Meet the 2019 Loeb Fellows: Bryna Lipper

Meet the 2019 Loeb Fellows: Bryna Lipper


Thanks, John. I like to walk and talk,
so standing at the podium is going to drive me bananas. I’m Bryna. This is a photograph
of me and Cuong Dinh. He’s the Chief Resilience
Officer in Da Nang, Vietnam. And in this image,
we’re in New Orleans. And we’re at our first
Chief Resilience Officers sort of summit in New
Orleans, just about 10 years after Hurricane Katrina. And I don’t know that
everyone in this room knows, but there is a deep affiliation
between Vietnamese communities and New Orleans. And so one of the
things that I think I’ll be talking about today
is how we learn from others and how, when you think about
evoking change in communities, those lessons come from
very, very special places. The Vietnamese
community in New Orleans were struck very hard
after Hurricane Katrina. They were a large
fishing community. But they were also
one of the quickest to recover and show us
what forms of resilience we need to be looking for
within the distinct communities within each city. I love this quote– I love Mark Twain, so I
tend to love this quote. I’m a big believer
in learning by doing. I think all of the
things that are written in the great books
all across Harvard are absolutely wonderful,
but you will never learn it until you actually do it. And when the pain
actually comes to you from being bitten
time and time again, that’s where wisdom
actually comes from. So, early in my career,
in my early days, I had nothing to do with
the built environment, nothing to do with architecture,
or design, or even cities. But I was involved
at an early age in partnerships
work, partnerships being a very big
term of our day, that philanthropy in
particular likes to use a lot. But partnerships,
at the time for me, was working in major licensing
in consumer marketing programs. You might recognize
this image of Pepsi and Episode I of Star Wars
where we did major service sweepstakes programs with
retailers like 7-Eleven. I like to forget
about these days, but I think it’s important to
understand that partnerships work, when you’re doing your
it, is some of the hardest work that there is. It sounds very sexy,
but that thin sliver where interests actually align
is where you can get work done. And that’s very, very rare. And in the private sector,
it’s clearly known, right. There’s market
driven outcomes where those interests the align. But in the public sector or
in the philanthropic sector, sometimes, those things are very
opaque where interests align. So taking some of
this knowledge, I transitioned at the
turn of the century– I like to be able to say
that because it makes me sound so old and wise– the turn of the century– I transitioned into
the built environment. At the turn of the century,
I moved to Sydney, Australia to study architecture. And it was a great,
wonderful education program steeped in a lot of
architectural history and theory programs,
deep and rich in environmental
lore of the country. But what it was lacking was
any practical affiliation with the community. So here we are learning all of
these sort of great insights about building and design and
we weren’t actually ever talking to the communities we’re
theoretically building for. And I saw in my fellow
students this lack of ability to actually be able
to connect their ideas with the people they were
supposed to be working for. And furthermore, how were
we going to really think about these large scale
planning endeavors we were working on
without speaking to the Department of Planning or
the government architect, which Australia has at
every state level. So I decided to kick it with
my architecture career– throw that to the
side and really get heavily involved in advocacy
for the built environment. How do you bring
government together with those who are building
and doing in the built environment, and those
who are coming up and need to be mentored
in their craft to have real practical application? So I launched a design
competition in Sydney called Sydney 2020. Now, remember again, this
was turn of the century, so 2020 was vast off
into the horizon. And it was the first actual
public engagement program Sydney ever did with
its visioning of itself for the future within
a public context. This was 2000. It received really
great major acclaim. And then one of my
professors said to me, do you think you might
be able to do that? We’re working on this thing with
the UN called the Millennium Development Goals. Do you think you might
be able to do that with some of the students
that are working around in our universities, some of
the low income communities that we’re thinking
about, slums and slum development around the world? And really think
about how people have voice in their place
in the development world, and try to help us
connect those dots? So that was early in my career. Another quote, “only the
wisest and stupidest of men never change.” I think that this is a
really compelling quote because what I’ve tended
to find in a career where people actually hire
me to be a change agent, time and time again– come in and change
or institutions, come in and change
our governments, come in and change our systems. The early manifestation of
that is let’s do this quickly. Shouldn’t innovation be quick? Isn’t it easy to get stuff done? Find a bunch of
energetic young folks and let’s just go get it done. So that’s one side
of the spectrum. And then, of course, the
other side of the spectrum is the wisest who’ve been
around for a long, long time, and who know and who’ve
tried again and again to make that change, and
who have been beaten down. And who are the bureaucrats
in government who have learned that change is one of the
most difficult things, and the wisest path could
be to accept that fate. So I went on to the
National Building Museum. I’d love to see a raise
of hands– anybody know what the National
Building Museum in this room? Oh, my goodness. Teachers, get your students
down to DC for a studio. The National Building Museum
is the United States heritage museum about the building
arts and sciences. It’s in Washington DC,
has fantastic exhibitions on everything from
contemporary architecture, to social justice issues, to
the history of what the home is. They do a lot of public
education programs. And many of you will
recognize this image of one of my favorite architects,
who is such an extraordinary gentleman, [? giroud ?]
