The Bartlett Development Planning Unit


Bobae Lee

Bobae Lee
"Then why are you here?"

I was often asked when I told my professors that I want to be an architect who builds small spaces, built and run by beautiful people. After getting B.Arch degree, I was working in Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, and Ethiopia over 6 years. My work covered various sectors, all based on collective actions with communities. I began to think about lives of the individuals I encountered, when I see the word "people" on research papers and project proposals. I was still asked, however, "so, you studied architecture, then why are you here?" in the development field.

When I first found BUDD programme in 2014, I was excited! I got accepted in 2016, and found a job which could pay well enough to cover the tuition fee and the living expense in London. All seemed working until I became a victim of a sexual harassment in the workplace. While I was getting upset witnessing gender inequality in everyday lives of women I had been working with, I had not realised that it was also deeply embedded in my personal life. I decided to fight to change the patriarchic work culture, prevent further gender-based violence. When it reached to the point that I could not take the pressure any longer, I resigned. Even though I succeeded a government scholarship to join the BUDD course in 2018, I was getting sick, tired, and scared of people. 

On the first day of BUDD, I did not have the very excitement. I looked around, I could only see people, that I still want to avoid. I was skeptical and sarcastic when I introduced myself. Then our programme leaders finally told me,

"Welcome, Bobae. This is the right place for you!"

And they were right.

I was surrounded by amazing BUDDies from everywhere, who care, devote, and love. People to us was a collective of individuals who are strong enough to create their own space. We learned that it is ok to be vulnerable, and is what makes us stronger. Emotions and trauma were applied as lenses of urban design and researches. I slowly gained my confidence back. I was auditing a gender course to analyse what had been happening to me and other women, and how it could be tackled and better. I conducted researches on the topics relating to urban design and disaster risk reduction with vulnerable groups in cities of Italy, UK, Iran, Cuba, Myanmar, and Kenya.

After BUDD, I joined UN-Habitat Rwanda and conducted a feasibility study on Sustainable Affordable Housing in Rwanda. With the Korean National Committee for UN-Habitat, I conducted a research on the Sustainable Development Goal Model for the Korea Land and Housing Corporation, aiming it to be a fundamental base for inclusive urban development in South Korea. Now I am working as a Regional Gender and Climate Change Expert at UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. Our project, EmPower, is working on gender responsive climate actions, aiming to have women in every facets of decision making processes in policies, financing mechanisms, and wider climate actions. Every day of my work, I remember the faces of strong and incredible women I met and try to make our project about people who exist in the real world.

I now want to say thank you to all people I have met, especially BUDDies, to make it possible for us to be stronger together. I really hope that BUDD can also be a right place for you, to be, to accept, and to celebrate who you are, and who we are.

Bobae Lee