hope I was of help, and I'll wish you every success with this podcast because I think it's a great thing.


This was Joseph Scerri, and you are listening to the Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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August 27, 2021

How are risk and sustainability linked?

Transcript: 10 - How are risk and sustainability linked? — with Dominic Cortis

Our guest today is Dominic Cortis. Dominic is an actuary by training and an economist by trade. He deals mostly with probabilities and insurance; both are intertwined, as insurance is intended to cover unlikely events. Recent technology is changing the way risk is measured and mitigated, so his interest has turned into Insurtech as of late as well. He describes himself as a probability and risk taker. The purpose of this call today is to inform how risk fits into the sustainability framework, so that it may be taken into account both from the beginning and throughout a project. So, Dominic, thank you for joining us today.

I would like to kick off today's conversation by understanding what risk is. Maybe you can tell us, you know, how would you define risk?


So, the risk is, I would say the definition is unexpected, unexpected results or deviation from results. So, let's start by using a simple example of purchasing a car. If you know that you can get a car, and if you pay one hundred euros per month for servicing, you will never have any trouble. There's no risk. If, on the other hand, there is a second option and the second option is, ‘Ah! you might need to pay you two hundred per year, or you might need to pay five thousand euros per year in damages’. Then there's a risk over there. Now, if you notice in this case the risk can be both sides, could be better off or worse off, so risk is deviation from the average from what is expected.


Very good. So, how can we therefore take into consideration risk within a project. I am calling project, anything which could be either an actual project or a business or an entrepreneurship. How can we best consider it within this framework?


Ideally when you look at risk is you know, whenever there is a project, you have some estimates of what you should expect: revenue wise, cost wise, whatever. Now you look at those particular numbers, or you look at the outcome, and you start saying ‘What scenarios, or how could these change? How could these numbers? How could these estimates change overall?’ And the best way to deal with it is to think about likelihood and effect.

So, you can either look at it from each item's perspective. How can it change? How can it fluctuate? Because some items can fluctuate naturally, some items can fluctuate due to extreme events. And then you can look at it from the other side? What scenarios could occur? So, for example, if you are, let's say you want to create a new company that leases only electric cars. For example, what scenarios would increase your profitability or sustainability, or lower your costs? And how likely are they, and what's the probability of them occurring? if we take another project for example that we are selling at a takeaway shop, in this case what could happen that affects our business? I mean, for example, one thing is that we have wrong orders. Now, the likelihood is possibly high. The effect is probably low. Another effect could be someone at the car crashes into our building. The likelihood is small, but the effect is big. So, you sort of picture them in this in the sort of two-dimensional space. There is no need to be exact. It's not about probability. So, the like likelihood could be very unlikely and likely, quite likely, daily occurrence, whatever. And the effect could be big, small, massive, it could be in any case.


Going back to what you were talking about if you were to set up an electric car company, for example, and this conversation about likelihood and effect. I believe that the timing at which a risk is going to be taken is also very important. Can you put timing as part of the scenario of the risk parameters?


Yes, timing has a big effect, and one of the major effects that it has is you could be right, but at the wrong time as well. So, for example, and if we take financial sectors anyone who in 2006 was saying, ‘Oh! The property bubble will collapse’, They would have been right, but if they went in the market at that stage or may be 2005, they would have lost their money unless they had enough to withstand two to three years when in 2007 it collapsed. So yes, timing is an issue. Know, it depends on the philosophy you believe in, and some agree that timing is a matter of luck, and I tend to be mostly from that background. But also, there is an element of skill, and that's where someone needs to understand their business.

If you're operating in a new business whatever it is, you need to understand, ‘Is the timing correct?’ And risks change over time, and the same risk could have a small effect now, but a bigger effect later, for example. So yes, timing is a huge effect to include it in a project. It's quite challenging. You need to understand the project per se. Every project is different.


Agreed. I mean, yes, you would never be able to know if you're not really inside the actual [project], you know, [that] you've saturated yourself with information from that field. But I guess there are ways of dealing with risk as well. Mitigating it perhaps is the word that comes to my mind, but how other ways are there to deal with this sort of risk.


So, let's take, we have our ideas of types of risks that can occur, type of, I would say, rather than just type of risks outcomes that have affect our risk. In that case, we have sort of some risks that we are going to ignore or retain in a way; ‘We're okay with this, it doesn't really affect us’.

In some other risks, some other scenarios we might want to diminish that, and, while some other risk we might want to transfer them to someone one else, while some of others say ‘Okay, we really don't want to even touch this’. I mean, let's go back to the takeaways example, a risk is that you have a wrong order, for example, and therefore have to redo the order and the likelihood probably high; the effect is low. But if you have many of these, the effect, the combined effect become large. So, what can we really do about it? Well, maybe can invest in more training, maybe we can see which cases in which there are you know the wrong order, maybe there's a miscommunication between the different staff and we try to simplify the method. In that case we are diminishing the risk. We are diminishing the probability.

But we mention another risk is someone crashing in our front door. Or in that case, can we diminish the risk? Well, maybe we can put fluorescent signs? But most of the case would be ideally to transfer the risk purchase insurance. So, every risk needs to be dealt with in one of these four cases or may even a combination of the four cases.

Now, when we're talking about risks, per se, and events that can affect us, there are different elements that we need to look at. One main element is, some of the risks we just think of, risk of negative things, but you may think of a scenario that might provide positive aspects. So, if we can think of a scenario that provides positive aspects, place yourself in a position which you can only take the upside of the risk rather than the downside. So going back to a rental company of only electric vehicles, what are the potential upsides, which scenario would lead to an upside risk, and how can I then plan myself accordingly.

One particular case would be that no cars with combustion engine can enter a particular touristic area. It’s a possible scenario that might occur. So how I can place myself for upside risk to take advantage of it. Well, I make sure that now, I have at least some locations in that area before any possible regulation comes in. So, you need to think of scenarios that both give you the upside and the downside and when we're thinking of different events, we need to be aware that not everything that we can think of is within that list. There are black swans, events that are impossible to think of. They weren't even fathomed. For example, a pandemic is not a black swan because we know pandemic exists anyway, but and insurers, for example, have been catering for them for years now explicitly. But for example, the attack on 9/11 was clearly a black swan. Except for the people organising it. No one ever thought this was possible, or doable.


Quite right. And another thing that you have mentioned, which is interesting is that you have to understand where the laws and where the policy is going to be leading to, so, for example, in Europe at the moment, and globally there is a huge push towards doing something about climate change, something about sustainability. Whoever is thinking that you know, pre-empting that his company where it needs to be, should I be doing something rather than another. Maybe looking at the way policy is developing could also help show the direction in which one can take or otherwise a risk. But this item that you mentioned, at the end, the events know something may happen may not happen. It is a black swan? Is not a black swan? Maybe could give us some information of you know. Yes, is true, I can't ask for something which I don't know exists. So how would I go about it?


I wish I knew to be fair, and it it's actually thinking almost from a Sci-Fi reality in some cases. I mean any project, especially at a young stage, they tend to evolve and evolve and change, and that's the advantage that they have over you know, traditional industries, tradition companies. But one of the main issues that you need to be aware of, is if you've thought of a similar scenario, how can you take the upside of it? How can you take advantage of it? Limit the downside and take the upside like a free bet, in a way, or free lunch? If you want to create a stable project or a stable company or whatever it is, sustainable, and it's not really about making it more resilient, it's not about adding pro, it's not just about adding process to make it more resilient. The main aim in this another terminology is to make it anti-fragile, to make it flexible enough to be able to take new opportunities that we were not even able to think of. Now, what destroys projects or companies or what have you? Traditionally we've seen many, I know one-off risks, but there's also the strategic risk and when you look at major companies, I mean, the traditional would have been Kodak that they had the technology for digital cameras, I believe, but they said ‘Ah! Who cares?’ Or are the same with Olivetti that used to do the old typewriters and they had the market. When keyboards came along, they said, ‘Ah! We won't care’ and possibly Toyota is doing the same with Tesla. But in those scenarios, it was really a strategic decision rather than you know, an operations point of view, something external that affected. So, as we were saying, you need to look on the long run, and I mean when a black swan occurs it affects everyone.

Now, sometimes (it affects) people on a positive note sometimes on a negative note. Know, but that's why you need to be flexible enough to be able to take out the positive risks.


Interesting. And if we were to distinguish between known events and unknown events, I recall, we had you know some conversations regarding events which are known, the unknown, the known-unknown, the unknown-known. So, there are various combinations of what's known and what's unknown, and I guess this links into what you were talking about the black swan. I don't know whether you'd like to elaborate more on the combination of what's known and what's unknown and how it links to risk.


So, the thing is we're thinking about scenarios or thinking about changes in numbers, in outcomes that we might have. Some of them, as you said, they would be known something that we experienced, and we experience you know daily, monthly, or what have you. Some of them would be the known-unknown. So, we know about them, but not enough or unknown-known.

So, let's say, for example, pandemics. Pandemics are in a way known-unknowns for the uninitiated, so up to four or three years ago company would have had a business contingency plan, you know, if this happens, but you know they don't really know how government will react or the policies will be, so we know about it, but we know we don't know enough. Then there are some cases in which we know we don't know anything about. I'm trying to think of a real case, what if a real meteorite falls. I guess I'm thinking really extreme events here. Then there are things that we really are black swans. We really can't even think about in a way. As you mentioned earlier as well, you need to be aware of how the market is changing. I mean, this talk sounds almost a bit aloof sadly, in a way, because, and the reason is because every industry is different, every market, not just saying catering industry, you need to understand your market per se. I mean, let's say again, I am using the takeaway shop example. If you have a takeaway shop, and one of the risks that you don't have control of it is a road been closed. If road is closed, no one's passing in front of you and no one's going to stop. But that it's in a way you know, it's not known, you don't know it will occur or how it will occur but linking it to the previous example, previous discussion, it could be an upside. It could be that you're on a side street. The main street has been closed. Everyone, one's passing through the side street. Everyone one knows about your shop now, so you never really know how these things change. So, you need to put yourself at different stages, so one of them would be ‘If the road closes, I'm ready to you know, put a few adverts on the other side’, or ‘make my online presence stronger’. The other way round. I mean you, and that way you're taking just the upside risk.


Indeed, there are many things that we need to consider when embarking on a project. If I were now to link what we have said to financial risk. What are the risks from a purely financial perspective? Do you have any examples to share with us?


I come from an insurance background and one of the cases that we are looking from – climate change – there are three forms of effect. One effect is obviously climate change will increase hurricanes and what not, so that’s ok. One of them is that we may be accused in future of not doing enough. And one of them is we might have what is called stranded asset. A stranded asset, for example in this case is, we just heard the news that in 15 years (is it?) you cannot have motor vehicles? If I'm investing in a petrol station, in a way, that's a stranded asset.


‘Assets’ is an interesting topic, and I am understanding correctly is a property, or something that you have invested in, shares perhaps. So, if a company is investing in sustainable packaging, for example, so all of the plastics that he has been using which will no longer be used, does that make them stranded assets?


It would be applied from one perspective, because it’s not an asset that lasts years, is it? I mean you are going to use it. But if they already have a contract with the supplier and now let’s say in five years’ time, the rules change, and now you need to not have plastics, he already has the contract with the supplier. So, in a way, the others are rushing in, and he has the advantage of already having that in place.

So, for example, you work in the construction industry. From the few projects that I’ve seen in construction is, that almost every construction company has a contract with a cement supplier for the next, I don’t know how many decades. And the reason is that if the cement supplier tell him ‘No, I cannot supply you, I’m over booked’, they could be the best builder in the world, and all the projects in the world, how are they going to build?

So with respect to sustainable packaging, I would not call it an asset per se, I would say that you are looking at the risk, may be your timing is a bit too early, but the thing is that if you already have a contract with the supplier for the next ‘x’ years, and once the rule comes in, everyone is rushing in, they might not be able to find but you are.

If you use the same example as to what happened with COVID-19, if you had a small online presence as a supermarket, I am talking about a local supermarket, no PAMA [a large supermarket in Malta] or anything. If you had a very rudimentary website and an email where someone can book you in, and you had deliveries for the elderly, once COVID-19 hit you were ready.

But I would not call an asset per se, I would call it purely strategic.


It’s a strategic risk that you have taken at the time. Pre-empting that a shift could be required. And I guess even seeing what people are doing in other countries, because, for example, when I lived in the UK, mentioning your supermarket example, I almost never went to a big supermarket I got all my shopping delivered to me. When I came to Malta, it is a bit of a shock that I had to go and get my own foodstuffs. So, call me whatever you wish, but you know it was a rather different way of having to deal with it. So yes, having a look at what other countries are doing where they're going to in, terms of business, with would help you maybe look into the future.

I quite enjoyed what you were talking about the three, three points of insurance, just now.


So there's three issues that might affect you. I mean they are classified in three. And this is based on what the Governor of the Bank of England had said in a speech. Insurance has always been on the forefront of climate change because it affects us first. It really does - increased hurricanes, increased droughts – everything, you know, we deal with natural forces.

Lloyds of London has been talking about this for decades - not years, decades - and generally speaking we have classified the risks in three categories. And one of them has actually been the direct risks: if there are more heatwaves you have more costs in air conditioning. I mean, that's obvious costs. If you have more heatwaves there's more possible landslides so insurers can affected; the number of tornadoes has increased and there is a theory that it will increase over the years. So, there's a lot of those kinds of things going on. And that is one area.

The other one is almost legal risk, and it affects even small firms. You might be operating in a way that seems OK but in in 2-3 years’ time it's illegal. And it would have been back-dated as illegal. Or maybe, if you're a public company or shareholders, deem it as illegal and because you didn't take enough decisions, enough correct decisions. So, CSR doesn't just become, you know, we just do it for the nice things, you do it for legal reasons as well.

And finally is you might have stranded assets. I mean if we're talking about the lifetime of a car usually, from an accounting perspective, is 20 years. But let’s say that we are thinking of buying some car, okay okay – a hearse – should probably lost more than 10 years. So let's say the lifetime is 30 years, given the move to electric, is there the potential of this being a stranded asset in 15 years’ time. Not one that you cannot use, but one for which there is no demand for example. And it could be even applied on shares you might own, on investments that you might currently have, including a property investment. And maybe you're building a property which reaches the current standard. In Malta we don't really look at EPC [Environmental Performance Certificate] for example but meanwhile abroad, especially in the UK, it was one of the first things you’d look at because heating costs are quite high. So maybe you should start building projects, as an individual, with a higher EPC if you want to rent them out, because you have a longer tend to look at.


Indeed, yes, the EPCs are an important way to start to classify different kinds of properties according to their energy performance.

So just to wrap up today Dominic, what take-aways can we take from this conversation? What is the essence of risk, and how should we make sure that you appreciate it right from the beginning of a project, but as you have said as well, throughout the project.


So, I would say, whether small projects, long-term projects, or what have you, you have your main estimate. This could be numerical, this could be non-numerical. You have your estimates for what you expect - think of what can deviate from those aspects; there could be natural deviation or deviation due to other outcomes, due to, how can I say, due to different scenarios. So one for each scenario, for each outcome, think whether you want how likely this and what is its effect. Next is, should you ignore it, is meaningless, and should we try to diminish? And to diminish either the effect or the likelihood of it. Should you think about transferring or is it too big that you say ‘I really don’t want to touch this’? So essentially that’s the whole aspect of it and you need to understand your business per se. It's really about understanding the industry you are in and because these could get applied much more differently. And one final thing is the truth is not absolute. So, what you might consider as low likelihood someone else could consider it as high likelihood. So, it's very important to see what others are doing as well, not to follow their mentality but to learn and to adapt


And I guess there's always the possibility, as well, to see the upside of risk, as you have mentioned before right to see how we can harness the capacity or the possibility; the potential of this risk for an advantage.

Thank you so much Dominic for this conversation. It was enlightening and I hope our listeners have also taken some notes of how to strategically pace their risk aspects. Thank you so much for joining us today.


Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.


This was Dominic Cortis, and you are listening to ‘The Human Agenda’. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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August 13, 2021

Sustainable solutions in waste and water management

Transcript: 09 - Sustainable solutions in waste and water management — with Kevin Gatt

With us today is Kevin Gatt. Kevin heads the Department of Spatial Planning and Infrastructure at the University of Malta. He specializes in resource governance, in particular water and waste management.

He has extensive experience in water, waste, environment, and sustainable development policy having worked for many years in the public administration, he describes himself as unassuming yet dependable.

In today's podcast, we aim at bringing awareness about water and waste management, both public and private, so that we may be more conscious of our impact and ensure proper use of our resources.

So Kevin, it is lovely to have you here with us today. Thank you so much.


My pleasure.


The first thing that comes to mind really is the importance of water, the resource and its management. In all countries of the world really, but especially in a country which is so dry, so arid, such as Malta. How important is water to a country like ours which is classified as being so arid?


I think if we had to start with the cliche that water is life, I think it sets a suitable backdrop to understand the importance of water to each and every one of us to our communities to different countries. In Malta, as you rightly say, we are in arid country with an annual rainfall of around about 550 ml. Throughout the years we have seen an increased dependency on desalinization technology in order to provide our freshwater resources to meet the ever-increasing demands that have arisen due to quality of life, our economic progress, our increasing population and the like.

But this also shows us that had technology not been available, Malta as a country would not have had sufficient water resources in order to satisfy its demands, and therefore this would have a curtailing effect on economic growth, on the population we can support, and therefore this signifies the importance of water to each and every person. I think if we had to look at the different economic sectors, I can safely say that there is probably not one economic sector which does not have some form of nexus on water, whether it is dependent on that water for its production, or whether it uses water in order to support its employees. So I doubt whether any person in any country can dismiss the importance of water or as a matter of speaking to say that he does not need water.


Wow, and this really brings to heart the issue of how sustainable we are with this resource. In some countries a little bit more lacking than in others and possibly even beyond sustainability, because we need to have a vision for resilience of how a society, how a country is resilient and how dependent, or they are on this on this resource. So, in this aspect, how can we start rethinking water and wastewater systems so that we can keep this sort of resilience in mind?


Ok, let me as a preamble say that what Malta and its engineers, particularly the engineers of the Water Services Corporation, has achieved with the salination is not just best in class, but I think they are European, Mediterranean and international experts in desalinization. They have truly saved Malta from problems related to water scarcity and have ensured that Malta can meet its demand. We've done it so well that to a certain extent we have been led into a false sense of security, because European directives place upon us the obligation not to look at freshwater in terms of the water we produce through desalination - which I like to call manufactured water - but freshwater resources. In particularly groundwater resources.

It is important to say that the mix of potable water today is in the region of, and I'm rounding numbers for the benefit of our audience, 60% is desalinated water and 40% is groundwater. That is sort of the makeup of the water which we receive through our mains from the water services corporation, but there is a lot of use of direct groundwater, whether it is for agricultural purposes, whether it is for secondary, or what I like to call non-potable use which has over the years created a significant drawdown in the volumes of groundwater to the extent that at this rate we are in particularly our mean sea level aquifers, that means our largest two aquifers in Malta and in Gozo which float on seawater, have been depleted to compromise to a certain extent, their quality and quantity.

We are abstracting far more water than we are putting back in, and as a consequence of that, we are introducing seawater into this aquifer and increasing its salinity, and therefore we are compromising its quality.

Now where should we be going from here? The model of perfection is in nature itself. Anthropogenic effects, that means that effects which are attributed to human beings, are the cause of this disturbance in the balance that exists in these freshwater bodies which we call aquifers. The fact that I develop a piece of land means that I am converting that land from a permeable surface into an impermeable surface. This means that rainfall falling onto that parcel of land rather than soaking into the ground and eventually beginning a very long journey, 15 to 40 years, to go back to the aquifer is being discharged as stormwater and often lost.

So far, we have exploited conventional sources of water. By conventional sources of water, I mean desalination and groundwater. We now need to move towards exploiting more non-conventional sources of water. That means that we have to make better use of stormwater, we have to mimic nature when we develop portions of land so that we can re-engineer the balance that occurs in nature and we also need to exploit the non-conventional resource of sewage, which once again the Water Services Corporation has shown us, that it can treat to potable water quality albeit that today it’s still not used because there is an adjustment period for potable supplies. And therefore my message is that in the design of any form of physical development, we have to mimic nature. We have to learn how nature behaves and replicate those principles in our design. This is why from the time of the Knights, there was a legal obligation to have a cistern, a well which collected an annual volume of the rain discharged from roofs. Of course, at the time we used to draw or they used to draw a water from the well by hand. Today we have technology like pumps and therefore we can optimize the size of wells in order to enable us to save on the construction cost in the first place of work, because we don't need a well which is 0.6 times the impermeable area of a development and at the same time connect that to sources which depend on second class water supplies: toilet flushing, like draw off taps which are used for cleaning purposes, be it floors, be it the car or whatever and to satisfy any irrigation demand.


That is inspiring. I hope more people start looking at water not as just something, you know, like a commodity, that is there: We just open the tap and basically forget the tap open sometimes, while you're doing other stuff. So we really need to start looking at really, using this resource much more efficiently, both on a private and on a society level.

But I appreciate that water is not only the issue here, the management systems that we need to bring about on a public and private scale are both water and waste. And if I were to shift the conversation to waste, nowm most people just treat waste as waste. We throw it away. And in a society and in a world where you know resources are being more scarce, how can we? When I mean we, as in society, governments, whomever, treat waste differently, it can be treated as a resource rather than a just pure waste.


When President Gorbachev took over the former USSR, the Oxford Dictionary updated its compendium to include two critical words, ‘Perestroika’ and ‘Glasnost’. I wish that society today could influence the Oxford Dictionary to strike away the word waste from the dictionary. Precisely because it is a resource, and therefore whether it is the organic fraction, that means what is leftover as food remains, what we don't eat, what we, which food we discard in the preparation of our meals, whether it is the cuttings from the pruning of any plants we have all that is organic waste. And that organic waste, believe it or not, can be converted into both energy as well as a compost which can be used in agriculture and the new waste management plan foresees the construction of an organic processing plant which will pasteurise the ensuing digestate in order to produce the safe compost which can be used to improve the condition of our soils.

Sometimes if you look particularly towards northwest of our island, you see a sort of grey clumpy soil and that shows you that there is the presence of clay. This has problems in retaining water and therefore crops could suffer. By adding compost, we are adding an organic material, we are improving the condition of the soil, and we are at the same time improving the cultivation practice and the yields on our crops. The energy it produces is green energy, which contributes to our renewable energy targets. So the minute we shift from not disposing of our waste in the white bag which we have, and which is collected three times a week, and which is small because three times a week you don't really fill up a big black bag as we used to do.

When we fail to do our bit and to put the organic waste in the right bag, we are depriving ourselves, we are depriving future generations from the embedded energy from the potential of having this compost, as well, not only that, but we are taking away land which needs to be dedicated for land filling. And so, as you say, out of sight out of mind for waste should be something that we do not consider any longer. Because we have a role to play; it is our responsibility. After all, it is we who purchase the goods. It is we who consume the goods and therefore we are responsible for that waste. But it's not a question of just responsibility, it's a question of public good. If we truly believe we want a better society, a better country, a better land, whatever. The only thing we have to do is be responsible for how we manage our waste.

The same is with recyclables. We have a grey bag where we can put in metal, we can put in plastic, we can put in paper, we hope to be separating paper from the metal and under plastic so that the quality will improve and therefore it's right recyclability will be enhanced and all these materials are regenerated into new products rather than having to mine all the time natural resources causing depletion.

And for anyone who is familiar with, for example, the financial markets, the prices of commodities can fluctuate a lot. If there is a fear that they have become diminished in their supply. This is the law of supply and demand, so we can keep plundering nature. These are non-renewable resources unlike for example the sun and the rain which come every year. And therefore we need to manage our non-renewable resources by minimizing first and foremost the amount of waste we generate and that waste which generate we need to manage at source into their proper fractions so that we can enhance our recycling rate and convert them into new products and therefore transform waste into resource.


Yes, and in actual fact as you have just mentioned, this resource then becomes a product in itself, becomes something that we can use and therefore has a value. In terms of the valorisation of waste, are we looking at simply the entrepreneurs who will benefit from this? Or will also the individual? Can we give the individual some of this, so to say profit out of the value of this resource, of this waste resource?


I believe it is a win-win situation. I mean, if you look into the amount of land that was taken up to accommodate dump and landfill sites, you will see that, particularly in a country of 316 square kilometres, we have sacrificed a lot of this area - considerable amount of this area - simply to dispose of waste. So, we have taken away. There is an opportunity cost in that land which could have been put, perhaps to better use for society. It could have been a park. It could have been a leisure facility could have been nature itself, embellished and enhanced. So, the fact that we are consuming land means we are depriving ourselves from land as a resource.

There is also the issue of emissions which results from waste. I'm not saying that we can go to a situation where we do not generate any waste, but yes we can go to a situation where we can enhance and boost our recycling rates so that the waste which is generated we fully absorb its resource value and transform it into a product which has commercial value and therefore we see that entrepreneurs militating in the waste management sector have plenty of opportunities to manage facilities related to waste management.

Let us also not forget and it is important to mention that our largest waste stream is that from the construction sector. And I'm referring to construction and demolition waste. And the University of Malta has been a leader in demonstrating how certain fractions of construction demolition waste can be transformed into reconstituted stone elements. I mean, this is a business opportunity. This is what the circular economy is all about, in that we achieve industrial symbiosis whereby the waste of a particular sector becomes the resource of that same sector or a different sector.

We have exploited most of the commercial and traditional opportunities that we have available. It is now time to enhance our competitiveness by exploiting the potential which environmental design gives us -which eco design gives us - and transforming construction and demolition waste into the constituted stone elements has a lot of potential for us to reduce our extraction of limestone, safeguarding future generations to have access to that resource. But at the same time safeguarding the needs of the construction industry's demand for stone in a very circular manner. Of course, we also have to level the playing field and I refer to the economic playing field here, because unfortunately many a time we have still not had a perfect mechanism whereby we reflect the two cost of pollution in the various products and services so that recycled green circular products can compete on the same level as perhaps virgin products, but which virgin products need also to be factored in terms of the value of that virgin material as well as the cost of pollution that they create in transforming them from their raw stage into their products stage.


That is so interesting and if I may extend this argument in terms of the economy and looking at the various parts of the economy, such as tourism, hospitality, maybe I don't know other industries or the fashion industry. The electronic industry.

They too have a large impact on the quantity of waste and the type of waste that they produce. How can these companies, these brands, change the way of dealing with sustainability, from a brand perspective? How can they understand that or not or just understand, but how can they treat their resources in a different way? They waste resources in a different way. Such that they can actually benefit through that, so not just the construction industry, but the other areas of the economy.


Absolutely, and I've seen already some of the main and the leading designers already having some of their lines which they term as organic or sustainable and which contain a certain amount of recycled material. Be it fibre, be it rubber, it all depends on the product, so I think they are already being trendsetters by labelling a certain component of their range as sustainable, as recyclable. Different designers are giving different names.

Again, we need a regulatory framework that widens what today we call the producer responsibility principle, where a producer is responsible for recycling the products or a percentage of the amount of material in products that they place on the market. So far, we have producer responsibility in Malta on packaging waste, on electronic and electrical equipment, and we also have it on batteries. We need to understand and promote feasible producer responsibilities for example tyres, for textiles, for oil, whereby by imposing this producer responsibility regulatory framework, we drive those who place these products on the market to have to collect them and transform them into something a recycled version.

That means to deviate them from becoming waste, and although you might say, but that's going to cost money. Yes, it will cost money, but it will also make our choices more responsible. If I go to a restaurant and everything on the menu is free, I'm sure that most of us will pile up their plates beyond what they can eat. The same can apply for waste if there is no mechanism which forces you to, for example, recycle waste, then it is waste. It is not a resource. And therefore, throwing it away is the natural logic. But when you impose and I use a very, very strong word ‘impose’ a regulatory framework for producer responsibility, you create a business opportunity because there is a business opportunity in transforming that product with that it is retiring to playing material or into oil. Whether it is oil into new forms of oil, whether it is textiles into new forms of threads which can be re-woven into new products. This is a business opportunity, and that business opportunity will create employment.

And therefore this is where the beauty of sustainability is. We are maximizing economic, social, and environmental objectives. Sustainability is about promoting the economy of the world, growing the economy, but taking into account, the socio- ecological dimension, providing employment, providing well-being, providing a better quality of life whilst at the same time not impinging on the environment. So yes indeed. Indeed, there could be a cost, initially, but it is a one-time cost and it responsibilises everyone across the value chain. To make conscious choices to make green choices and eventually to make the right choices for society and for future generations.


Indeed, what you've just mentioned really hits on the majority of the sustainable goals, even the ones that the UN have, put forward for our attention because doing one little thing in one area of the society will have a repercussive effect on the various other parts of how society works.

And in this sense, I think we need to understand the importance of all of this, the sustainable, the nature based, the decarbonized solution and how these are important on our environment, right?


That's correct. I'm extremely pleased that you've touched upon the Sustainable Development Goals because unfortunately till this very day, there are many who think that sustainable development is some form of green movement. Sustainable development is not an environmental issue. Sustainable development should be a forma mentis, a mentality which we subscribe to. And although there is the classic Brundtland definition, it relates to how we can ‘satisfy our needs without compromising that of future generations’, the one catch phrase I like to use is this: that sustainable development, in any decision whatsoever, it is not a development issue. It's not a physical development issue. It is a developmental: the economy is a development, social well-being is a development, OK? We try to maximize economic, social, and environmental goals and if we look at the 17 SDG's, it is clear but some of them are of an economic nature, some of them are of a social nature and some of them are of an environmental nature.

The message here is sustainable development is a way of life. It is not something which is environmental. It is not a drag on the economy. On the contrary, sustainable development is about optimizing our decisions, so that the decisions we take can flourish. As opposed to having some form of boom-and-bust cycles of the economy.


Yes, definitely, food for thought. From today, I guess there are some very important takeaways that we need to highlight not only for the general public, but also for people in the design world and people in authority. If you were to highlight some of these main takeaways, some of these main points. What would they be? What would be these words of wisdom?


Individual effort can never be underestimated. It is through the summation of individual behaviours that we achieve a collective success. If everyone of us had to separate waste, we will achieve higher recycling targets. If every development had to have a second-class water supply system which draws on the stormwater which is collected from that same building, our draw down on groundwater and our dependency on desalinated water would improve. It would be less critical. And sustainability: sustainable development is not about physical development. It is about our way of life.

And that in any decision we take, whether it is primarily economically focused, socially focused, or environmental focused, we cannot ignore the optimization of the other two pillars. So, whether I am trying to promote Malta’s competitiveness abroad, OK, then I have to look at the socio ecological. If I'm trying to improve the wellbeing, I have to look at the economic and ecological impacts. And if I'm looking at the environmental, I cannot forget the social economic dimension. I mean it takes 2 to tango, but it takes 3 to sustainability.


That is a catch phrase that I hope will catch on. Thank you so much Kevin for this intervention. It was - yes, truly inspiring and I hope that people will be able to come understand that a little goes a long way. And if one person decides to recycle their resources, let us say – now we don't want to call them waste anymore - but if people start recycling their own resources and they start inspiring other people to do the same thing, then together we might be able to create a wave that will, eventually turn into the into the tsunami of sustainability and resilience that we are aiming for. Thank you so much for your input.


And if I may add as a concluding note, if we inspire ourselves by nature, if we imitate nature, we are on the road to the correct design of our principles. Whatever they are, nature in its perfection should inspire us to do the same thing, time and time again.


Thank you, Kevin.


My pleasure.