[? bon. ?] And one of the things that I’m most
proud about at the National Building Museum is they actually
asked me to come in and make big change. So I was the head of public
and government affairs. They wanted to affiliate with
the national government– we’re just a few
blocks from Congress. And how might we
actually lobby Congress to get interested in the
building arts and sciences, and take a vantage point
from all of these exhibitions and public programs that we do? And [? giroud ?] [? bon ?] came
down and started working with our students who come from
the Washington DC community, and some poor, very
disadvantaged schools on the other side of the
Anacostia River who very, very rarely get to speak to
a star architect [? giroud ?] [? bon. ?] So I began to learn that
while I was marshaling forces in Congress trying to lobby
and advocate for resources, [? giroud ?] [? bon ?] quietly
came to town and worked with a bunch of young students
to help them think about their community in
the Anacostia River. Many of those students now,
I’m really proud to say, have actually gone on to
find careers in the city, in local government, be
really interested in planning. And that little seed of
what he planted that day, I tend to think, is much
more profound an outcome than potentially the
millions of dollars that I got in institution
from Congress. What does that lead to–
what does his kind of work, quietly helping 12-year-olds,
13-year-olds understand planning in the
built environment? I went from there to HUD, the
Department of Housing and Urban Development– many of you are
probably familiar. And I was the director of
the Office of International and Philanthropic Innovation. A very small office, a
powerful group of five people. Again, I use that term
innovation– it shows up a lot these days in titles. And our job was to really try
to shake up this dusty agency. HUD had been renowned
for its terrible marks in employee satisfaction, and
in growth, and development. It had the highest rate of those
of any government agency set to retire, and so
it wasn’t getting a lot of that new energy. And so we changed the
international office, which used to do trainings
for people who would come in overseas to learn about
our housing policy, to really try to
help from within, and help HUD understand the
different policies that it could learn from
foreign governments or philanthropic investments. These two images up here– sustainable communities–
governments really hard. It is really hard to
do a lot in government. HUD has its hands tied due to
a lot of federal regulation. And believe it or not,
these three agencies– Department of Transportation
and the Environmental Protection Agencies– could very rarely
actually work together, and they couldn’t
pool investment. So those of you who are
working in transit oriented development, think about that. If HUD in housing cannot
pool its investments with the Department of
Transportation, and we’re trying to
do things sustainably, and we can’t coordinate
our dollars with the EPA, what does that actually
look like in communities on the ground? So a lot of our work was trying
to build traction around that, and work with large
philanthropies like the Ford Foundation, Rockefeller,
Surdna, and so forth to try to get all of our
investment into one space to maximize those dollars. On the international
side, we would work a lot with ministries
from around the world. We worked really closely
with Brazil on major programs like Minha Casa
Minha Vida, which was their very large
public housing program, to try to exchange ideas
and best practices. I note this down here. Probably, some of you
know the Resilience By Design competition, Rebuild
By Design, and the National Resilience competition. It was one of the really major
innovations under the Obama administration, where rather
than just FEMA recovery dollars flowing in
after Hurricane Sandy, we started to think
really strategically about how to rebuild back
better with what communities were wanting and needing
rather than rebuild the exact same way. And then 100RC came
knocking at the door. They asked if I wanted
a job, I said sure. And so me and two others
co-founded 100 Resilient Cities. And at that time, I was told– I’ve never looked this up to
have any evidence or proof– that it was the largest,
single philanthropic investment in a program that had ever
historically happened before. And it was also a
really, really big burden because when I started thinking
