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Pushing boundaries and doing the impossible

Edited on

09 February 2021
Read time: 10 minutes

What about expectations and learnings from our partners in APN GenderedLandscape? Is it about pushing boundaries and handling the impossible? Find out more in this series of interviews with all our partners in the network. Starting with this interview with our Lead Expert Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse. Check out here for more interviews that will come during the following months.

SWOT Analysis with Mary Dellenbaugh-Losse





Tell us about you, how did you end up in URBACT and this network?
I applied to be an expert in 2017, after I had stopped working at the university and I was working in NGOs and European projects. I applied to be an expert because I felt like URBACT brought together many of the things I was working on – the mix of theory and practice, and different stakeholders.

This round was my third application to be a lead expert, the third time was the charm!

I ended up in the GenderedLandscape network by chance. I was originally set to be the lead expert for another network, and then the GenderedLandscape initial lead expert had to withdraw for personal reasons. It was a bit of fate that we ended up together and I am so glad how it has all turned out! I have so much fun in this network, it is such a good chemistry and so enriching for me. While I have done a lot of work with migrants and disadvantaged socioeconomic groups, I had never worked specifically with gender, although it was always at the margins of my work. This is the first time that it is the direct focus of my work and it has really been an eye-opener for me as well! It is also my first time as an URBACT lead expert. So, lots of new experiences!

What were your prior expectations when it comes to this network?
I had met Linda before, when I interviewed to be a lead expert for Umeå’s transfer network application; unfortunately the application wasn’t successful that time. So, I knew Linda a bit from phoning with her, and I had a feeling that she was young and dynamic and really an expert in the field. I was a little worried, because I am not a topical expert in the same way. It took me a while to get over my impostor syndrome.

But my role in the network is primarily to facilitate the process. I need to know the topic, but I don’t have to be the expert; that was a bit hard from me coming from an academic background, where I was always expected to be the topical expert. I felt a lot of pressure about that in phase 1 – new topic, new programme. It was a lot, but it was a great warm-up for phase 2. I feel really confident about gender now, and the URBACT method too!

The first part of phase 2, the activation stage, is now behind us. How has it been working in the network so far?
It has been really good. Our partners are amazing. They are really engaged, and they are also passionate about this topic. Everyone is so excited to have funding to be able to dedicate themselves to this topic. It always sounds like all of our partners have just been waiting for this opportunity. That makes the work in the project really easy, although the framework conditions are difficult. Working in gender is a challenge.

In this role I have the ability to be a champion for all of the things that the partners are doing, and also to be the central node in the network, bringing together good practices, interesting speakers and researchers and our work in cities.

That’s really fun. It’s of course also a challenge because it’s a lot of work!

What are your main learnings until now?
I always knew that gender was everywhere but working in this project has really opened my eyes to things in a much more specific and detailed way: I can’t unsee it!

Also, I have discovered that there is this huge network of women out there who are working to support each other, that I had never really seen before, or taken advantage of. I’ve always been working in men’s fields, and I always tried to “be one of the boys.” This has been a really interesting experience for me that with all these strong women working towards this common goal, you can really achieve something. It is a different energy in the room, and it is really inspiring. I leave our meetings, even our digital ones, with this huge energy!

Other than that, I have learned all of these little specific details, like the ones from our mobility training, and I use those in my work outside the network. When I am asked to talk about gender, or about participation, I draw on the specific case studies and statistics and data that I am learning, and I try to weave them into other places as a way to make gender concrete for others too.

What do you look forward to the most in the coming year and a half that we have left?
I am really looking forward to physically being together again at some point. I am also looking forward to all of the master classes and the learning we will be doing together, and to see what the partners do with their individual challenges. How they do their small-scale actions, it is a big experiment, to see what happens with it.

I really think this network has so much potential, because of the mix of partners, the leadership, and because we are doing something that nobody else has done before. Doing new things is always uncomfortable because you are constantly pushing boundaries, including your own. In my office, I have a wall of inspiring postcards that I look at when I’m having a tough day. One of the quotes is from Batman: Everything is impossible until somebody does it. That’s what we’re doing here and I’m happy to be a part of that.