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August 6, 2021

La importancia de un análisis previo antes de cualquier inversión

Transcript: 08 - La importancia de un análisis previo antes de cualquier inversión — con Tatiana Muñoz Jean Baptiste

Hoy, nos acompaña Tatiana Muñoz Jean Baptiste. Tatiana es una Ingeniera Comercial y tiene una maestría en Gestión de Proyectos con especialización en Administración. Hoy día es una feliz emprendedora que busca impulsar a otros. Ella se describe como una mujer aguerrida y soñadora.

El propósito de este episodio es la de informar a nuevos emprendedores y dueños de negocio sobre la importancia de un análisis previo antes de cualquier inversión. Como primer punto, estaremos hablando sobre las decisiones y el riesgo que estas traerían por haberlas tomado incorrectamente. A ver Tatiana que nos podrías ampliar sobre este tema.


Cuando tomamos decisiones en nuestras vidas, siempre vamos a tener consecuencias. Hay consecuencias positivas y consecuencias negativas y sobre todo cuando tomamos la decisión de invertir caemos en el tema de que tenemos que evaluar que esa decisión que hemos tomado de invertir no se vea en riesgo.

Es decir, que no se pierdan los esfuerzos que hemos hecho en el proceso de lograr los objetivos que deseamos. Es por eso que es tan importante al momento de emprender o invertir que tenemos que saber evaluar todo a nuestro alrededor de la idea de negocio que tenemos.

Por muy pequeña o grande que sea, siempre debemos saber que nuestras decisiones van a impactar positiva o negativamente en lo que estamos haciendo y sobre todo en las finanzas, porque al final, cuando tomamos la decisión de emprender o invertir lo que buscamos es un beneficio económico. Entonces este beneficio económico se puede ver en riesgo si no tomamos buenas decisiones.

Siempre que vamos a emprender o invertir, tenemos que empezar por hacer un análisis que se le conoce normalmente como análisis de mercado. Esto nos permite identificar que hay una necesidad en el mercado, la cual nosotros queremos cubrir.

Allí es donde vamos a hacernos cuatro preguntas básicas. Estas preguntas son: la primera ¿qué? y es que quiero ofrecer un o un servicio y siempre que nos preguntemos el ¿qué? tiene que ser algo con lo cual nosotros estemos relacionados. Segundo, tenemos que preguntarnos ¿a quién se lo voy a ofrecer? es ahí donde evaluamos quién va a ser nuestro cliente, ¿cuál va a ser nuestro mercado objetivo? o nuestro nicho como se le conoce realmente. Tercero, tenemos que preguntarnos ¿cómo lo vamos a hacer? ¿cómo vamos a ofrecer ese producto? ¿cómo vamos a ofrecer este servicio? ¿qué implica? Y es más que todo cuando evaluamos una relación calidad precio.

Y, por último tenemos que evaluar ¿dónde? El dónde es cuando analizamos en qué espacio lo voy a ofrecer, ¿en qué lugar?, en qué punto de la geografía de mi país o de una región yo lo voy a ofrecer y esto es muy importante. También evaluar cuál va a ser nuestro canal de venta, porque bueno, hoy en día todo ha cambiado tanto que inicialmente por lo menos un emprendedor, no inicia invirtiendo per se en un local o en un lugar formal, sino que lo hace a través de plataformas muy conocidas hoy en día y es por esto es que tenemos que saber cuál va a ser nuestra mejor plataforma y ya hoy en día hay muchas herramientas que nos permiten evaluar de acuerdo a la segunda pregunta que es el ¿a quién?, hay herramientas que nos permiten evaluar según el rango de edad cual es nuestro mejor canal de venta en el caso de que sea digital.


Has tocado unos puntos muy importantes que son clave para cualquier persona que quiera iniciar una empresa. Preguntas como ¿qué? ¿quién? ¿cómo? y ¿dónde? son esenciales para cualquier emprendedor. Y esto lo digo porque estas preguntas te ayudarán a conocer más tu público meta y saber más sobre tus debilidades y fortalezas como empresa.

Sin embargo, yo agregaría otra pregunta que es el ¿por qué? ¿Por qué existes? ¿Por qué a la gente debería importarle que tú abras esta empresa? y te daré un ejemplo, imagínate una fábrica de anillos y le preguntamos a esa fábrica de anillos ¿por qué existe? ¿No? Lo más seguro que te diga es porque somos la mejor fábrica de anillos. El público lo que quiere es que claro, todo el mundo dice eso o tal vez esta fábrica de anillos puede decir que tendrá o tiene la mayor selección de anillos. El público lo que dirá, es cierto, pero yo solamente necesito uno y el resto se lo compro a la competencia. También puedo decirte que tendrá tiene el mejor servicio al cliente y para eso tendrá que comprobarlo.

Para muchas empresas responder el ¿por qué? es muy difícil, pero saber el ¿por qué? te hará entender que te hace diferente al resto y la razón de tu existencia. Yo pienso que ese ¿por qué? También tiene que conectar con tu pasión y tu amor por lo que haces.

Ahora mi pregunta es ¿qué opinas tú sobre iniciar en algo que te guste, algo que te apasione, la razón de tu existencia? ¿Qué opinas de esto Tatiana?


En el primer punto, cuando les comenté sobre el ¿qué? básicamente cuando yo decido ofrecer ya sea un producto o un servicio, les comentaba o te comentaba Luis, que hay que conocerlo y ¿por qué hay que conocerlo? porque si nos vamos a aventurar sobre una rama desconocida totalmente para nosotros, el riesgo de pérdida o el riesgo de que tengamos consecuencias negativas va a ser mayor.

Es por esto que yo siempre digo que uno cuando decide invertir o emprender, uno tiene que amar lo que hace. Tienes que tener pasión por lo que estás haciendo. Tienes que saber que vas a necesitar muchos conocimientos, que cuando involucras lo que tienes en tu cabecita, tus conocimientos y lo que tienes en tu corazón te van a ayudar a salir adelante. ¿Por qué? porque si yo hago algo que no me gusta, que no me apasiona, no voy a ser determinante en mis objetivos. No voy a luchar por lo que quiero conseguir, entonces es ahí donde se involucra en parte los sentimientos porque si yo soy buena en algo y a mí me gusta ese algo, entonces yo voy a dar lo mejor de mí hacia mis clientes.

No solamente se trata de la primera necesidad que es cubrirla, sino también que tu entorno, tus clientes, al final sepan que lo estás haciendo con tanto amor y tanto empeño, que eres bueno y te destacas por eso, además de que generas una conexión entre tu empresa o tu emprendimiento y el cliente.


Excelente. ¿Qué otras cosas deberían tomar en consideración estos nuevos emprendedores?


Adicional a un análisis de mercado, también tenemos que hacer un análisis de nuestras ventajas y desventajas. Esto en economía, en administración se le conoce como un análisis FODA. El análisis FODA nos permite conocer como sus siglas lo indican nuestras fortalezas, o sea, ¿qué tengo yo? ¿en qué soy buena? o ¿qué ventajas? tiene mi empresa que me van a ayudar a hacerlo mejor, a salir adelante, a lograr esos objetivos. Segundo, están las oportunidades que vienen siendo una relación con lo que tengo en mi exterior, o sea, lo que no está ligado per se a mi empresa, a mi operativa y las oportunidades son del mercado. Uno toma las oportunidades del mercado.

Hay situaciones que se dan a lo externo de lo que nosotros hacemos o de nuestra empresa que nos lleva a aprovecharlas. El aprovechamiento de esas ventajas nos va a permitir tener y salir adelante, lograr objetivos en un menor tiempo y alcanzar lo que nos hemos estado proponiendo. Adicional a eso, también parte del análisis incluye conocer mis debilidades. Yo debo conocer en qué soy fuerte, pero también debo conocer en qué soy débil, ¿qué desventajas yo tengo? ¿en qué parte del engranaje de lo que emprendí o decidí invertir? ¿en qué partecita no la tengo completa? no lo hice al 100 por ciento y sé que ahí puedo tener fallas y también debo conocerlas.

Por último, el análisis también implica conocer nuestras amenazas. Igualmente, que las oportunidades, las amenazas vienen un poco relacionadas con nuestro entorno. Es decir, cuando tengo nuevos competidores, cuando el mercado se está llenando de personas que quieren competir en el mismo rubro, por un mismo nicho, la cosa se empieza a poner un poquito más apretada y eso tenemos que saberlo.

Tenemos que saber ¿qué espacio tiene nuestro mercado? Tenemos que saber que si hay alguna legislación que se relaciona con nuestro rubro, vamos a tener un poquito de amenazas entonces todo eso es muy importante que lo conozcamos, que lo tengamos claro, porque cuando uno tiene el mapa claro, uno puede anticiparse a cualquier cosa que pueda pasar o saberlo manejar de una mejor forma y salir adelante y que tu emprendimiento o tu inversión no se vea afectada.


Ciertamente, muchos emprendedores hoy en día, bueno, al inicio siempre toman en consideración esta parte del análisis, sin embargo, se enfocan mucho en las fortalezas que tienen, en las oportunidades que ven y puede que en el nicho la amenaza que existan pero es muy difícil para ellos poner en papel las debilidades que ellos tienen como emprendedor y las debilidades que esa empresa tendrá en un futuro cercano; pero eso es donde vamos que donde hablaremos de los riesgos que uno puede tener si uno evita o no discute o no trata de ponerle el debido tiempo a todos los pasos pertinentes antes de tomar una decisión.

Hablemos del riesgo. Este es un tema que realmente me interesa. A ver Tatiana, cuéntanos.


Como dije al inicio, todas nuestras decisiones tienen consecuencias positivas y negativas. Normalmente nosotros asumimos o nuestro cerebro por todas nuestras enseñanzas, nos dice que el riesgo es negativo y no siempre es así. Como les dije, si nosotros sabemos anticiparnos y tenemos un mapa completo de todo lo que puede pasar alrededor de nuestra organización, llámese empresa o emprendimiento, vamos a poder tomar esos riesgos y traducirlos en algo positivo. Si bien es cierto, tenemos que saber que el riesgo está asociado a la actividad que nosotros estamos.

Un riesgo representa para un emprendedor o para un inversionista una situación, una circunstancia que debe estar asociada a lo que nosotros nos dedicamos. A nuestra operativa. Adicional a eso, el riesgo implica que no hay una solución inmediata. Si bien yo puedo conocer cuáles son mis alternativas para sobrellevarlo, para aminorarlo; yo tengo que saber, que un riesgo para mí es algo que yo no puedo solucionar inmediatamente.

También es cuando eso genera un impacto significativo en lo que yo hago y adicional a eso puede entorpecer, obstaculizar, dificultar o postergar cualquiera de mis procesos. Es por esto que cuando yo conozco mis riesgos, yo identifico mis riesgos, yo tengo mayor capacidad para minimizarlos. Yo puedo saber en qué momento, a lo largo de mi operación, voy a tener cierto riesgo, como enfrentarlo y porque puede darse ese riesgo. Es muy importante que nos hagamos esas preguntas cuando, como por ejemplo la pandemia. Creo que a todos nos enseñó cuando se da una situación de éstas la operativa a nivel de suministro se ha visto afectada por un tema de logística. Entonces, quizás anteriormente nadie consideraba que pudiéramos tener una pandemia porque no era algo que se había dado anteriormente a la magnitud como se dio ahora.

Entonces, si ya conocemos que esta situación se puede dar, sabremos que ahora yo tengo que saber identificar todo, las complejidades que se puedan presentar o todos los temas se pueden presentar a partir de un tema como lo es la pandemia, todos los riesgos sociales, económicos que eso conlleva y que repercuten en toda empresa, ya sea pequeña, grande o sea un emprendimiento. Cuando nosotros logramos identificar esos riesgos, muchas veces podremos minimizarlos, podremos contenerlos y quizás otras veces vamos a tener que sobrellevarlos o traspasarlos, pero el identificarlos nos va a permitir tener una reacción rápida y eficiente sobre ellos.

Cuando vamos a identificar nuestros riesgos, tenemos que saber primeramente que los riesgos vienen de dos lados: a nivel interno y a nivel externo. A nivel interno están muy relacionadas con nuestra operativa, con todo lo que nosotros hacemos día a día y a nivel externo, con cosas que no están relacionadas a nuestra operativa, pero que sí impactan en ella, así como lo fue por lo menos en este caso la pandemia.

Adicional a eso, tenemos que saber que hay muchísimos riesgos normalmente conocidos y ya estudiados, pero hay cuatro riesgos que para mí son básicos que un emprendedor y un inversionista conozcan. El primero de ellos es el riesgo estratégico y ese es el que está mucho más relacionado con lo que dijimos al principio, la toma de decisiones. Entonces, lo que yo vaya decidiendo en el camino es mi estrategia, es mi plan estratégico, es por eso por lo que es tan importante que nosotros plasmemos nuestras ideas, plasmemos ¿a dónde quiero llegar?, ¿qué quiero hacer? porque eso nos va a permitir contener estrategias para alivianar o para solventar cualquier situación que se nos dé en el camino. Y cuando yo no logro ser prudente en términos de tiempo, al tomar una decisión o al aplicar una estrategia, yo puedo caer en lo que se llaman las fallas de respuesta. Es decir, surgió el riesgo, pero yo no supe atenuarlo a tiempo, no supe tomarlo a tiempo y contenerlo o aminorarlo.


Es muy interesante lo que dices. Mencionaste la palabra “asumir” haciendo referencia a como los seres humanos acostumbramos a suponer cosas sin tener la información correcta. También utilizaste la actual pandemia, como ejemplo, con el fin de puntualizar que muchos no habían tomado en consideración una situación como esta y por ende nunca estuvieron preparados.

He tenido algunas conversaciones con colegas de la industria y hemos hablado por lo menos en el caso de la industria del turismo, enfocándonos en las tiendas de souvenirs, por ejemplo, siempre esperaban que los turistas pasaran por sus tiendas y compraran sus productos, pero nunca pensaron o se preguntaron ¿qué pasaría si esos mismos clientes, esos mismos turistas no aparecerían?

También mencionaste, el riesgo estratégico y la relación que este tiene con la toma de decisiones. También comentabas que la estrategia es básicamente lo que se vaya decidiendo en el camino. Por lo menos preguntas como ¿a dónde quieres llegar? ¿qué quieres hacer? Y el como ser prudente en términos de tiempo.

Si lo vemos de un punto de vista de marcas que es a lo que me dedico, muchos emprendedores y dueños de negocio acostumbran a tomar decisiones sin tener ningún tipo de estrategia, que es lo que mencionaba anteriormente con referencia as las tiendas de souvenirs. Muchas veces las decisiones son basadas en suposiciones.

Pero ¿a dónde quiero llegar con esto?, muchas veces me piden un logo. Recuerda que esto lo estoy hablando desde el punto de vista de marca, ¡sí!

Muchas veces me piden un logo porque creen que necesitan uno para abrir una empresa o una página web basado en el mismo pensamiento, pero como pueden saber si necesitan un logo o una página web si aún no conocen sus clientes, si no saben ¿dónde están, no saben que les gusta, qué voz tiene la empresa, qué tono tiene la empresa, que tipo de imágenes deberían utilizar?

Primero debe haber un pensamiento, como lo mencionabas anteriormente. Debe haber un plan, un plan de acción. ¿Cómo vas a hacer esto? ¿en qué momento lo vas a hacer? ¿qué decisiones debes tomar cuando llegues a ese punto o cuando llegue ese momento?

¿Qué más puedes agregar sobre el riesgo estratégico y las decisiones que debemos tomar?


Sí, es por eso, es súper importante que nosotros tengamos como un plan de acción. Yo sé que hay situaciones en la vida que son súper diferentes, súper adversas y que quizás no nos podamos ni imaginar que pudiéramos pasar, pero siempre debemos tener un plan de acción. Siempre, cuando se trata del tema de dinero, de poner el dinero en algo, hay que estar súper claro. Como te dije al inicio que, si tomamos una decisión incorrecta, si no actuamos en tiempo, esa inversión se va a perder. Esa inversión se va a ver afectada.

Entonces, por lo menos en el caso de un emprendedor, es ese tipo de riesgos los que hacen que la gente diga, sabes que, esto no es lo mío y quizás no es que no es lo suyo, es que no supiste darle respuesta a algo que sucedió en el momento y que lo que hiciste fue decir, esto no es conmigo, esto no va conmigo, yo no puedo con esto y no, o sea en la vida todo se trata de ir hacia adelante y cuando lo combinas, por eso yo decía, hay que tener amor por lo que hacemos, hay que tener pasión, porque por eso yo me describo como aguerrida, porque yo he tenido miles de situaciones adversas que sí al inicio y tal cual como emprendedora, a pesar de que lo hablé, al inicio no evalué, no contemplé y cuando me llegó el momento pero dije, sabes que no, o sea, yo no voy a echar a la borda todo lo que he hecho, todo mis esfuerzos, ¿por qué? porque yo amo esto y si yo lo amo, yo sigo adelante.


Claro, pero esto también cae en lo que tú comentabas anteriormente sobre la parte de la debilidad. No saber tomar una decisión en su momento, porque no se habló anteriormente es una debilidad que yo como persona no quise hablar de ello o ponerlo sobre la mesa. Es muy cierto que lo que tú dices, si no seguimos en sus puntos correctamente, pues simplemente estamos arriesgando que nuestra inversión se pierda o no sea utilizada de la forma correcta.


Si el riesgo es mayoría y es como bien tú dijiste, si yo no sé tomar la decisión en su momento porque no lo contemplé. ¿Por qué? porque normalmente el ser humano siempre trata de nada más ver en qué soy bueno, en qué tengo fortalezas. O sea, en esto, en esto no, pero también tenemos que reconocer cuáles son nuestras debilidades. Y es allí donde si yo logro reconocer qué debilidades tengo yo como empresario, como emprendedor y qué debilidades tiene mi empresa, yo iba a poder accionar con tiempo.

Otro de los riesgos que es súper importante evaluar hoy en día es el riesgo reputacional. Como bien lo dice la palabra, tiene que ver con nuestra reputación como personas, como marca y como empresa. Entonces eso está relacionado con el ¿cómo me ven?, ¿cómo los clientes me ven?, ¿cómo las personas que están en el nicho me ven? ¿cómo me hago reflejar? Tiene mucho que ver con un tema, por lo menos de atención al cliente. De qué le aporto yo si vendo un producto, ¿qué le aporto yo? No es solamente cubrir esa necesidad, sino también ¿qué es lo que yo te aporto más allá? ¿cuál es mi milla extra en lo que yo te ofrezco? ¿por qué de verdad yo soy bueno? ¿por qué me tienen que elegir a mí sobre cualquier otro que te venda exactamente lo mismo que yo?

El evaluar y siempre tener claro que yo tengo que defender mi nombre y mi marca, es muy importante, la imagen que yo le doy a los demás, porque eso es lo que va a hacer que el cliente llegue a ti, que el cliente te elija.


Si me permites agregar alguito, han sido muchas las veces que he escuchado que mi producto, mi servicio me llevará al éxito porque brindo la mejor calidad. La realidad es que este pensamiento de creer que el producto o servicio por si solo puede crear una marca fuerte es cosa del pasado. Hoy en día las marcas son exitosas porque contribuyen con la sociedad, llámese mejorando la vida de las personas en comunidades, mejorando la forma en que los empleados interactúan dentro de esa empresa o ayudando con el medio ambiente y el cambio climático.

La idea de que yo como empresa contribuyo con la sociedad porque soy exitoso es obsoleta y este tipo de pensamiento perjudica enormemente la reputación de cualquier marca. Como mencionaste tu anteriormente ¿cuál es la milla extra?

Una marca debe ser más que un beneficio o un buen producto. De hecho, la confianza es más valiosa que el mismo producto. Estas tocando unos puntos muy importantes, pero por favor continua, que quiero escuchar más. ¿Qué otro tipo de riesgo tenemos que tomar en consideración?


Si. También tenemos lo que es el riesgo operativo. Esto se relaciona más no tanto como un emprendedor, pero sí es bueno que conozca el término, pero sí más con cuando uno invierte en una empresa, en algo ya un poco más grande y está relacionada con la parte productiva, con la parte de los sistemas, de los procesos y del recurso humano que yo tengo, que en combinación son como un engranaje que hacen que la operativa de la empresa funcione.

Yo tengo que conocer y saber que los sistemas pueden fallar, que el ser humano puede fallar y que los procesos en algún momento, por más que los plasme, por más que haga toda una ruta del proceso en sí, tengo que saber que en cualquier momento uno de estos tres engranajes puede fallar. Y si yo me anticipo a este riesgo, si yo conozco en ¿qué puedo fallar, en qué puedo caer? Sí, ejemplo una manufacturera se dañó la máquina que hace las camisas y la persona o el técnico que la regla me dice que en dos días puedes venir.

Entonces, ¿qué hago yo para la producción? ¡No! entonces esas son las cosas que yo tengo que anticiparme. Por eso tengo que conocer cuál es el riesgo de mi operación, porque el riesgo operacional nos lleva a pérdidas económicas. Todo riesgo operacional se traduce en una pérdida económica, no como otros riesgos que, si llevan un tema de pérdida económica pero que si sabemos manejarlo prontamente, quizás la parte de la pérdida económica no sea tanto o no sea de tanto impacto como lo es un riesgo operativo.

Por último, el riesgo financiero, como les dije, estos son para mí como los cuatro principales que siempre debemos tener presentes. El riesgo financiero es aquel que tiene un poquito más de relación con algo externo, algo que, si bien la empresa debe considerar, porque a nivel de un emprendedor no se relaciona tanto porque es un poco más pequeño, pero en la parte por lo menos, la inversión. La inversión lleva un riesgo Financiero altísimo y que tenemos que cuidarla.

Factores externos como, por ejemplo: si yo pedí un préstamo para hacer esa inversión y las tasas de interés suben por realidad socioeconómica del país, sea la razón que sea, esa inversión se va a ver afectada. Una subida, una tasa de interés. Claro, en mi plan o mi mapa financiero que yo plasmé en un inicio sobre esa inversión ya no va a ser igual. Van a haber cambios, por muy pequeñitos que sean, van a haber cambios y tengo que saberlo. Tengo que dejar ese espacio para jugar con los números. Los números, si bien es cierto, la matemática es exacta, pero nosotros tenemos que saber jugar con ellos. Dejar ese espacio que nos permita maniobrar cuando alguna situación se presente.

El riesgo financiero puede jugar a favor o en contra de la empresa. Pero si yo maniobro los números y me dejo un espacio para hacerlo vamos a salir bien de eso, pero hay que tenerlo en cuenta cuando se hace sobre todo una inversión grande. Cuando hay un capital que se ha pedido a banco, cuando yo he invertido en algo, que yo dejé algún bien, vendí algún bien y dije bueno, voy a, ejemplo voy a rehipotecar mi casa y con esa rehipoteca, con ese dinero, voy a empezar una empresa. Entonces ahí tenemos que tener cuidado porque ahí se ponen en riesgo nuestros bienes en los activos que tenemos como empresa.


Sí, te haré una pregunta ¿cuántas veces hemos escuchado decir de un emprendedor o de un dueño de empresa me he quedado sin dinero? Ya no sé cómo seguir adelante porque no estaba consciente de los costos y gastos que esta empresa, me explico, lo que realmente la empresa necesita. ¿Cuántas veces hemos escuchado eso?, yo no sé si tu has tenido esa oportunidad.


infinidades de veces. Infinidades de veces es porque nosotros empezamos esta conversación diciendo tengo que hacer un análisis de mercado, pero previo a eso, yo tengo que hacer un análisis de mi inversión. Yo tengo que estar clara. Esto es lo que tengo para invertir. Esto es lo que me cuesta. Siempre, siempre vamos a tener costos y gastos. Entonces yo tengo que saber qué necesito para que el proceso de lo que yo quiero hacer se dé y eso me traiga un resultado. Y sobre ese resultado, entonces yo voy a obtener beneficios, pero yo tengo que hacerle un análisis a mi inversión. Yo tengo que decir esto es lo que tengo para invertir, estos son mis gastos y esto es lo que me puede dar y en cuánto tiempo me va a dar lo que quiero.

Porque de nada sirve que nosotros digamos bueno, yo voy a invertir en esto y a lo que salga a la suerte. ¡No! tenemos que estar claros con lo que el resultado que esa inversión nos va a dar, que implicaciones puede tener. A evaluar cómo yo puedo ser mejor en un tema de costos y gastos. Todo ese mapa hay que conocerlo, hay que conocerlo, porque si no, cuando algo se me desajuste en el proceso voy a querer desistir y no es la idea.


Excelente. Bueno Tatiana nosotros siempre en nuestros episodios pedimos que los invitados les den a nuestros oyentes ciertos tips por lo menos para el público en general ¿qué podrías decirles a ellos?


Para todas las personas, primero creo que abordar el tema de los sentimientos. Tenemos que ser empáticos, tenemos que ser empáticos en el sentido de saber que cuando alguien emprende o invierte está haciendo un esfuerzo por hacer algo que él/ella cree que puede llenar una necesidad.

Entonces, hay que ser un poquito empáticos. Quizás al principio no todo sea de maravilla y la empresa va a ir ajustando o el emprendedor irá ajustando en el proceso para ser mejor. Pero tenemos que saber que hay un esfuerzo detrás de lo que hace.

Segundo, yo soy muy de apoyar lo nacional, lo que es de tu país, apóyalo. Apóyalo porque eso es lo único que va a hacer que la economía se mueva y más después de todo lo que ha pasado con la pandemia. Cuando nosotros inyectamos en nuestra economía en algún momento eso tiene un retorno hacia nosotros y eso va a traer un impacto positivo sobre toda la sociedad. Y por último, saber que yo soy muy fanática de las compras con propósito. ¿Esto qué quiere decir? que yo compro con un propósito. Si bien es cierto, está bien que todos compremos, pero hay que comprar sabiendo que eso me va a retribuir algo, que eso me va a llenar algo, que eso va a cumplir una necesidad y no comprar por comprar, porque entonces en el camino podemos desilusionarnos y es porque no hacemos una evaluación de que realmente necesito.


A ver, y ¿qué le dirías a los nuevos emprendedores y dueños de empresa?


¿Qué les diría? Para adelante. Hay que esforzarse tanto, hay que hay que siempre hacer las cosas, yo fiel allí, hay que hacer las cosas con amor, darlo todo. En el camino se va a presentar dificultades, pero si le ponemos el corazón va a salir adelante.

Siempre saber que nuestra inversión va a generar una ganancia. Pero no solamente tenemos que enfocarnos en el tema económico, ¿en qué voy yo a recibir? sino que esa inversión se traduzca en crear una comunidad, en crear una familia, en hacer un lazo con el cliente. Yo siempre he dicho que cuando uno crea ese lazo con el cliente, el cliente sólo, él solo te va a ir refiriendo hacia otros más y vas a tener lo que yo le llamo ingreso pasivo.

Te fuiste de boca en boca, te fuiste por referencia y no hay mejor venta que la que se hace por referencia de otro cliente. Esa es la mejor. ¿Por qué? Porque tú sabes que ese cliente cuando llega a ti te va a decir “hola, vengo recomendado por tal persona” y eso siempre hay que agradecérselo a nuestros clients, por eso es que yo creo en que uno tiene que ir más allá de la venta, crear una comunidad, una familia.

Adicional a eso siempre tenemos que invertir en nosotros, en nuestros conocimientos, estar día a día en las cosas que están cambiando. Hace mucho tiempo pasamos a hablar de la globalización, pues la globalización ya está aquí y las cosas cambian al segundo. Siempre hay que estar en continuo aprendizaje, porque al final el conocimiento es una inversión para nosotros, una inversión en tí y que vale la pena al final.


Como final, ¿qué le dirías a nuestro querido gobierno?


Bueno, el daño que ha causado la Pandemia en todos nosotros de alguna manera ha sido fuerte. Fuerte porque cambiaron nuestros pensamientos, cambiamos como sociedad, todo ha cambiado. Entonces yo siento que ahí es la parte donde los gobernantes, que al final el gobierno es una empresa, es una empresa pública que trabaja para una nación, para un país. Hay que gobernar desde lo desde el corazón, haciendo las cosas, tratando de reparar todo el daño que sea que se ha plasmado con esto de la pandemia. Hacer leyes que generen inversión, que apoyen al emprendedor, que den ventajas que realmente sean significativas para que todo esto en conjunto mueva la economía.

Hacer leyes que ayuden a la protección del empleo por lo menos aquí en Panamá la tasa de desempleo pasó de un 7- 8% a un 14-17% es mucho. Entonces, esas son cosas que yo creo que han pasado a nivel mundial, porque muchas empresas han tenido que cerrar. No aguantaron estos cierres, estos bloqueos que han sido el arma de los gobiernos para para disminuir un poco los contagios y todo lo demás pero eso ha hecho que las personas tengan que cerrar sus negocios y muchas otras personas se han quedado sin empleo.

Hay que trabajar un poquito en la protección del empleo, en el apoyo a la inversión y en disminuir todos estos temas que conlleva un riesgo social que se han visto reflejado en muchos países. Los números de casos de cómo la sociedad ha empeorado en temas de corrupción, en temas homicidios, violencia familiar, o sea, hay muchas cosas que tenemos que tratar de que los gobernantes en sí tienen que tratar de proteger a la sociedad, proteger a su país.


¡Sí!, excelente. Estoy totalmente de acuerdo con lo que acabo de decir. Esta conversación ha sido rica y llena de información. Espero que les hay gustado.

Gracias Tatiana por compartir tu tiempo con nosotros y esperemos tener otra charla prontamente.


Claro que sí. Gracias a ti Luis y espero que les haya gustado el tema, que sea de conocimiento, de enriquecimiento para ustedes y pues cuando quieras a la orden.

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July 30, 2021

Project Management: How would clients start a construction project

Transcript: 07 - Project Management: How would clients start a construction project — with Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi

Hi, today we're here again with Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi. She is an architect and civil engineer, and her specialisation is project management.

So, further to what we were talking about last time, where we talked about the four construction phases of a project. Today we'll be tackling the basic steps of how one would go about this, right?

So, a client would generally be, “oh okay, I want to build my house, or I want to set up my office, whatever. So let me go speak to the architect” But is that really what they want to do? Is that really what they should be doing? I mean, how does one start?


So, thank you, Jeanette. We can say that there are at least five basics steps that an interested client can take if he's looking towards, you know, a construction project. The first step would be sort of what I like to call in a very serious term would be analysis, but it can be something much simpler.


Don't give me these terms, Rebecca, please.


So it is the time when the client, assuming that we would have had some discussions at home, on tissue papers, you know, during a meal, and he's got this left-over bit of design that he's really happy to show you and it does happen. That's really exciting!

There is an important step, and this is discussion and communication, and discussion and communication can happen obviously with all the interested people in your project. Ideally, with the choice of an architect, but I'm going to speak about the choice of architects a bit further on, later on.

The second thing that the client can look into is defining what he or she wants and what we call again; a more serious term the objectives. Now, what is an objective and what is a right objective and a wrong objective? I'll start off by saying that an objective needs to be what we call SMART.

SMART stands for something. So, SMART stands for S being smart, as in being specific. That takes us to M, which is measurable. Then that's A, which is actionable. Right? Then R, which is realistic, not Rebecca. Realistic and T, which is timely.


Timely? Okay, so that's a lot of information.


Yes, I'm going to give you an example. So, what would be a wrong objective? So you could meet someone, a client comes up to tell you I want to build a house in Balzan (a village in Malta).


Okay, that's a bit vague, is it?


That's a bit vague, that's it! You know? Okay, but if the client comes up to you and tells you, I want to build a two-storey house in Balzan over a timeframe of two years, say up to a certain date, with a budget of so and so. That is obviously helping the receiver, in this case, the architect, to understand a bit better the direction that the client wants to take.


I see. So possibly clients would not always know all of these details. They would know their budget because obviously, that is something that first comes to mind and possibly the location where they want to have their development, no? Their house or their business, but wouldn't they need help?

I mean, I guess the choice of an architect would, how can I say? Lead them to know whether a project is doable within two years or two months, for example, right? So that is what we're talking about, the more information, the more SMART objectives.


That's why we're here today. To help clients that might be watching this and not be so convinced or sure where they want to go with their design, and this takes us to sort of step two. So assuming that you're not quite sure about where you want to take this. You might wish to look at, at least four areas. Again, it might be a bit boring to say, but nevertheless, it's information. So you got cost, quality, time, and scope.

So cost, as you said before, clients would generally know how much they want to spend. Time, it's important that you have a timeframe when you present yourself to your architect. It's very important. That takes us to quality. So, what quality of building are you looking for? Are you looking for possibly high-quality finishes? Or is it something that you're taking into consideration your budget because that is also another aspect and your scope. Now scope again is a very broad term.


In fact, I was going to ask you. What is scope exactly?


Yes, scope can take us down the route, down the never-ending route. But scope very simply basically ties me back to what I said earlier, which is objective. What is my objective?

Project scope is a very sort of large domain; we can spend, you know, another hour talking about project scope but very briefly - to keep it simple - it's all about being direct with your objectives. So what is the objective? So if it's residential if you are building a complex. Is the complex for use that is going to be rented out? Is it going to be personal use? Cause even those decisions will affect how much you want to spend on your finishes.


And perhaps even the return of investment, right?


Exactly! That will take me to the other steps. Which would be step three.


This is Rebecca Dalli Gonzi, and you are listening to the human agenda. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode.

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July 23, 2021

Conserving heritage through sustainable architecture

Transcript: 06 - Conserving heritage through sustainable architecture — with Joanna Spiteri Staines

With us today we have Joanna Spiteri Staines. Joanna graduated in 1993 with Honours in Architecture from the University of Malta. She obtained a Masters’ Degree in Restoration in 1998 from the Scuola di Specializzazone di Restauro dei Monumenti, at the Universita’ di Sapenza, Rome.

Joanna joined Architecture Project (AP) in 1993 becoming an associate in 2005. She led a number of major projects including the Malta Stock Exchange Offices in Valletta, the capital city of Malta (completed 2001) conceptual design for the Cruise Liner Terminal on the Grand Harbour, in the capital, which won several national and international awards together with other projects mainly centered around the conservation of historic buildings and sites.

Joanna co-founder of Openworkstudio and NIDUM in 2015. She has served as a council member of Din L-Art Helwa, Malta’s leading national heritage organisation since 2008. She forms part of the Heritage and Environmental Planning Unit which lobbies for the introduction and implementation of policies and national strategies for improving the protection of Maltese heritage and for promoting more sustainable building development.

In today's call, we'll be looking at informing people on how to conserve heritage through sustainable architecture so that we may extend the lifespan of existing buildings and giving them a new lease of life. Retrofitting, so to speak. Joanna, we've always heard about, you know, conservation areas and urban conservation areas and heritage but really and truly there is a variety of styles of architecture that fall within this category.

In Malta, we all know that there is the architecture of the Knights and prehistoric architecture but is that just the only architecture we should be looking at when we talk about sustainable architecture and sustainable conservation?


Good afternoon, thank you for inviting me. It's a pleasure to be here talking about sustainable practices and sustainable mentalities.

We do have in our planning framework the designation of historic areas within a boundary called urban conservation areas.

The 90% of the building typography of an urban conservation area is vernacular buildings. It is simple terraced houses belonging to perhaps the nineteenth, eighteenth, seventeenth, sometimes sixteenth, sometimes even fifteenth, centuries.

Nothing to decorative all utilizing extensively traditional building techniques such as masonry blockwork, double skin walls, masonry roofing slabs, possibly timber beams. Many are time refined, well-crafted arches, sometimes vaults, some mostly barrel vaults, but sometimes even tripartite vaulting and more interesting stereotomy.

However, the urban conservation area is a piece of our heritage because it exemplifies what has happened in the past 2000 years of our history.

The nucleus of most of these villages will be very old and we know that this dates to the Arab period because of extensive research on the toponyms of the area. The structure, the urban structure in many a village is actually of Arab origin because it's winding, it tries to protect, it tries to keep people out. The alleys are small and winding, so there is a great amount of importance to the actual urban morphology.

Sadly, this is not really valued. I don't think people quite understand and by people, I mean the general public that you know the old crumbling house, which is often referred to as, it's of no value, there's a lot of humidity, everything is crumbling. Let's demolish it.

It's unfortunately given a lot of fuel without quite understanding how old that particular footprint that particular building and that particular corner of the village may be.

It clearly is not just buildings pertaining to the period of the Knights and by the period of the knights we mean the Knights of St John, and that stretches from 1530 to the 1800s.

Many a time is older than that, and usually as one would expect and logically so it is the ground floor or even the wells and the interconnecting systems which will predate the 16th century.

So, the most, the oldest part of a building, if you want to start looking at the age of a structure, is most likely it's well. We have a lot of research which proves that we have an Arab system of interconnecting wells which feeds from underground streams called the ‘qanāt’ system or ‘kanat’ system which is recently the topic of research and we didn't quite understand how important it was.

So, I would say one has to look at the big picture of an urban conservation area, not just the individual building. The urban conservation area is not just the only historic aspect of Malta and Gozo. There are many buildings which are dotted around which sadly unless they scheduled have little protection, and they represent various instances of growth or Hamlets or something which would have happened or perhaps hunting lodge, or perhaps a World War Two shelter, or perhaps a little Chapel and these also merit protection. The Cultural Heritage Act states that anything over 50 years is of historic importance.


That is really interesting, so I I'd like to maybe how can I say take a bit of an in depth look at an old home and then maybe step back later on again to see how that old home would fit in an environment. And many people that we've mentioned are taken aback by the amount of work, and amount of maybe funds that they would need to really restore an old home effectively and to make it fit for modern life and modern commodities.

We should really maintain the historical context. We can't just say I'm going to demolish you know this room, I'm going to demolish this two-storey house and then re-build. How possible is it to retrofit to make better, make upgrades to modern commodities these old homes in a way that we respect the architecture history of it?


Well, it really depends upon the actual house, but there are some important interventions which tend to recur every time one tries to create homes out of older houses, and basically people didn't have the standards of living that they have today. So, we have homes which are much more reliant on infrastructure.

By infrastructure I mean if before there was one bathroom in the house or one toilet in the house, these days we're looking at every bedroom having a bathroom; we're looking at a guest WC on the ground floor, so we're talking about extensive plumbing works.

We're talking about people having a use of water on a daily basis is much more onerous than it used to be, so we're talking about installation of water systems which don't just rely on well, they're clearly there is mains water and water storage.

We're talking about heating of water, which is an essential aspect of our daily lives today. We're talking about heating and cooling of buildings. We now all expect to have air conditioning systems or cooling systems of sorts.

People will tolerate an indoor temperature of up to 28 degrees, but I think beyond 28 degrees people will suffer and not function as they used to, as they are used to. So, we're talking about ensuring there's some form of heating and cooling within the house.

We're also talking about reducing the humidity levels because comfort conditions are attained when you reduce humidity, both in terms of heating and in terms of cooling.

So, the humidity which came through the walls because, there was no damp-proof course and no insulation on the ground floor or underneath the tiles is now something that we tend to try to treat.

Whereas before people would lime wash their ground floor just before the feast, the village feast, these days everybody wants to avoid that, and I have many requests which basically are on the lines of how do I stop my paint from flaking and how do I make sure that my plaster doesn't detach? Can I avoid having to sweep an old room three times a week?

So, these are things which perhaps before were not considered important, and today they are. I would say another aspect of this which we have worked upon together as well, is that the loading which was utilized 50 years ago with the sizes of timber beams is not the capacity loading and live loading that we design for today. So, most ceilings and most timber beams tend to be undersized for the code that we work to today in terms of live load, people walking over a floor. So, that's also an important aspect of retrofitting a building.


Yes, in fact you mentioned our experience with some old buildings that we've worked together and one of the things that I have found that unfortunately or fortunately maybe now we will delve into it a little bit deeper when we're talking about the thickness of walls and they had a purpose. The thickness of the walls and where they're placed in the home, and they weren’t necessarily structural walls. They didn't need such thick walls for the limited loads that they had at the time.

To be able to make most out of real estate modern developers are saying, oh, you know I will decrease the thickness of the wall and we'll have fitted wardrobes or some other furniture that requires some depth and therefore they take part of this wall and it is very important to understand how this is done, because you can actually make the wall weaker and one wall on its own without the other bit, right in the old configuration of walls, when they were almost a meter thick, reducing half of it is not going to be adequate.

So, it is very important I think that when we do certain alterations that they're done with a sensitivity of not just what we're trying to achieve from the home, but also how stable things are.

Going back to what we're talking about. You know there is a lot of things going on here. There is the historical value of the property, there is the cost of doing these alterations. How should one take a decision and based on what? Because I'm sure that you can't base it only on what the cheaper solution is.

You have to take a broader view of doing these interventions. What is your take on this, Joanna?


Well, clearly there's always a budget. So, one has to work within the budget. However, one has to also approach a building in terms of the intrinsic value that it has.

The thick walls have an insulation advantage which a 9 inch (230 millimetre thick) block work walls of apartments does not. So, many times, every time we've done an analysis of an air conditioning system, we have found that ground floor rooms with apertures which are not too large, tend to not even need air conditioning systems. They tend to be able to safely accommodate 10 degrees Celsius cooler than the outside because of their intrinsic insulation property - the thickness of the walls.

It's also important to note that these buildings tend to be finished with thick terrazzo tiles, or cement tiles, or marble tiles, so you have a floor finish, which is quite substantial, 20, 30 millimetres or sometimes even 50 millimetres. Again, that's giving you insulation but was also giving you is giving you a better distribution of load.

So, if you say we're going to get rid of all the tiles and, sometimes you will have to because they won't be in a good state, they'll be pitted, or cracked, or lifted. They have a much better distribution of load than a ceramic tile. So, in many cases, for example, I advise my clients to remove the outer two tiles which touch the walls, we pass the services through that and we can keep the tiles.

So, I think one has to be a little bit clever and sensitive towards the aspects of a house, which one can keep and in doing so if they are worth keeping, you can work within a budget because you've got your floor ready. Your walls mean that you may not have to invest in certain rooms which have large apertures or they have a thin roof on top. They don't have sufficient insulation at roof level.

So, I would say one has to really think before one change these things because they were designed well. A window designed a 100 years ago had an external louver, ‘persiana’, which kept the sun out. The sun did not touch glass and therefore you get a much more efficient control of heat intake than you do without an external shading.

Internal shading has 30% efficiency, external shading (blocking the sun before it reaches the glass) has 70% efficiency.

There are aspects of these buildings which I really urge people to look at properly and consider that they were designed properly. So, a courtyard would allow for ventilation of the rooms and doesn't have so much sun coming into it because the walls are high. The circular staircase, ‘garigor’, up to the roof would allow you, in summer to open the door to the roof, which is usually louvered as well historically, you allow heat to escape in the night and then in the day you shut it down; in winter you shut it down. There are aspects of these houses which work very well with climate control.


Yeah, this is really interesting because we seem to have in time forgotten these little pearls of wisdom that our ancestors have learned through maybe trial and error, maybe imported from other countries and how to regulate temperatures, humidities and essentially being comfortable in a hot climate such as the one we have in Malta.

You know getting rid of the central courtyard, for example in favour of little shafts where there's only space to run very basic pipework for bathrooms and whatever, is certainly not going to have the same effect as the courtyards that used to be in the old traditional homes I would guess.


Yes exactly. I mean courtyards are of great importance in these houses and even if one is tempted to glaze them over, I would also be very careful to make sure that there is ventilation because they actually work best when they are allowed to ventilate the rest of the house.


So, we've tackled the home. I know that there is a lot more to say about it, but if we were to take a step back now and see how the home fits into its surroundings into the streetscape.

We know for sure that you know we can't restrict development from happening very close to UCA, but the proximity of such modern blocks of flats to the UCA is going to be possibly harmful not only for the streetscape, but also in terms of the way it looks, not just the architecture.

So, my question would be, in your opinion, how close should modern interventions, modern construction be to this traditional type of typology of architecture in Malta?


Well, it's really a question of what the development is. Up till a very short time ago, before 2015, our towns had the designation of Urban Conservation Area and then they had development zone. The development zone was made up out of terraced houses or villa areas or industrial areas. Let’s keep the industrial out of it.

The terraced houses where, in 2006, designated as from two stories becoming three stories, and sometimes those three stories were allowed, a semi-basement because of importance of creating garages at level minus one, and sometimes they were designated with also having a penthouse.

In doing that, and I remember a particular minister at the time who sat across a dinner table from me he said, it was one of the worst mistakes we made by allowing most villages to have three stories.

We were basically saying that most villages and back gardens would end up with three stories plus one. That's four stories and perhaps four and a half stories.

So, you have a proximity of an old house with a garden, which perhaps somebody has spent a considerable amount of money upon, and what was before a terraced house could suddenly be demolished and become three floors plus one. This already created way back in 2006, a whole series of unsightly blank party walls.

It also meant that you had therefore, with four floors, you attracted a certain amount of speculation, and if a house was going to be demolished and would sell at 450,000 (Euros), you could sell four flats at 200,000 (Euros) each and basically be doubling your income or close to doubling your income.

So, you're talking about fuelling speculative developments. In 2006, already saw the harm that we’re doing to the neighbouring urban conservation areas, but sadly, the development lobby group always has the ear of the politician and the politicians did not instruct any changes other than attempting to be careful.

In 2015, it just got much worse because with the back page of a new policy or an update, an upgraded policy called Development Control Design Policy Guidance and Standards 2015, you have an infamous table called Annex Two. Now this Annex Two takes each and every area within the development zone and designates a total height.

So, three floors plus penthouse could suddenly become five or six floors, which means that if before we were looking at party walls of two floors above the traditional, two-storey houses, now we are looking at party walls of three or four floors above traditional houses.

So, we're talking about a vista from the back of six floors, and sometimes even from the front of six floors.

This has created havoc upon the skyline and the quality of the urban spaces in Malta and Gozo. It is crazy that we put into place a policy of this kind which fails to examine its effects. What are its effects? It's fuelled speculation to a degree never seen before.

Every corner of Malta and Gozo has a crane in it. It's fuelled excavation at all costs down two to three floors, to be able to accommodate all the parking spaces you need for so many floors or flats, with the resultant problems that we are now facing, even the fatality that we saw in 2020.

Such excavation was never intended to be the case within these narrow streets, and definitely not within terraced house plots where you have a house on either side.

We have actually asked for such prominence by spearheading with a policy without looking at its implications.

What have we done at a national level? We've created a speculative policy across all of Malta and Gozo, which results in demolition of houses. So where is the waste of those houses going? One. Where those houses a better element to have within our development areas? Or do we have an improved townscape now instead of a two-story terraced house with a five to six floor apartment block? I tend to think that it certainly is not for the better.

Thirdly, we have excavation again. What do we do with the waste? Fourthly, we are throwing away literally into quarries the most precious of our building elements, the simple globigerina limestone block and instead we are building single skin apartment blocks which have no environmental quality and even though there is on paper a document which is meant to satisfy European standards for sustainability called Document F, it is not being imposed and people are not checking up on it.

So, it is just a piece of paper to tick the box at European Union level. The quality of these apartments is absolutely shocking. I often go to see them with many people who are interested in buying them, and I rarely see a well-built block. I rarely see a block which has an underground well which retains the water. I rarely see proper double glazing or shading of glazed apertures.

