Suzanne Chatelier, GLM 2013, A journey turned towards International and Sustainable Urbanism
– Interviewed by Lise Patron –
Hello Suzanne, to begin, can you give us a little reminder of your journey before GLM and present us the reasons that led you to this master?
After completing my university college at Sciences Po, I chose the GLM Master. That’s pretty amazing because basically I did not want to do urban politics but rather International Affairs. However, I did my 3A in Johannesburg, a city facing many urban issues, which challenged me. I thought that it might be interesting to study the cities and try to solve some of their problems even if it may seem a little ambitious! After a year of studying in English, I also thought that it would be rewarding to have an international master’s degree taught in this language. The GLM master was quite young since my promo, that of 2013, is only the second! I embarked on the adventure and I did not regret it. It was a lot of work but also very rewarding: I really met extraordinary people from everywhere.
And then? Where did you do your internship and what did you do?
I did my end-of-year internship at UNDP (United Nations Development Program) in Bangkok, Thailand. I was part of the “Increasing Growth and Poverty Reduction” team working on issues of sustainability and poverty. In parallel, I did my professional dissertation, which allowed me to dig deeper into these topics while having access to UN resources. In this context, I made a comparative study, on the “water cities” that are Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), dealing with the issues of urban poverty, sustainable urban development and risk / vulnerability in urban areas. slums located along the canals. After having followed Olivier Borraz’s course, which I had found captivating, what interested me was mainly the natural risks and my goal was to understand why and how the most vulnerable are always on the front line during this event. kind of disaster. So, I wanted to see that they were the urban policies that were trying to answer them. The authorities in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City do not have the same approach. While the “Baan Mankong” program in Thailand promotes access to land for the most vulnerable communities, encourage them to improve their direct environment to reduce natural risks among others, in Ho Chi Minh City, the preferred solution is to relocate people to relocate them, which poses other problems and is ultimately not efficient.
And after the Great Oral, what did you do?
After the Grand Oral, I went back to Bangkok to do another internship. In fact, after having obtained my Master’s degree, I enrolled in a program of Sciences Po Avenir which was also new, the CAM (Certificate of Managerial Aptitude) which allowed to prolong its student status for one year: I thus able to carry out two other courses sanctioned by a validation of the CAM.
So I went back to Bangkok to do a 6-month internship at the Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC), which focuses on the issues of natural hazards in urban areas. I was in the Urban Resilience team and worked on climate change resilience projects in coastal communities in Vietnam.
Afterwards, I went to Gabon, where I grew up, to do another internship in an agency that had just been created: the National Agency of Large Works (ANGT). It was set up by the government to deal primarily with urban planning. This gave me the more technical aspect, less research, that I wanted after my other internships. I was at the interface between 2 teams: planning and sustainable development. I wrote calls for tender applying the ideas and concepts that I had developed during my previous experiences. As I only stayed 6 months, which is very short, I did not have time to see how the projects evolved. At the time, this agency worked a lot with the American engineering company Bechtel: my internship was very international. In 2014, when I did the internship, the economic crisis began to settle in Gabon. After my departure, many expatriates left Gabon and Bechtel gradually disengaged from the project, even if the group remains present in Gabon.
How did you find your internships?
My internship at the UN, I had a little luck. In fact, when I found it, I had already committed to an internship in the Philippines on risk management. This one, I got it from a former GLM who was there, but I really wanted to go to Bangkok. So, I got close to a Gender studies professor who worked 6 months in Bangkok and 6 months at Sciences Po. She was at the Asian Institute of Technology (AIT) and she connected me with one of her acquaintances who was to UNDP: that’s how I got this internship. I could not say no to the UN and so I refused the other internship. It is the policy of the United Nations not to pay its trainees. Therefore, it is possible to get an internship at home relatively easily if one is qualified for the mission, without specific contact. The second stage, which I did, I had already at that time too. I also found myself saying “no” to them because I was going to the UN, but I asked them if I could do it later and they agreed. The one from Gabon, at first, I wanted to do it in the summer, over a month or two, and it was two or three years ago that I was trying to get an internship there: what interested me was mostly Bechtel. Going on holiday in Gabon, I met engineers who worked in the company and gave me direct contact with HR, which I did not have. For this course too, I asked to postpone, and they agreed.
What was your first job?
Following my internship at ANGT, I found my first salaried job in Gabon in an organization called Center Gabon Oregon. It is a transnational center for research on environment and development, the result of a partnership between Gabon and the state of Oregon in the United States, set up in 2014. If the goal was mainly to finance research projects, there was also a sustainable urbanism component of which I took charge. One of their flagship initiatives was to implement a development plan for the largest university in Gabon (Omar Bongo), located in the city center of Libreville. There were a lot of aspects of sustainability and it was very well done. On the other hand, the implementation phase has been complicated. After two years of contract there and I stopped last year because the partnership was a bit taking water.
I then found a job at the French Embassy in Gabon and São Tomé and Principe where I am currently. I am not at all on urbanistic aspects since I am in charge of the Communication. This is a very formative job because I discovered the inner workings of an embassy abroad: as long as you have never worked there, you never really know what it is. Communication is also very transversal, which allowed me to touch many areas. For me, it also shows that even if you do not necessarily have the corresponding diploma, you can always bounce back. I will leave this job on November 19, 2018 to join AFD’s Atlantic regional directorate, which has just been created. It is a kind of International Volunteer (VI) which is actually called Volunteer Service Civic (VSC). I will work on the implementation of this direction, support the director and keep watch on various issues, especially climate change and potentially urban development.
How do you imagine your future career?
For Martinique, as it is a kind of VI, it is a renewable one-year contract. I hope to stay there for two years. Ideally, and depending on the VSC and the opportunities at that time, I would like to join the AFD group afterwards. I think we are a generation that has a bit of trouble landing ten years in one place. This is why the AFD group is interesting because the positions are quite mobile.
What did you bring the GLM master?
First, a network. I have not kept in touch with all my promo but it’s always interesting to see what others become and it allows mutual help. Sciences Po is a platform: we meet people from everywhere, which is very rewarding. Then, it brought me knowledge: as a 2nd promo we were a little “guinea pigs” and it was sometimes a bit messy, but it was very formative. I do not regret having done this master.
My only regret is perhaps not having done a complementary training more technical: finally, it is not clear how to define at the end of the master. I hope this experience at AFD will bring me the knowledge I miss.
Finally, do you have any advice for current students?
I think there is any type of person in GLM. Personally, I’m not a “very networked” person, in the sense that I do not like trying to sell myself. I mostly try to take care of my small network of people who helped me at some point, even if they do not really bring me professionally anymore. I think it’s appreciated and appreciated to know that we are in a world where there are not only sharks who want your network for a moment and then forget you completely. Same for the people of my master: take news regularly, not just when I need. It takes time, but I think it’s important!
And above all, do what you like and what you are passionate about!