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Janice E. Perlman

Founder & President of the Mega-Cities Project


Dr Perlman's work has bridged the worlds of academia, public policy, and the non-profit sector. She has served as a tenured professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley; the Coordinator of an Inter-Agency Task Force on National Urban Policy during President the Carter's administration; the Executive Director of Strategic Planning for the New York City Partnership; Director of Science, Technology and Public Policy at the New York Academy of Sciences; the founder and chief executive of a global non-profit organization; and Senior Advisor to the World Bank's Urban Projects Department.

She is an award-winning author and speaker who has mobilized collaborative partnerships among business, government, non-profits, grassroots groups, and academia to address global and local urban issues in the worldwide. She has consulted for small organizations and large international institutions including the World Bank, USAID, UNDP, UNFPA, IADB and the Slum Task Force of the Millennium Development Goals. As a policy and program evaluator, she conducted a participatory assessment of a multi-million dollar Kellogg Foundation Project based at the New York Academy of Medicine and focused on case studies of Collaborative Partnerships for problem-solving in local communities around the USA.

Perlman's new book, FAVELA: Four Decades of Living on the Edge in Rio de Janeiro published by Oxford University Press in 2010 has received a starred review in Publisher's Weekly and enthusiastic endorsements from Professor Manuel Castells and James Wolfensohn, former President of the World Bank. The book is based on a longitudinal study following four generations of migrants and squatters in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The Foreword is written by Fernando Henrique Cardoso, former President of Brazil. For this work Dr. Perlman received a Guggenheim Award, a Fulbright Fellowship and grants from Tinker and Ford Foundations, the World Bank, DFID (the British Aid Agency) and the Dutch Trust Fund.

Perlman is the President and CEO of the Mega-Cities Project, which she founded in 1988 with the intention to shorten the lag time between ideas and implementation in urban problem-solving. Working at the intersection of poverty, environment and voice for the disenfranchised, the organization has brokered over 40 transfers of successful urban innovations across boundaries of geography, ethnicity and nationality. Research/action teams in cities with over 10 million people across Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States are hosted by university research centers or non-profit organizations and use leaders from government, business, non-profits, grassroots groups, academia and the media to help identify unrecognized local initiatives.

In 1996, at HABITAT II in Istanbul, the United Nations adopted the Mega-Cities approach, methodology and database. The idea of changing the incentive system by rewarding innovators was translated into “Best Practice Awards” financed by Dubai. Perlman served as an official non-profit representative on the US State Department delegation to that Urban Summit and was a keynote speaker at the World Urban Forum 5 in Rio de Janeiro in March 2010.

Prior to creating the Mega-Cities Project, Perlman was a tenured professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of California, Berkeley. She has also taught at Columbia University, New York University, Hunter College and Trinity College as well as several universities abroad.

Her best known publications include The Myth of Marginality: Urban Politics and Poverty in Rio de Janeiro (UC Press, 1976) which won the C. Wright Mills Award; Mis-conceptions about the Urban Poor and the Dynamics of Housing Policy Evolution (JPER, 1988) which won the first Chester Rapkin Award from the American Collegiate Schools of Planning ; Grassrooting the System (Social Policy,1976), which has been reprinted in over 40 books; and Fighting Poverty and Environmental Degradation in the World Watch Institute's book, 2007 State of the World: Our Urban Future.

Among her many memberships and service activities, Dr. Perlman has been a member of the Council on Foreign Relations since 1989, was one of the founding Board Members of ICLEI, (the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives), and has served on the Boards of Science and Technology for International Development (BOSTID) and the Committee on Infrastructure of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. She was the host and moderator of the Mayor's Summits at the Davos World Economic Forum and at Habitat II.

She was one of the founding board members of the New York Women's Foundation, a long-term Board Member of PICO, an Oakland, California-based network of direct-action grassroots community organizations, and a founding board member of EOS, Economic Opportunity Studies, a DC-based non-profit working on weatherization and low income heating energy assistance program (LIHEAP) across the United States. Her project, “Grassroots Leadership for the 21st Century, which provided hundreds of innovative grassroots leaders in New York and Los Angeles the opportunity to learn directly from each other across boundaries of geography, culture, race, ethnicity and policy arenas---and with their counterparts in Asia, Africa and Latin America-- continues to grow and flourish.

In her efforts to engage the private sector in identifying and rewarding innovative practices in problem-solving at the intersection of poverty, environment, and participatory democracy, she has worked with: American Express Foundation, AT&T Foundation, Bechtel Enterprises, Inc., Bankers Trust Company, Chase Manhattan Bank Foundation, Chemical Bank, Citibank, IBM, Lucent Technologies, McKinsey and Company, Pfizer, Sony, Starwood Hotel and Resorts, and Siemens.

She has consulted for UNDP, UNFPA, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Inter-American Foundation, The Asia Society, and the Healthy Cities Project at the World Health Organization. She played an active role in the Slums Task Force of the Millennium Development Goals and in the “Global Urban Summit: Innovations for an Urban World” held at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center in mid 2007. She is now working with young leaders to build networks for the next generation.

Dr. Perlman holds a B.A. from Cornell University where she graduated Magna Cum Laude in Anthropology and Latin American Studies and a Ph.D. from MIT in Political Science, with concentrations in International Development, Public Policy, Communications /Human Behavior, and Urban Studies.

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