What I usually do see 90% of the time is single skin, a corridor, and rooms on either side, one or two bedroom having possible natural light from the back. A third bedroom, probably having light from a tiny courtyard and a big front room in which a family of three or four has to survive, so the quality of these apartments is abysmal.

In Gozo, probably it is actually even worse, because the apartments that I have been looking at in Gozo tend to have a living room space of three meters width at the maximum.

So, I mean the quality is just terrible, nobody really, I don't know. I mean, it's an interesting point but has anybody studied what this Annex Two is doing? Do we need so many apartments on the island?

Do we need to get rid of all our houses or a big part of our housing stock to replace it with apartments? Are all of these apartments going to be lived in? Or are they for passport holders that won't even enter the block? As we read from recent newspaper reports. What are we doing to our townscapes?

It's easy to buy a house and knock it down, you have one owner. You buy it, you knock it down, you put up four or five apartments. Do we not realize that we're going to be faced with these apartment blocks for the rest of our generation and the generations to come because you can't really buy out five, six, seven, eight people easily? This is what Malta and Gozo is going to look like for centuries.

Do we not understand the implications of what is going on?


One wonders how sustainable that is, right? Because we can't keep on going on the way we are. So, we have to see how, well how we can do something for our wellbeing, because we've seen even during the pandemic that people are no longer possible to function properly in tiny spaces. The one that you were describing with no balconies, no open space, no outdoor areas. So yes, it's going to be something which we need to do something about.

My final point really, maybe for you Jo would be, so imagine I've, and this was again an item in the newspaper recently of how to treat these, blank walls.

We've got them now and we have to deal with them somehow. How can we treat them for them not to be an eyesore, especially within a UCA?


Well, I would say there are two ways of looking at this. I would say that anybody who truly cares about our environment would immediately apply a moratorium on this infamous Annex Two. At least until we've studied its implications at the national level.

The next thing that should happen is that we should study the areas which do have these blank party walls and these pencil-like buildings which are creating such an eyesore in our townscape.

We should design the rest of the streets, making sure that we limit development to the absolute minimum of what we can do to make that street liveable. Development is not just demolishing a building and putting up a block of apartments. I have clients who have invested in historic buildings and have spent much more than the average speculative developer.

So, it's a question of where you put your money. Do you put your money in marble and superior lighting and the latest technology in infrastructure? Or do you put your money in the cheapest concrete and concrete block work and gypsum walls?

So, it really is a different type of development, but it is much more sustainable. It's much better for our environment and the construction industry can still be kept going because I do understand this merger of this country, but we just need to do things in a better way. At a real estate level, I would also question how many apartments we need on the island.

So, if I come back to your question of the blank party walls in development zones and those infringing upon urban conservation areas. I would also look at the need for the amount of apartment blocks there are needed within that locality because if you have one or two streets which are dedicated to apartments, it's absolutely fine.

The next block, the next house can be demolished. It goes up, you have a zone which is earmarked for such apartments. You can even design for the garages to be developed instead of piecemeal fashion and excavation in a piecemeal fashion, it happens at one go and you locate areas which can take Annex 2.

You have also other areas where the people perhaps want to keep the value of the house. They don't want to see it devalued because there's a block of apartments behind them or next to them where we should start saying okay, Annex 2 should not be applied here.

I would definitely think that that's the case with the immediate area and the first 200 meters around an urban conservation area, and I would say there are other areas where people should be given the choice of whether they want their street to become blocks of apartment or whether they want their street to retain the terraced house aspect.

These are not necessarily urban conservation areas. They can be terraced houses from the 70s or from the 80s, and there is value in that because many people do want to live in houses. Many people do want to have a back garden, so not just give the citizens of Malta and Gozo one building type.

Let's allow the citizens of Malta and Gozo to be able to choose within whether they live in a street full of apartments or whether they live in our streets full of terraced houses and let us allow people to retain the value of their house, to retain the value of what they've invested in. Let's not devalue their house because the speculator wants to sell his five apartments and therefore ruins the streets because of the pencil building and the blank party wall.

So, I think it has to be looked at in a true planning sense. A proper planner doesn't put blinkers on and just looks at that one site, which is what's happening at the moment. The true planner looks at that locality, looks at that area, looks at it as a whole.


These are some really interesting takeaways, Jo. You've mentioned, the public having a choice and needing to do that choice wisely when they come to invest properties and invest in maybe continue developing their own property because I know that some people would want to provide for their families so they're extending their building upwards basically, to provide for them.

They need to be aware of the decisions that they're taking, and how these decisions can lead to better sustainable development. You've also touched on authority. How it should be done, how planning should be done, not in a piecemeal fashion and including more of the city, including more of the town within which the development is being proposed, and possibly yes, seeing how blocks can be developed rather than just tiny buildings.

One last nugget if I may ask. What is the role of designers you think in all of this? How can we lead the way or at least be a beacon of light for sustainable development?


Well, I really think there is a very important role for the designers. This week we saw the very unfortunate, sad situation of a modernist house in Old Railway Road, Balzan being given approval for its entire demolition.

I think with a proper design cap on, that house or elements of that house, without wishing to go into the merits of facadism because I think that's another topic, another podcast in itself, could have been kept.

I think if one is creative, one can create a three-storey house which is divided into three apartments or is divided into a house with an apartment on top, which can also have some form of underground parking.

Although once you limit the apartments, you don't even need so much underground parking because it's a chicken and an egg thing. Put in six apartments and you need twelve car spaces and therefore you need to demolish everything because you need to put in a basement.

I think there's a lot of value in the retention of a house. There is value in an architect and a designer looking at that house and saying okay, how can I give the owner of this house the extension that they want, but retaining elements of that house which make it an intrinsic part of the streetscape and of the urban fabric that it is located in.

I mean, I don't wish to just limit it to house. There's also the garden. I mean the garden is what makes the house, a house without a garden is a bit sad. We also have to realize that people do want trees. They don't just want plants in pots. So, of course there is a very important aspect of design with architects need to be creative. Had they need to be creative by not just looking at one solution, we demolish it and put a block of flats.

They need to be creative by telling the client listen so we can do this, we can do that. We can give you three floors; we can give you four floors. This is your revenue on three floors, this is revenue on retaining the house; this is your revenue on four floors.

I think we also have to ask ourselves as architects and persons operating in Malta and Gozo, if we care about our heritage, I think we have to also put our ethics into the pot and say, are we happy with what we are producing? Is this the best that we can produce? Are we respecting our heritage?


Yes, some very valuable food for thought there. Lots to think about now, Jo. Thank you so much for joining us today Joanna. This was a very interesting chat with you.


Thank you, Jeanette. Thank you, Luis.


This was Joanna Spiteri Staines, and you are listening to the human agenda.

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July 16, 2021

Education and sustainability: how do these go hand-in-hand?

Transcript: 05 - Education and sustainability: how do these go hand-in-hand? — with Censu Caruana

With us today there is Censu Caruana. Censu’s mission in life is to inspire people to take action for a better self and a better world. He is currently a full-time lecturer and researcher at the Centre for Environmental Education and Research. Censu has for the past 35 years been very active in the Social and Development scene.

He describes himself as curious and determined so the purpose of this call today is to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development. So that we may be able to achieve both personal behavioral changes as well as a genuine transformation of our economic systems.

We will be defining this in terms of sustainable development goals, particularly 4.7, which states that by 2030 we need to ensure all learners acquire knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development, including amongst us ways through education for sustainable development and sustainable lifestyles, human rights, gender equality, promotion of a culture of peace and nonviolence, global citizenship and the appreciation of cultural diversity and of culture is a contribution to sustainable development.

Censu, this is by no means a simple task to achieve in the few years that we have left until 2030. So first of all, how are we going to start? I think that is my first question.


When you asked me to describe myself and I thought about the two keywords, curious and determined. I think in a way they give us a bit of a clue in the sense that we need to remain curious to understand both what the problems are and what the solutions are.

Then it's important, I think, to have a genuine determination to be part of the solution. I always stumble a bit when people start talking about problems, problems, problems, because sometimes they keep on feeding the problem and of course, we need to understand the problem.

For me, the best starting point is understanding the problem but making sure it is just a steppingstone to investigate solutions.

And then once we are happy with some solutions, at least choose one and act on it.


Well, wise words indeed. Today the main subject really is going to be sustainability in education or education and sustainability. Yes, we have to be curious and determined as you have mentioned.

This goes hand in hand, so we need to understand what sustainability is, we have to, you know, yes, we don't have to focus on the problem, focus on how we're going to come out of the problem, but we need to appreciate how we can go about this.

One of the main things I think to understand the problem is to inform people what could be the problem. So how do you see sustainability in terms of the educational scene?


Yes, in my past life I was a mathematics teacher and I used to teach mathematics for 30 years and you know these pen diagrams where we have circuits that meet each other at some point, and in my mind, I always imagine three big circuits. One is called education; one is called sustainability and one is called values.

I tried to look at that point in the middle right these three intersect. So, for me of course, sustainability is an important issue, especially when it is directed towards the wellbeing of people, and even because of the planet.

The means to do it is through education because education is both about the knowledge, but it's also about the values and that is where I put a special ethics for values because the mindset and the values that will extract could have a huge impact. At the end if we have a vision for the future, which is not conducive to wellbeing. Do we want it to be sustainable?

In the sense, you know, so I really think we need to have a foundation, a worldview based on values and then I think like these three points intersect, we can dance, we can play to make sure that something concrete comes out.


Yes, I like your vision of this diagram and the intersection between these three, so to speak, pillars of what we're trying, you know through which we're going to be trying to achieve wellbeing.

We have to be careful I think because sometimes morals and values could be a little bit misguided and possibly whatever we do or there might be a possibility of things being rather superficial and you know we hear words about greenwashing things not actually being sustainable, but just given the label.

It's as if you know you get a gold star and you put it on your product, and it becomes sustainable and therefore possibly the wrong kind of education could lead to maybe superficial interventions of sustainability and wellbeing. What are your thoughts on how we could possibly prevent this from happening?


You're completely right. There is a particular environmental educator called David Orr and in his PhD speech, he actually said that the people who are ruining the world are people with MBA and PhD's. So basically, it's not how much education you have but it is actually the quality of their education. It is whether the education that you have today is actually relevant for the challenges that we face today.

I can take the agriculture curriculum of 50 years ago, if I am still teaching that curriculum, is it relevant to the challenges of climate change?

So, I think that's a very good point. It's about quality of education and not about the amount or type of education. Then of course there's the question of greenwash, which you mentioned. Today, the consumer is becoming more conscious. Today, more and more consumers are asking for ethical goods, so some businesses are seeing a business opportunity to respond to the consumer based which is more aware.

So those that are willing to reevaluate their structures, it would lead to real change. Those who just do it as an excuse to increase their pocket right? Then there's no change within the organization.

It’s just another means to bring about profit and that leads to greenwashing. So, you remove a bit of the harmful chemicals and say this is my eco brand, but it doesn't really bring about any inside change in the organization.

So, at the end again, it does come to the mindset to the values, to the worldview that the organization hosts.


Yes, and this is, I think, a very important issue because you don't only need to have the good intentions of doing something, but you really need to believe in something deeper than that and therefore you can actually bring about change you.

You mention being an agent of the change, you need to really promote this, and it starts from within a sustainable company, even the way it treats its employees, the way it behaves within the general economy does not only do that, but it will also be taking a step forward at all of the services and products that it produces, it will be towards the common good.

Yes, it could be like the utopian idea of what is common good, but I mean who doesn't want to be happy and healthy? Let's face it, no? That is what we were here to strive. Within this framework I think it's important to point out that we're talking about the environment as a complete concept of the environment, so including the natural, the social, economic, the physical, there are many aspects of it.

One thing that maybe you can give us more information about is the cultural perspective, because different cultures will see sustainability in a slightly different way. How would you go about understanding different cultures?


Basically, context is key. If we look at the development of the concept of sustainable development.

First, you have the environment development, so it was a sort off two pillar; and then we said yes, but the economy is okay what about society and the distribution of wealth across the economy. So, we start talking about the three pillars of sustainable development, the social, the economic and the environmental.

For some time, we were happy with that but because of the need to translate such ideas at a very local level. It was actually the local councils that composed the fourth pillar which is the cultural pillar because they said that the ideas are nice, but they need to find that translation into the daily lives of people, into the rituals that gives people meaning, into the routines that give people meaning.

So, for me, this again points to the need of a very bottom up approach starting with where the people are so that any intervention is culturally appropriate, and it is not by coincidence, and it was the local councils that pointed this out because it is exactly the concerns at a very local and territorial level that can lead a genuine model of sustainable development that is nearly reflecting the needs of that neighborhood, of that society. The needs of neighborhoods are sold so quickly. So, we cannot stay with these very high up concerns, we need to find ways how to translate at a very local level.


So Censu, you said a very interesting word “translation”, that for me is basically communication. So, do you think that we have an issue from many sides? Because we were talking about the business side that for me, that is marketing. Do you think we have an issue with communication and even in the education, what are your thoughts about that?


One of the things that we actually train our students in is to organize participatory exercises. I was somehow involved myself for example, when the Design a Cluster in Valletta realized that you’re going to have a new art center, where many people from the outside will be coming in and they were concerned on how this will impact citizens around. The people who live immediately around. So, we had a discussion and we actually had meetings with people in the street using an open space technology where people could come out with their own ideas with their own concepts. Even coming out with what meaning they can give to the place it says and we did it in a really participatory manner, knocking on the doors of the residents that lived around this design center. So, for me the idea is that if we had a mindset of authentic and genuine participation we actually do start listening to the people and then of course this can be built up into an action plan, in points to follow up.

So, in the sense, our main concern was to reach out to people. The only way to do it was to actually knock on the doors. We had it in the same street so that we will not have many obstacles for attendees. We created an office space technology so that we don't set the agenda ourselves and who are willing to listen to the agenda of people.

So, I think the clue for me would be a mindset that privileges and acknowledges the importance of citizen participation.


That is really interesting because it's something that we have been talking about ourselves as well for a while and I would like to home in on this particular point, because we're talking about education, but we don't mean necessarily formal education in a school. Education is a far broader term and so some people might say about, you know, education from home, education from your family, education from school and obviously there’s tertiary education.

There is also an education through a community. The herd so to speak your tribe, how they give you information. How you're going to then pass it on to your own children eventually. So, how can we promote ways to encourage good education aside from the formal scholar, school setting?


This is a great question, because actually I am very much interested in the youth and community education.

Schools are wonderful because you have a certain age between 5 and 16, which is obligatory. So, if you have a decent curriculum, in a way you are guiding that people who passed through the system, we get a decent education. But we also realize that it is adults that are taking decisions today. We also realized that we want to talk about youth empowerment but where are the youths? What opportunities do youths have to actually voice their concerns?

So, in a way, you are right that adult education has remained a bit of the cindrella of education.

It’s underfunded compared to formal education, there are less initiatives going on. However, when you actually talk to people, many for example, adults refer to the opportunities they had in their youth to do volunteer work as something which was live changing and that helped them choose their career.

So that is actually what I understand by non-formal and formal education. Creating actual spaces for youths to experience the reality in a different country. The reality in my own country, which is perhaps not the reality that I grew up in and creating new links, new friendships.

Many times, this type of education, which has the advantage that you can process your learning in a group because you’ve got a group meeting regularly, you can share with people your age is an extremely important part of education, and actually I myself always enjoy it when I get invitations from civil society organizations to support them in sustainability and campaign advocacy. Anything which I think is useful because I really believe that non-formal education and education for youth is what we really need at this point in time and of course schools still keep they’re important goal but not at the expense of the community.

We are perhaps sometimes too quiet. You know, in the sense that we don't know from where to start. We hear, an overdevelopment here, an overdevelopment there, we feel that things are getting out of control, but actually we have had examples of good practice.

Recently some 90 NGOs were not happy with the changes that the government proposed in the new (16.50), and they gathered together as 92 organizations to ask for a re-draft and this re-draft was given.

So, the moment these organizations found a way to come together, they actually brought about change.