about it with my partners and our founders,
we didn’t want this to be just another big
philanthropic scheme, another big, grand
idea that didn’t have impact on the ground. And when you really
think about the money– $100 million at that
time in 100 cities– that’s really not a
lot to insert change into cities after all. And so we began to
design a program of how we could influence within cities
major, long-term, sustainable change. So we started thinking
very carefully about the people
we might influence. And from that was born the
Chief Resilience Officer that has transplanted now
that idea into governments in 100 cities around
the world, and has began to help
governments– their mayors, their elected officials really
rethink, hopefully over time, that there should be a person
responsible for looking across the horizon, and
integrating 21st century risks not only into planning,
but also into development and implementation. Boston, of course, is
one of our member cities. There are about 33 in
the United States– that’s starting to expand. And then around the world, in
places like Washington City and Rio where we worked with– Jakarta, Indonesia, Sydney– 54 countries across the world. But what I really– and I
got my five minute flash– but what I really
want to come to, and what I’ve really
been struggling with is the idea that the new and
the change can be unsustainable. And that those who
have been there, who have been in government,
who have been in service, have knowledge and wisdom. And we need to figure out
how to bring those change agents together with those
who understand systems, and who are dedicated to
persevere, decade after decade, in order to get things done,
because that’s actually how cities work. In the image on the right,
there’s a gentleman at HUD, his name is Ron Ashford. I don’t know if
anybody here knows Ron, but he is the head of services
at Public an Indian Housing. Actually, he’s retired after
30 years of service at HUD. And what you’re seeing here is
an image at a public housing– I think that this is in Atlanta. And what Ron innovated– after
working for 20 years beating his head against the wall
and trying to get this done– was a Father’s today’s
program at public housing, where fathers who
abandoned their children, he was trying to bring
them back together again. And give these parents an
entryway and an accessway to come back together
with their families. And it took him 20 years
to get support and funding for that program at HUD. But what an extraordinary idea
and what an extraordinary man. Sometimes, it’s the
simplest things, but it takes that dedicated
professional to toil. What you see in this picture
is Cedric Grant of New Orleans. Cedric was basically head of
infrastructure in New Orleans, and worked both in the Negan
and Landrieu administrations. And Cedric, again, is one
of those unsung heroes that if it weren’t for
him, no one would really know how those
infrastructure systems– how those water systems worked. New Orleans has a specialized
system that Einstein actually developed– not Einstein– help me out here. The other inventor. Edison, thank you. Thank you very much. He had a special Edison
switch that was actually developed for one of
their systems, that Cedric as an engineer has had to
replicate, and replicate, and replicate, time
and time again. And every time Cedric
tried to bring somebody in to train and take his
place so he could retire, the private sector would
go in and hire that person or those people away. And so Cedric
could never retire, so he kept on toiling, and
toiling, and toiling again. And so I really want
to know, and what I’m going to spend a lot
of time thinking about, is how do we more
appropriately balance the ideas of
innovation, and scaling, and return on impact,
and doing pilots? All of these sort of sexy
terms that philanthropy is just deeply devoted to, and that
the newcomers in policy and in politics are
moved and motivated by– how to get these
things done in four years. How do we balance that out
and celebrate and create spaces for continuity
and durability, commitment and
patience, and depth in the wisdom that
exists already within those folks who’s been
toiling, time and time again? I feel like if we could marry
the two sides of that spectrum, we’d have a much more just– and much healthier and
resilient communities. Thank you. [applause]

You May Also Like

About the Author: Oren Garnes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *