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LUMES alumni Lucia di Paolas career path to become a Just Transition Officer

Profile picture of a woman, Lucia Di Paola. Photo.
LUMES took me a step forward. I learned about the interlinkages between broader systems, from the economy to shared worldviews and values, and how justice plays such an important role in creating a truly sustainable world says Lucia Di Paola.

Lucia Di Paola graduated from LUMES in 2019. Today she works as Just Transition Officer. In this interview, she shares what she learnt from the LUMES programme and how the path to her current job looked like. She also gives some advice to current and future LUMES students.

What do you do today? Where do you work, and what is your position?

I am a Just Transition officer at ICLEI Europe, a network of cities for sustainability. We work with local governments to promote local action and also with EU institutions to drive sustainability policies. 
I am part of the Governance and Social Innovation team, and the projects I work on mainly focus on the intersection between social justice and urban sustainability.

How did the path towards your current occupation look like?

Before LUMES, I studied a bachelor in European Studies and then I worked for Zero Waste Europe, in Brussels. This helped me a lot to understand how European environmental policy works and how it has a real impact on the ground. LUMES, took me a step forward. I learned about the interlinkages between broader systems, from the economy to shared worldviews and values, and how justice plays such an important role in creating a truly sustainable world. 

In LUMES, I got inspired by the course on Urban and Rural systems, and how exclusion and disparities in cities can have a negative impact on the very much needed ecological transition. I wrote my thesis on green gentrification in Milan in collaboration with the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability (BCNUEJ), which I got to know through a seminar organized by a LUCSUS professor. I wrote the BCNUEJ an email, asking them if they would help me develop my research. They said yes! I am proud of how the thesis turned out and when I came across ICLEI's open position, it was clear to me that this reflected well my thesis topic and my LUMES background. I applied and got the job.

What were the most important skills you learnt in the LUMES programme?

Compassion. Critical thinking. Team work. Listening.

How do you use these skills today?

On the paper, I knew these were important skills, but LUMES really gave me the opportunity to apply and practice them. Nowadays, we still refer to these as "soft skills", but to me these are so much more than that. When I work with someone, I know that if they have these, I am most probably going to have a good collaborative experience. And I am so lucky that most of my LUMES peers and my colleagues today have these skills too!

What sustainability challenges do you work with?

Mainly with challenges of exclusion and inequity in the context of urban sustainability. Rather than only focussing on creating environmentally sustainable cities, we want to create cities that are also inclusive, accessible and affordable. We want just and sustainable cities. Where all residents have access to green amenities and infrastructures, and where they have a say in how urban sustainable projects are developed in their neighbourhood and cities. 

What is your best memory from the LUMES programme?

For sure we had great and crazy experiences with the LUMES family. But my best memories (and what I miss the most) are the ordinary moments. Drinking coffee and discussing global challenges on the couches of the LUCSUS lounge. These are not just my best LUMES memories, but some of the best memories in my life.

What advice would you give to current/future LUMES students?

I want to share two pieces of advice.

First - come to LUMES with an open heart and open mind. I promise you they will be filled with joy and eye-opening knowledge. 

Secondly, even when you will feel incredibly vulnerable, reach out to people who inspired you to ask for help and support in your career. Send that email! It is scary, but the reward is there.