So, when you say education for advocacy it's not something in the air. It actually is this capability of coming together with a common aim to bring about change.


Of course, in whatever we're doing, we're not only doing it for the people who are with us now, yes? We're doing all of this because of the future generations. You know, the youngsters now, as you've mentioned, your passion in enhancing their knowledge of how they can take care of Mother Nature, so to speak and adjust society such that they can live in a better society later on.

I think this is where education needs a bit of an attention because the education needs to be future oriented. It has to have a perspective that doesn't only satisfy whatever we have now, but also what's going to maybe happen in the future.


You know that sometimes when I'm invited to these talks, I always say one of the biggest problems in Maltese society is the lack of opportunities to envision a different future together.

We have so little possibilities where we come together to envision the future that we want, so we keep on fighting because we haven't come together to try and understand. This is how my city can look like, this is how Malta can look like.

We sort of remain on autopilot and keep on doing what we have always done, and sometimes we see that the problems are too big for us to deal with, and they are moving forward in spite of us and at a fast speed.

In the meantime, we do not really know when we are going. I remember when I was in my teens, I read a book that if you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else and this is what is happening to us. We do not know where we are going, and we are ending up somewhere else.

So, one of the actually exercises, for example, that I do with young people when I'm given the opportunity, is to actually create future visions. We usually talk about possible visions possible futures and then we ask our young people, like from all of these possible futures which one do you think is the most probable? Like with a business-as-usual scenario, which is the most probable? And if the most probable is not my preferable, it’s a bit of a game with the three p’s here, possible, preferable, probable you know? If the most probable future is not my preferable, then we need to steer the direction where we're going. This requires both or personal change but also community solutions also challenging sometimes economic direction.


Indeed, because sometimes the focus could be on the now rather than the then, and we are only solving problems that we see now and not thinking what our decisions now are going to be, you know how they're going to be part of the future. In a way, I guess one of the ways as you have mentioned, you're involving young people. We're talking young people as a group, but this could happen with all levels of society or ages or genders or everything, or races.

How can we empower people to actually say I want this change; I want my future; I want it to be this way. How can we empower them to actually do something about it?


From a very young age in schools when we talk about pedagogy when we talk about the methods we use with children, but then we can apply this to you, and we can apply this to the community. We always say more knowledge does not necessarily bring about a change in behavior.

So, we always try to move beyond knowledge, beyond even awareness and then we go into values. We go into skills and we go into actions. In reality, if for example, I am teaching young children to appreciate nature. To dirty their hands in the soil, we start by growing a crop. Which in 3-4 weeks will give me a result because that is empowering.

I feel that I managed to grow my own radish, I feel that I managed to grow my own basil and it is important to celebrate these many successes and use these many successes to go on to somewhere more challenging.

So, for me empowerment is starting perhaps with something which is achievable, celebrating success and using that success to go into something which is more challenging and keep on going in this dynamic session and at the same time I really think that we need mutual support.

One of the issues I have invested a lot in the past three and a half, four years is what I call peer mentoring.

The idea that peer to peer in a horizontal wave, teacher to teacher educators to educator, youth worker to youth worker, we mentor each other, we support each other because it's so easy to get caught up in the status quo to get caught up with busyness to actually wear busyness as a badge of honor and then we don't have time to reflect.

So, I think this idea that the solutions are also created in a group, and you need the group not only to create solutions, but also to keep the hope alive, also to mentor each other, also to support and challenge each other especially when we feel that the issues that we are dealing with are just too big.

One of the people who has influenced me a lot in her writings is Vandana Shiva. She's an Indian activist, a physicist and activist. She always talks about how can we retain our joy while fighting against injustice and fighting for a better environment?

For me this is really important because instead of empowerment we can end up with burn out. This is not where we need to go. We need to retain our joy. Why? To envision a better future and focus on the solution.


This is, I think, one of the main takeaways for today really is to remain joyous, right while keeping the positive attitude of a change agent, of a person that would like to bring about change. But I guess there are other takeaways that people can take from our discussion today.

Say for example, in education, educators, people who are in a position to directly affect you know, generations, what do you think?

How can we inspire them? What can they take from today?


Being an educator myself, I always say that my role is to sow seeds. Some will grow, some might not grow, some a bird will eat, and then we'll carry very far away, and it will grow without me ever knowing.

Some people say that most of the trees are nuts, this isn’t in the Maltese context, but most of the trees are nuts which squirrels buried, and they forgot about. So, they didn't go back to them. They forget about them and, but a tree grew.

So, I think for an educator it is about sowing seeds and then forgetting. So, that's so not to remain attached and tense to the outcome you know, but to keep on sowing seeds hope.


Yes indeed, and I guess similar, in a similar fashion sowing seeds, but maybe sowing a value of an economy we can translate this into business. That business should not only be seeing the profit margins but should be going deeper like we've mentioned before. So, business owners need to look into other ways of being sustainable and taking their message through.

What do you think Censu?


No, actually I am completely in favor of economic initiatives within the solidarity economy and within the social economy where we couldn’t be making, I don't know like opposition to all forms of discrimination, ecological sustainability, acting in solidarity etc.

I mean the whole idea of the triple bottom line within businesses. I think it is something which we really need and one of the advocacy points actually is to have a stronger voice in Malta so that the white paper on the social enterprises will become law because we want and make law to make it easier for organizations to act within this social economy.


Of course, and we've also mentioned you know the designers earlier on I'm trying to look at you know the main people, the main parts of society that could really benefit out of what we're chatting today.

You've mentioned cities before, and to make a city sustainable, it does not need a person only, it needs a society, it needs people to work together. I know that you are not a designer Censu, but your little words of wisdom, maybe for all those who are struggling to become better in in the way they do things.


Yes, I'm not a designer and recently I’m dabbling a bit with permaculture which is a bit of a design principle to try and mimic nature.

It’s a design principle built on fairness to people, fair shares, fairness to the earth and so on. However, I am pretty much actually influenced by an architect designer, a certain Buckminster Fuller and he said some very beautiful things that have always impacted me.

I think he's the inventor of Geodesic Dome if I remember well. He says at one point that when you tired of fighting the system, just create your own so that you automatically make the old system obsolete. He also says that when struggling with a problem, he doesn't focus specifically on beauty, but when the end result is not beautiful, he says then I know that my solution is wrong. So, perhaps this could be some guidelines for designers.


Goodness me very heavy, very deep. Yes, we need to take a few steps back and look at the at the macro vision and sometimes we focus on the little things so much that before we get the context in which our little things are within our society. Yes, I couldn't agree more with you or Buckminster.

And last but not least, I think we have mentioned you know bottom-up ways of doing things of really engaging the community, really understanding them, and perhaps also knowing how to ask questions because, you know, asking of the questions and being curious as you've mentioned at the beginning is a is a very vital part of what we're doing, but we can't not mention that there is going to be some sort of top down.

The authorities need to also, you know, guide in a sense because it's not just communities on their own, but it's the country that needs to function and the world needs to function on its own. So, we need authorities to put their weights in it as well so.

So, some ideas of how this can be done in terms of authority Censu?


Yes, so actually at some point I already mentioned the importance of involving citizens. The importance especially from public authorities and politicians, to learn how to listen more and talk less.

I think that would be a great takeaway because it is the people that are mostly affected by the issue under discussion that have the most to say about it. If it is a rural development plan; I have to listen to the farmers and the farmers don't come. I have to go; I have to listen.

So, I think that is crucial, however, I have also been myself influenced by a certain book by Robert Chambers. The title of the book was, ‘Whose Reality Counts.

I think that when it comes to authorities, it is very important to ask this question. Sometimes we see nice statistics and I have learned to reverse the statistics. So, if I read 95% of children here have been given a quality education. I read 5% of children has not been given a quality education.

I learn how to reverse this statistic and then I asked the question does their reality count? And of course, then it means to give special attention to those that are being left out and actually started in reference to the Sustainable Development Goals and actually the Sustainable Development Goals are about not leaving anyone behind.

So, that is for example, that is what I see is the main take of authorities and of course this fixation of economy gold and gross domestic product (GDP).

I think we need to shift a bit more towards what brings wellbeing, what brings happiness, what are the qualities of our relationships, what is the quality of our environment, what is the quality of my air, the air I breathe, and so on.


Censu, I hope all of this, comes to reality, and it'll be all our reality then. It will be all our reality that counts. Thank you so much for being with us today. It's been an immense pleasure.

This was Censu Caruana and you are listening to The Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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July 9, 2021

Curiosity as a tool for sustainable brands

Transcript: 04 - Curiosity as a tool for sustainable brands — with Gage Mitchell

With us today, there is Gage Mitchell. Gage sees everything as a design challenge. Whether it's designing new business strategies, designing to solve community problems, or designing your life to be more fulfilling. He's the founder of modern species and the Evolve CPG, where he helps better for the world brands grow through purpose-driven strategy, design, and community.

He describes himself as an impact designer, and today's call will be talking about how to inspire people to ask more questions and to be more intentional with their work and lives so that we can collectively design a better world.

So, Gage, we were talking about how to inspire people, and one of the things that you mentioned is asking more questions and how can we do that? How can we give more value to the art of asking questions?


One of the first pieces of advice I give people wanting to do purpose-driven work or sustainability or impact-driven stuff is curiosity. Just be curious first of all because if you ask yourself, how can I better connect with this person? How can I make this person life better?

In which ways can this project be more sustainable? What happens to this thing after it leaves the consumer's hands? You know, no matter what industry you're in, if you get good at being curious, you'll think of a bunch of questions that you can ask and asking those questions will hopefully help you find the answers you're seeking that will help you design a better solution. But, what's awesome about asking questions is that you often get something back that you weren't expecting that you weren't looking for.

Some brilliant, amazing insight from the awesome person across the table from you that you're asking the question of that will inspire you to do something different that you would never have thought of on your own.


So, Gage, if we extend this to brands, which benefits brands can get from questions from, you know, asking more questions, can you give me some detail about that?


For brands, if I am a brand manager, let's say, and I am trying to figure out how to grow my brand, sell more product. I think the version of curiosity that works for them is being more curious about your customers and consumers.

And asking them a bunch of questions instead of thinking that you know everything and go out there with some assumptions and survey your email list, ask to look at the data in your social media. Do actual live consumer you know quantitative and qualitative studies.

To figure out what makes them tick and what about your brand they resonate with and what about other brands they resonate with and why they buy certain products and what motivates them and what gets them excited in the world.

The more you know about your consumer or your customers, the more you can make sure that your products and your services and your brand itself can help them be the person they want to be in the world, and therefore they'll see you as this great option to achieve whatever they want to achieve and lock their dreams.

So, the more you can know about them, the better you can serve them, and the better you can serve them, the more they'll trust you and love you and be loyal and buy all your products and whatever else you sell and tell everyone else about it. So, I'd say the moral of the story on both sides' is don't assume you know everything. Assume you know just enough to ask the right questions and then go talk to people and figure out what's going on.

Because just getting a little bit more understanding of the space you're working in, or the people you're working with can work magic. The insights that can come from really good questions will unlock a ton of potential for you as an individual for you and your brand or for whatever business you run or you as a student, a learner in the world trying to find some more expertise in some subject you're interested in.


So how do you think this line of questioning could actually help in developing sustainable brands, businesses strategies, because some people might not know what they want, you know or how to be sustainable even. So how can we help them understand what they'd like through questioning? What's your take on that?


Yes, good question. There's a lot of great tools out there, and a question you just asked is the reason some fellow collaborators and myself wrote, The Path to Impact. It's a workbook that we put together for AIGA, the professional Association for Design.

Well, it's this workbook that we got sappy ideas that matter grant to produce. It's a little banged up because it's been well-loved, but the idea in this workbook is that we kind of guide people through what impact looks like.

The types of impact you can make environment, social, culture and the economy, and then in a design familiar process of going through step by step. So, we help people envision what kind of impact they're going to make, and the reason I'm bringing this up is because, within this book, we have a bunch of questions about the beneficiaries about the conditions you want to change, about the stakeholders you're trying to engage.

Instead of writing it out in some sort of very theoretical or very academic way, we tried to write it in just plain language so that by seeing that word beneficiaries and then the question next to it, like who's this project intended to serve you're both learning a term that maybe you didn't know before maybe you did.

If you work in impact space and it's just helping you to think of some of those questions, you can ask. So, this whole workbook is full of a bunch of those questions or prompts that get you thinking in the right way. But it's not necessarily designed for you to ask and get answers to all of them because that would take a very long amount of time.

Probably a good year or something to go through that whole book but flipping through that book and figuring out where you are in a certain stage of a project or where you're getting stuck. So, if you'd pull some of those questions from there, it could really move some mountains and get some obstacles out of your way and help you point in the right direction.

Then you'll probably think of a bunch of your own questions you can sprinkle in there as well, but exactly to your point, we created that workbook, these materials that we created with it just to give people a place to start if they don't know what questions ask. So, with that said, there's lots of other tools, resources, websites, books that are on sustainability or on impact or on social justice.

If you pick up some of those books, attend some events, go to a conference, you know you'll learn a little bit every time you engage in that community. Eventually, you'll have a stronger vocabulary and a stronger idea of what questions to ask, but if you just need to start somewhere, there are lots of resources out there.

The IGA path impact is one possible resource that you could look into.


That's great, and I guess all of these questions can also apply to, you know, the everyday life of a person.

It's not just you know applicable to brands and enabling brands or empowering them to get somewhere through this line of questioning, but also to, a bit of an introspective aspect to it as well that you can apply to a person, maybe, and develop a personal brand or you know, just self-development really.


Absolutely, Yes. We've actually used that book when we were in the testing kind of design writing phase, we were just trying to figure out where all it could be applicable. We definitely found it applicable to nonprofits like boards like designing themselves or to work with their community.

To design better solutions for the community, which means it also works for businesses or brands trying to make more impact but what we found that was kind of shocking to all of us was that it also works personally.

You can ask a lot of these questions of yourself and figure out how to design your life or your world, or your business in a different way that will help impact you, your family, your friends, your community, your customers in a better way.

With that said, there's; also, I've always wanted to write a book on life design because I'm a big believer in applying design everywhere, and I was relieved from that duty when I found that a couple of Stanford’s professors that have been teaching a life design class.

I guess it's one of the most popular classes at Stanford, but they wrote a book. I think it's called, Designing Your Life. I've got it up on my bookshelf somewhere, and they have their process, my process is a little bit different, but you know theirs is super valid.

They have a process that they walk you through in that book on how you can be a little bit more iterative and prototyping and so on and so forth. Kind of using design thinking methods on your own life, and so that could be; in what kind of career, you want to pursue? It could be where you want to live or how you set up your priorities in life.

So, you're living with more balance like there's just so many different things. So many different questions you could ask yourself to figure out ways to tweak your life in different ways. That'll make a big impact for you and, again, your loved ones or friends, family, etc.

So yes, I would say being curious and asking questions applies to basically everything.


Yes, that's really true. When you start asking yourself questions, you start thinking of ways how you can get better. There will be ways that possibly have not considered yet. So yes, starting from somewhere and then maybe evolving that line of questioning depending on which part of your life you'd like to, you know, develop because there are different parts of your life.

There's the personal one, the professional one and as you said it, goes across borders. Going back to the line of questioning from designers, there is a responsibility that comes with questions and not only with the questions to empower people to answer you and how change is going to come from the person.

But also, a responsibility of how you're going to be using this information. So now designers have a very important role I think there which is possibly sometimes misused or you know through no fault of their own, maybe because they might not have enough information.

But yes, I mean, we believe that designers have a very important role in even defining a culture or defining the thought process because design is all around you. It is in the architecture; it's in billboards, it's in books, it's in everywhere. So how can we help designers understand the responsibility? I think that is where the key lies.


Yes, that's a very good point in that any time somebody has the power to make decisions, I've believed that comes with the responsibility to make good decisions that are good for all, but then also designers are in a position of influence too. So, we don't just make decisions. We also make decisions that will influence.

