Beirut: From Emergency Patchwork to the Long Term



Beirut: From Emergency Patchwork to the Long Term

Yara Akkari, Manale Kahale, Elias Khalil, Amina Merkebawi, and Dr. Serge Yazigi, in conversation with Maureen Abi Ghanem (‘24 UP PhD) and Iyad Abou Gaida (‘19 MS.AAD) of the The GSAPP Collective for Beirut. Introduction by Dean Amale Andraos.

After two years of economic crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the August 4, 2020 port blast in Beirut, emergency initiatives such as remittances by the diaspora or the transport of essential supplies through commercial travel have temporarily relieved the Lebanese community, ecosystem, and crumbling infrastructures. However, with no centralized or national organization in sight, such efforts are nothing more than patchwork solutions. The livelihoods of communities in Beirut – and beyond – are hinged to this unsteady lifeline of supplies (clean water, food, energy, medication, and more). How can these initiatives of emergency patchwork transform to long(er)-term solutions and, sustained systems that lead to prosperity?”

Organized by The GSAPP Collective for Beirut in collaboration with Richard Plunz, Professor at GSAPP, and Victor Body-Lawson, Adjunct Associate Professor at GSAPP.

Yara Akkari is an international development professional with more than 10 years of experience, including six years working at Arc Finance, where she was a Project Manager supporting renewable energy and energy access projects for the Inter-American Development Bank and USAID in Haiti, Uganda, and Kenya. As a consultant, she has expertise in project management, market research, business development, strategy design, monitoring, and evaluation on topics including access to finance, community engagement, energy access, and climate change to agencies such as GIZ, USAID, UNDP, and UNESCO. Yara recently worked as a consultant for RTI supporting Power Africa in Ethiopia, Senegal, and Sierra Leone by developing business models, conducting research, and designing pilot projects for solar energy. Yara currently works as a consultant and team leader at GreenMax Capital Advisors in New York.

Manale Kahale was raised in Lebanon, Manal studied Landscape Architecture at the American University of Beirut and holds a master’s degree in Lighting Design from Parsons School of Design. Thereafter, she worked in the USA for four years before deciding to come back to Lebanon to try and bridge both worlds through lighting. However, her return to Lebanon was more difficult than anticipated with the unfolding of an economic, financial, and monetary crisis as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, and finally on the 4th of August 2020, the biggest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded. This catastrophe unlocked feelings of communal support triggered by the complete absence of any relief efforts on the part of the Lebanese government. As a result, Manal decided to use her knowledge and experience to partake in relief efforts both as an active citizen and a lighting activist.

Elias Khalil is a member of مواطنون و مواطنات في دولة (Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi Dawla(MMFD), or “Citizens in a State”, a progressive opposition party in Lebanon. MMFD’s specific aim is to turn the unfolding crisis into an opportunity for the formation of a secular, democratic, just and potent State in Lebanon. Elias is based out of Canada where he is an assistant professor of industrial engineering at the University of Toronto.

Amina Sundby Merkebawi is a former Board Director and Beirut Disaster Relief Fund Committee Representative at Impact Lebanon. Born and raised in Norway as half Norwegian and half Lebanese, Amina started to develop a strong connection to Lebanon during her first trip to the country five years ago, while volunteering in a refugee camp in Beirut. Her passion for humanitarian work further unfolded through her engagement as a volunteer in Shatila refugee camp, mentor at Environment Academy, and involvement with several NGOs in Lebanon. With an interest and academic background in Emerging Economies and International Development, Amina obtained her Master’s researching aid effectiveness in Lebanon at King’s College London. Now, she is based in Beirut working as a Youth Innovation Manager at UNICEF Lebanon which involves providing innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities for vulnerable youth as well as applying innovation and creative thinking to humanitarian programming.

Dr. Serge Yazigi, architect, urban planner and head of Yazigi Atelier, is a Regional Consultant in sustainable development in Mashreq & Maghreb Countries. He founded Yazigi & Sfeir consultants’ firm in 1998, followed in 2005 by Yazigi Atelier that he still heads. In parallel, Yazigi acted as a senior Consultant for Dar Al Handassah Taleb & partners on architecture and planning projects in Lebanon and the region between 1999 and 2009. He has led several projects financed by international agencies and organisations, in relation with urban renewal and strategic planning in Lebanon and the region.

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