The flight from Habitat for Humanity International’s headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia to Quito, Ecuador, the host city for the United Nations Habitat III Conference, was unusual. Not so much in the fact that the flight was at capacity, but rather nearly every passenger was headed to Quito for the same purpose: representing their interest and commitment to the New Urban Agenda. With over 33,000 attendees from 167 countries, the number of priorities, wide range of expertise and solutions is something to consider.

Stepping off the plane, I was immediately greeted by marketing placement for Habitat for Humanity– placing us at the forefront and ensuring visibility to every conference attendee waiting in the queue at customs. In this way, the airport experience was a telling sign of how involved and prominent our network was over the course of the conference.

As a participant and observer during the Habitat III Conference, the calls to action, success stories, documented challenges and tensions facing the global housing and urban development community were clear: to successfully implement the New Urban Agenda, serious coordination and resources will be necessary across sectors and all levels of government. While in Quito, 167 countries adopted the New Urban Agenda, or NUA — an action-oriented document which will set global standards of achievement in sustainable urban development, rethinking the way we build, manage, and live in cities through drawing together cooperation with committed partners, relevant stakeholders, and urban actors at all levels of government as well as the private sector.

What does this mean for Habitat for Humanity? Outside of marketing and communications, how are we prepared to make our mark globally and carry the spirit of the NUA forward? In front of a crowd of hundreds, Habitat for Humanity publically committed to targets to do our part in advancing the goals of the NUA: improving access to land for shelter for 10 million people through our first global advocacy campaign, accelerating housing markets for 8 million living through the newly launched Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter, and increasing access to housing for 40 million people by 2020. To carry out this work, we need thought and resource partners. 

In its way, our commitments are less markers but more a deliberate and bold call to action. We have set ambitious targets, and to achieve them we are seeking committed partners to help us mobilize, educate, influence and pressure those forces with the will and responsibility to make safe, affordable, equitable cities and housing a reality for millions around the world.

We must all be “rowing in the same direction” if we want to see lasting change and tangible improvements. Implementation efforts must be tied and connected to existing architecture and partnership at all levels across many sectors is critical.  Local advocates must be at the table to help support strategy, implementation and accountability.  Advocates at all levels – when equipped with skills, connections and resources – serve as catalysts to drive the movement forward.

Citizen led advocacy does work, and access to safe, affordable and equitable housing can serve as a platform to transform communities worldwide. Join me and my colleagues as we work to impact those policies and decision makers to ensure housing and land is on the development agenda going forward – so that villages and cities are lived in differently, better. This work is local and personal.