Nature-based and social solutions will benefit cities in low- and middle-income countries more than expensive cookie-cutter infrastructure projects and “smart cities" argue Susan Parnell and colleagues.
What’s in a name? Belonging!
The PEAK Urban programme unites various research projects across territories, cultures, and disciplines. But how can PEAK researchers create a sense of belonging amongst stakeholders in our individual projects?
In Itagüí, Colombia, we have co-created a name and a logo for our project, birthing a new network of collaborations and dialogue that is already having an impact beyond the research’s original boundaries. This is the story of Dimú.
In November 2019, I came to Medellín and met with Diego Giraldo, a master’s student at Urbam in EAFIT and a key part of this project. After sharing our expectations and plans, we began searching for co-researchers for my study on access to healthy living. Trying to find a case study that highlighted certain mobility restrictions that urban design and socioeconomic variables play in accessing a healthy environment and quality health services, we decided to look for low-income women in charge of at least one child in the metropolitan area of the Aburrá Valley, where Medellín is located.
The Medellín River serves as a natural border between the region’s municipalities, including Itagüí, which is separated from Envigado and Sabaneta by it. We started exploring the dense southern municipality, which has 248,000 inhabitants in only 21km2. With help from local leaders, public preschools and day-care centres, and the mayor’s office, we identified women who lived in the study area, fulfilled inclusion criteria, and were known for their motivation. Even if they did not necessarily know each other.
Over 120 women came to the first workshop, and another 70 to the next two. From those workshops, participants defined research questions and resource priorities, while starting conversations between local academics, policymakers, and communities.
With such a large turnout, there was little time for one-on-one conversations. So Diego and I organised smaller groups of 3 to 4 women who lived close to each other, set a local meeting point (normally someone’s home), and more personally talked about our project. We discussed their workshop experiences, our research questions, and expectations. In total, I managed to meet with 30+ women in these small groups, and got a much clearer sense of their priorities, challenges, families, and environment. Those personal meetings allowed the women to transition from participants to co-researchers. One woman, Natalia Morales, was officially named the team’s intern, as a training environmental technologist.
In those smaller groups, we highlighted keywords that they could identify with. It included words that personally defined them, or defined the group of women at the workshops. Sometimes I would ask about words that others had shared. One clear word consistently stood out: emprendedoras. Although the most literal translation is “female entrepreneurs”, they would explain that although many of them lack a formal enterprise, their entire routine is dedicated to finding creative ways to sustain themselves and their families. They made clear that their families are an important part of their lives but did not entirely define them, and that regardless of a formal contract or even pay, they were constantly working, producing, moving, and caring.
The COVID-19 lockdown measures disrupted plans for a series of workshops. The in-person meetings were not going to be possible, threatening the aim for a deeper sense of community and belonging. We had set up a WhatsApp group and given limited access to a good Internet connection or a computer, this was our only available resource.
But our team needed an easily recognisable name. I decided to contact Studio Trët, a local graphic design company eager to help. After sharing our experiences, they developed five proposals, out of which this was the clear winner:
The name Dimú was enthusiastically received. Dimú is built from two words: Diálogo (dialogue) and Mujeres (women) with an accent that gives it an intuitive pronunciation and highlights the language in which our conversations happen. It can also be interpreted as “Di mu,” in opposition to a typical expression used in many Spanish-speaking countries when someone remains quiet: “no dijo ni mu.” Underneath the name, the text says “Dialogue with entrepreneurial women,” or emprendedoras.
Now we needed a logo. Members wanted a design with a form and figures representative of the community, like the mountain and river. And a colour palette that felt natural: “I would like to see bright colours, that are alive and happy, just like we are.” After two options, we settled on this:
During this project, I have continuously reflected on what a sense of belonging means in this current moment. Collectively creating a team name and logo was a cornerstone of that process, fostering an identity we can stand behind to build common understandings of what we wish to achieve. Having a name and logo also positively affects the way we relate to others internally and externally of Dimú. As the project progresses, the process’s true effects will become clearer, but it is already apparent that the group is more strongly positioned to produce high-impact collaborative research, as Dimú has morphed into an extension of the women’s own voices.
Dimú is now a team of 37 women in Itagüí who helps PEAK understand the challenges, strengths, obstacles and opportunities for accessing a healthy living. We are conducting research on air pollution exposure, opportunities for physical activity, transport systems, food alternatives, and how all of these interact to shape access to health and wellbeing. With the pandemic highlighting existing inequities, Dimú has become a support group in times of greater need. Several members now understand the administrative processes needed to formalize health insurance. One member found a new residence after eviction. Five articles of the Mayor’s Development Plan were modified to include the group’s recommendations. Members have reflected on their access to mental healthcare and familial relationships, in a space where they can speak freely and be listened to.
Dimú did not exist when our project started, but now I am certain its empowerment will continue beyond my time here. I am really looking forward to what comes next.