We caught up with Kris Libunao (Executive Director and Chief Sustainability Officer at SmartCT) to find out how she started out in tech – and why sustainability practitioners are so important for developing smart cities.
Libunao is working to improve the way smart cities and digital transformations happen in the Philippines and developing countries – and with over a decade of policy action research, urban planning and strategic management consulting behind her, we knew this would be an insightful interview.
What we didn’t know was that she’d leave us with the feeling that everything is moving in the right direction. Because if people with Libunao’s openness, wisdom and enthusiasm are instrumental in creating the cities of the future, then…well, they’re going to be good cities.
How did your career in technology start?
“It's strange how life can have unexpected twists and turns. My career in technology almost happened by serendipity.
“I’ve always been fascinated with technology. I remember during highschool, I was able to hack my prepaid internet modem to give me unlimited internet, and others which I do not want to mention now that I have a deeper understanding of ethics.
“I had to put technology on the back burner – because in the Philippines, you either become a lawyer or a doctor to be considered ‘successful’. I went to law school for a bit and realised early on that it was not for me at that time.
“You see, my expertise is in urban planning and policies, and during my studies, I came across smart cities. That was when my fascination with how technology may alter the way we work, live, and interact with our surroundings sparked again. I began learning more about this subject, and intersections between policy work, innovation, management and technologies. I then came to the conclusion that this is the career path I wanted to take.
“So yeah, I came from a non-tech background – and I think it is a strength. Because it provides me with a more well-rounded perspective and allows me to approach issues and answers from a different standpoint.”
What key milestones has SmartCT has achieved over the last year or so – and what’s your focus for the coming years?
“SmartCT was born when the pandemic was about to start. We’re relatively new, but we already have a significant reach in the smart city landscape. I believe SmartCT stands out due to its capacity to establish collaborations not only locally but also internationally. For such a new organisation, that level of effect and reach surprises us.
“Another milestone worth mentioning is the expansion of open data initiatives. Building on our accomplishment of passing the first open data policy at the local level in the Philippines, SmartCT continues to encourage stakeholders in various sectors like smart mobility to embrace open data practices.
“Looking ahead, one area of focus is data literacy for smart cities. We will be more actively involved in community engagement and participatory data initiatives as we believe in the power of involving local communities in data collection, analysis, and decision-making.”
Are there any big changes that you think would improve the way private and public organisations approach smart city development?
“Private and public entities have to embrace openness if they want to improve the development of smart cities. That is: open data, collaboration, and inclusivity.
“The public should first have access to data from organisations in a standardised format. Finding the ideal balance between open data and data privacy is important.
“Second, it's critical to promote collaboration. We should push for co-creating solutions to address the city’s challenges and tap into collective wisdom by involving a variety of viewpoints, ensuring that these collaboration efforts are being sustained.
“And last but not the least, promoting inclusion is crucial and should not be an afterthought in the way private and public organisations approach smart cities. Everyone should have access to smart city development, regardless of socioeconomic status or technological proficiency. To achieve this, it is necessary to fund digital infrastructure, offer digital and data literacy courses, and guarantee equal access to any and all services.”
Could you explain what a Certified Sustainability Practitioner does? Why are you dedicated to building sustainability into businesses and smart city development - and what are the biggest obstacles you come up against?
“For corporations and projects, Certified Sustainability Practitioners are the professionals who assist businesses in providing direction, develop strategies, and ensure that sustainability plans are carried out.
“I believe that sustainability is the secret ingredient in smart city development. At the end of the day, it all comes down to ensuring that we employ cutting-edge technology and construct cities and communities in a way that enhances our quality of life, protects the environment, and ensures that everyone has an equal opportunity.
“The real kicker is that if we don't prioritise sustainability, we can wind up doing more harm than good. We might make environmental problems worse, expand the wealth and digital divide, and neglect the social issues that really matter.
“Regarding the obstacles, one major challenge is persuading people and organisations to put it above short term gains. It's also difficult to incorporate sustainability in the value chain as it is complex. It entails modifying supply networks, organisational structures, and even consumer behaviour. Things can also be further complicated by regulatory obstacles, a lack of resources, and the complexity when it comes to sectoral collaboration.
“The path to sustainability in smart cities is not easy. We must alter our mindsets, increase awareness, and manage complex systems. This is why sustained collaboration at the onset of any smart city project is crucial.”
What did you gain from LEAP 2023?
“LEAP 2023 was a great networking platform. I was able to meet with specialists in the field, and influential experts in my field. It’s a great event where I was able to share my ideas, gain knowledge from others' experiences – and I even identified possible partners for future initiatives.
“When it comes to the venue, I was pleasantly surprised that Riyadh is now dominating the smart city field. Attending LEAP 2023 provided me with a first-hand look at precisely how far along Riyadh is in the creation of smart cities. Looking forward to joining LEAP 2024!”
Thanks to Kris Libunao at SmartCT. Are YOU joining us at Leap 2024?