As you said, people live, cultures, businesses, etc. So, if we're in this position of influence and we have the option to either sell more cigarettes that are going to kill a bunch of people or sell smoothies that are going to save a bunch of people lives.

That's one area of responsibility that I have personally chosen, the path of health and wellness for my career focus. I work mostly with better for the world, brands, and a lot of that is in natural organic products. So, I believe that you know, not only can we reverse climate change through the work that we're doing because all the studies show that food-related problems are some of the biggest struggles we're facing right now.

We can also help empower people to live better lives by giving them better choices at the grocery store or helping inspire them to live a better life just at home if they're making their own food.

So that's like one area of responsibility is who are you going to work for? Granted, I see that that's also a position of privilege, by which I mean I have the freedom to choose who to work with, but not everyone has that freedom. You know, sometimes you're getting started in your career, and you just need a job, and you don't get to tell your boss that you're not going take that Coca Cola project or that you know Nike product.

Whatever company that you think is doing some evils in the world and granted a lot of companies are turning a leaf and becoming better in making more of an impact, so there are fewer and fewer companies to call out as evil anymore. But you know there are still a lot of terrible products out there that are making people's lives worse, not better.

So, if you have the power to make decisions around who you work with, I think that's one area of responsibility: who are you giving your superpowers of influence to, and what are they doing with that power?

Are they helping people and making better lives? Or are they sucking people's money, damaging their health, destroying the environment, and making the world worse off for your children, grandchildren, and everything else? So, you're really hurting yourself in the whole world if you're making the wrong choice there.

So, I think if people think about the fact that their decisions and their behaviours have long-lasting impact and outcomes, hopefully, they'll start asking the right questions about what kind of impact and outcomes their decisions are making.

And you know, if they're in a position of privilege to be able to make the right decision, that hopefully, they'll realise that making that right decision has long-lasting impacts that go way beyond their short time on this planet.

So that's like, choosing who you work with but then even if you work for some evil company. So, let's just say cigarettes because I think we can all agree that that's probably bad, and they're not going to be good anytime soon.

So, let's say you're working for a cigarette company. There are still choices you can make in that process to help people and help the planet. For example, let's say you want to make cigarette packaging more sustainable like they're usually wrapped in plastic, right?

Maybe there's a different way to wrap those boxes so that they're not in some plastic that's going to get ripped off and thrown in the street and end up in the ocean somewhere or eaten by a bird or something like that? You know, maybe that wrapping could be compostable, something like that.

There are also questions you could ask yourself about the package design or the advertisements that you're making for a cigarette company.

Are you designing those in such a way that purely sells the product with no nod to the potential side effects? Are you selling those products in a way that's appealing to children or kids?

You're making it look cool or aspirational, like something that younger people want to like, be like that person in the ad.

There are lots of decisions along the way that even if you're selling something bad, you could be doing a little good with it by reducing the negative impacts as much as possible, and you know, letting people choose from there.

So, there are lots of different ways I think as a designer that we can help make decisions, help push companies or brands or people in the right direction.

But of course, we can choose to use those powers for good, or we can choose to use those powers for evil, and I think it's up to each person to decide how they define good and evil and then up to them to decide, like how much of their career, they're whatever they're willing to risk to make those good decisions.

I think there's always ways to push people forward. Even if you're working for a quote-unquote evil company, you can always pitch sustainability or impact as a profit-driving method because done right; sustainable design should actually save money or make more money.


It's not just the wrapper that packaging, the product, but it's also the advert that you put out to accompany that. Whether that has a positive impact or a negative impact depending on the message that you're trying to put forward. So, the responsibility of designers is not just designers themselves, but also how they link with marketing, how they link with ad agencies, and how this comes together as one.

You know, as one project basically to be not just environmentally sustainable but also socially sustainable, and I think this is a very important point to mention in today's world, no? In the world we live in.

My other thought was, I mean this is, it can all seem to be a little bit doom and glume, no? We can all be quite worried about how to do this, and we have to be realistic about stuff. We have to be realistic on how much people can absorb, how much people can change and how fast they can change.

Also, we have to be quite positive in a way because, you know, just going out there saying in billboards that the end is nigh and we're all going to die out of a tsunami.

It's very pessimistic, and I think people don't really take on that well if you're going to be attacking and highlighting the bad bit.

So, how can we use curiosity and all of this, what we've talked about today to make it positive to give a positive message and maybe get more out of the experience of this question asking?


Yes, that's that is so true. One of the struggles I see with the organic movement, for example, in the US at least, is that they like to sell organic by just talking about all the bad things that they're avoiding in by you choosing organic. It's just funny to me because they never seem to want to talk about all the good stuff you're getting. Like all other brands that are successful, right? Nike doesn't tell you about all the crap they left out of your shoe.

They tell you about all the cool stuff they put in your shoe and everything you're going to get to achieve by wearing their shoes, so I think a lot of better for the world products or better for the world, brands or companies or whatever get stuck in this idea of us versus them or this whole competitive or negative kind of mindset is one of the problems. They think that all we have to do is educate people to let them know how bad the thing is that they're currently consuming, and then they'll want our thing.

That's a big assumption because not everybody wants to be educated. Some people just want to be entertained. Some people just want to feel cool. Some people want to have hope for the future etc., and you telling them a bunch of negative stuff isn't necessarily going to influence them.

That's a big assumption because not everybody wants to be educated. Some people just want to be entertained. Some people just want to feel cool. Some people want to have hope for the future etc., and you telling them a bunch of negative stuff isn't necessarily going to influence them.

It's not meeting them where they're at, so to use behaviour design principles, you have to understand people, existing motivations, what they already care about instead of trying to make them care about something new.

You tap into what they already care about if you can find a way to position your product, your brand, your movement, you're whatever. The thing that you need them to do to make their life better in the world better.

If you can tie that into something they're already motivated about, you can get them to actually consider it and then once they're buying it, using it, whatever, and they become a believer in it. Then they'll seek out more information, and then they'll share it with the world as well.

So, hitting people with just negative messages, hitting people with education, hitting people over the head with stuff they're not ready for is not usually a good growth strategy or a good advertising campaign or anything like that.

Figuring out what your target customer, beneficiary, whomever it is that you're trying to change. Figuring out what really motivates them and then figuring out how your product, your solution, your whatever ties into that and positioning it in that way, I think, will move mountains compared to just telling them all this negative stuff like the world is ending or whatever.

So, I think that's one method to think about if you're interested if the listeners are interested in behaviour design. There's a professor out of again Stanford. I guess I'm a Stanford fan, apparently.

He's called Doctor BJ Fogg, or he just goes by BJ Fogg. Still, he's been studying behavioral psychology for a while and has some different theories, philosophies, and tools around behaviour design that can help you wrap your mind around it a little bit easier. He just came out with a book called Tiny Habits that's really more about personal behaviour and influencing your own behaviour.

Like getting yourself to floss or getting yourself to, you know, exercise in the morning or whatever, so but those principles also can apply to designing stuff for other people.

So maybe check that out. But yes, I totally agree the world can be super negative. I think it's better to be a realistic optimist. By which I mean I understand that things are broken, and not everything is great, not everything will be great, but being optimistic that it can change and being hopeful and curious enough to be part of that change.


Yes, this is super interesting. I mean, there are three types of people in the world. There are the believers, the people who are actually doing something already, the borderline cases, you know. I call them the borderline cases. There are people who are really interested in doing something but are a bit lost at how to start and then the non-believers. The people who you know you can get angels dancing and just did not believe that you know that's the way forward and really and truly in time, more of these quote-unquote non-believers will probably transition into being the believers, but it will take some time.

I think that is why the inquisitive approach that you were mentioning before is very important because they will start realising themselves that this transition or this change needs to be done in order for them to be better people living in a better place, in a better city.

So that is, you know, really interesting. So maybe by way of summarising what we've just said today. Could you perhaps give us your takeaways that the general public could take from business owners or maybe authorities?


I would also just echo that comment that you made first about the, you know, the believers, the people who are already sold and then you know the people in the middle and then the non-believers.

There's a tech adoption curve. I think it's been called multiple other things, but it's all about jumping the chasm between the early adopters and the early majority and then the late majority and then the laggards. I think the non-believers are often those laggards that hold off and don't want to move and don't like kind of, kick and scream and don't want to change until they absolutely have to.

The funny thing that I've seen is with at least my own experience is sometimes those non-believers, those laggards, if you can really connect with them and find a way to position whatever it is that you're doing from their perspective and let them be heard, often they become your biggest most vocal advocates afterwards.

So, while they are harder to win when you do win them, they'll scream from the rooftops about how amazing you are.

So, don't completely ignore them, but yes, of course, you got to first start with the early adopters, get them sold and then get into the early majority before you can reach the rest of the world again. So, I guess I would just hit back to this idea of curiosity and observation.

So, if you're observing, like paying attention to your own body, for example, how you're feeling.

Like most people, just ignore it. You know we don't get enough sleep. We don't get enough water. We don't get enough whatever, but we just keep telling ourselves we need to power through, power through this moment that we're in and, you know, whatever we'll sleep when we're dead, or we'll catch up over the weekend or we'll whatever.

Whatever the answer is that you're telling yourself, and we ignore ourselves and our body and our intuition, and so on and so forth. All the time, but if we can pause every once in a while and just observe and ask ourselves, how am I doing right now? You might notice that you're a little tired. You're a little hungry; you're a little anxious; you're a little whatever.

If you can dig deeper into that and figure out well, why am I anxious? Why am I tired? Why am I whatever? You might start getting curious and asking a bunch of questions. I guess it's because I didn't get enough sleep last night? Is it because I haven't been drinking enough water? Is it because I've been drinking too much alcohol during this COVID lockdown or something like that?

Is it because you know what? I've been stuck in this desk for so long I haven't got up and walked around in a while? I haven't gotten hiking. So you know who knows, like whatever it is that really brings you energy, you might not be doing that as much.

So, I would say if I could leave people with one piece of advice, it would just be pause every once in a while and just observe whether it's observing your coworkers, whether it's observing your family, whether it's observing your consumers, your customers, whatever, or even just yourself.

So,If you just pause and take a moment and observe, put yourself in their shoes or put yourself in your own shoes and think about how you're feeling, how they're feeling, how they're doing, and what context that lives in. Then, hopefully, you'll start asking yourself some very interesting questions that could lead to some life-changing insights.

Either for you or for them, it all has to start with that observation and then ask the right questions.


Wow, you've given us some homework Gage here.


Yes, I'm good at homework.


Well, yes, and to be honest, I think this, what you just said applies across the board right in your personal life whether it's in a business and possibly even for authorities to understand how the community is behaving, what they require of the community, and you know, to really home in on what is important, not just for one person, but from you know, from a resilience point of view, from a societal point of view.

See how this could get better in time and continue to ask questions and fuel this curiosity. Maybe one thing that you know reminds me of having my child here is she's always asking why things, you know.

She's just curious. She just wants to know more of the world and perhaps that we have to, you know, forget that we're adults sometimes and go back to our childhood and really tap into discovering for ourselves why things are the way they are and how we'd like them to be.

Maybe you know, put our heads together and understand how this can be done better in whatever way in whatever sphere that we want to address this.

This has been super interesting. Thank you so much for your insights. It was wonderful having you with us.


Thanks for having me. It has been a fun conversation. I appreciate it.


This was Gage Mitchell, and you are listening to The Human Agenda. Thank you so much for joining us in this episode.

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June 18, 2021

Project Management: Stakeholders

Transcript: 03 - Project Management: Stakeholders — with Dr Rebecca Dalli Gonzi

Hi. Today we're here with Dr Dalli Gonzi. She is an architect and civil engineer with a specialisation in project management. Together, we'll be speaking about the project management of construction development. We'll be going through the phases over the next few videos.

So, today we'll be talking about stakeholders. So, what are stakeholders exactly? I mean, we all heard the term, but it's a bit of, you know a terminology. It's very academic, almost terminology. How is it exactly? What does it mean?


So, when you talk about stakeholders, they are all those people or entities that are directly at some point engaged throughout a construction project. We generally use two terms. We use what we call direct stakeholders and indirect stakeholders.


Okay, so the direct stakeholders would be the ones that are well, by implication of the name, I guess, right? Really directly involved in this.




I guess the client would be the first one, right? The person who's actually commissioning the development.


Yes, so, as you said, correct. Direct stakeholders are stakeholders throughout the project that are directly influencing the decision taking steps during the project.

So that's the client, the contractor, the STO, the, even the authority. Obviously, because you need to get your permit through the authority. And that is a summary of direct stakeholders. But we also have what we call indirect stakeholders. And those are people or entities that are involved throughout the project but not directly decision-taking entities. So they're not decision-taking people in your project.


Okay, so for example, if we were to take the planning authority process, there's a part of it which neighbours can also give an opinion on the project, right? Object or otherwise.




Would those be considered as indirect stakeholders, for example?


Yes. So neighbours in your street are not actually taking decisions on the space layout of your building if you're designing in a street. However, at some point, they could be influential, especially during the initial stages of the permit. So they could, as you rightly said, object at some point. If there is something that does not align with the rest of the street or the neighbourhood.

Another example would be a business. Say you're opening up a business on the streets, and there are other businesses in the streets. Again, they are not taking decisions on your space layouts and how the construction process is going to happen, but if it comes up to parking, parking issues, the business that is also sharing the streets due to different parking slots, yes there could be some impact at that point over there.


I see, and the construction process is quite long, right? And it can actually be divided into certain categories or phases even. Within which, most direct and indirect stakeholders will have an effect on it or an influence on it. So the first phase is the…


What we call initiation.


Exactly, yes!


So, the construction process is split into four. Four stages. You've got the initiation phase, and in the initiation phase, you've got all the conceptual parts of the project. The sketches, the 3D's so, perhaps collecting data that you might need for your site and so on.


Surveys possibly as well.


Yes. Possibly a survey would form in the initiation phase. So you're basically putting everything to brainstorm and give you an idea of where you wish to take your project. Whatever that is, if it's residential or commercial.

Then we follow this with the planning stage. Now the planning stage, we shift from the conceptual part to the data, more paperwork. So, now we're slowly gearing…


The formal bits really?


Exactly, gearing towards a permit. So obviously, more data required, more drawings and detailing structural details. So construction dates, and who is going to take care of your site, excavation and so on.


Okay, so those go into paperwork of not just the planning authority but the building construction agency and all of the other paperwork, the health and safety, all of that.


Yes, paperwork. All paperwork. So it also includes contracts, signing dates, project milestones for those of you who might be familiar with project milestones but we can explain that at a later stage. So, anything that concerns you knowing physically on paper where this project is taken to.


Excellent. So then, we finalised that, and we go into the?


The third stage.


The exciting stuff?


Which is the crazy stage! That's project implementation. Now project implementation, anything we've had on paper now comes to life. So, we start by site hoarding, site preparation, then the excavation.


I see, we start mobilising on site.


We start mobilising on site that’s it.


Then? Drum roll...


After that, as long as everything sort of goes according to plan and on schedule and then you've got project closure. Which is the fourth stage. In some project systems or processes, you might find not four but five stages, where we also add what we call project monitoring and control. Which is the, which would be the fourth out of five if we're talking about five stages, but the last will always be project closure.

In project closure it's a critical stage to any project because it's the place where we can understand what went right and what went wrong.


I see, okay.


We can, what we call, implement a lesson's learned exercise. So, apart from that, there is obviously the closing of contracts, signing of payments, so there are a lot of things, warranties get started and so on. But more importantly, it is really a stage where we can bring everything together, and if there is a handover stage, that is the stage where everything has to be prepared to carry out this handover.


So basically, it goes from contractor to the client again, right? When the keys are with the client and, therefore, the project finishes, theoretically finishes, right? Because then it kicks in the responsibility period for both the designers and the contractors, no? So the liability period which is then defined by law.




Excellent. Thank you so much for that. This is Rebecca Dalli Gonzi, and you are listening to the human agenda. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode.

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