MUEP alum works to promote global urban resilience

Nelya Rakhimova arrived at ASU as a Fulbright scholar in 2009, after having completed a masters’ degree in Environmental Management at Tyumen State University in south-central Russia. 

“I was lucky to be assigned to ASU’s urban planning program -- as a Fulbright scholar from Russia I did not have really have the opportunity to choose a university,” said Rakhimova. 

As a student in the urban and environmental planning masters’ program, Rakhimova was introduced to urban sustainable development – the concept of designing cities to minimize environmental impact and create comfortable living. Through Professor David Pijawka, she also learned about strategies for developing urban resilience – capability of cities to prepare for and recover from significant threats, whether from  natural disasters, economic or social crisis.

Following her first year at ASU, Rakhimova returned to Russia – this time to Moscow, where she carried out a summer internship with UN-Habitat. She provided support to the office’s program manager, managing and expanding the organization’s web site, and writing and designing brochures and press releases.

UN-Habitat is the United Nation’s human settlements program, with a mission to analyze and study human settlement patterns, and develop methods for controlled settlement with the preservation of the environment in mind. 

Rakhimova came back to ASU in the fall with a human-centered focus on resilience.

“Nelya actually introduced me to the concept of social resilience,” said Pijawka.

Improving urban life for vulnerable groups

Rakhimova determined to do her masters’ thesis on how to make cities friendly for children – how to foster opportunities for children to experience diverse settings and people. Using Glendale, Arizona as a case study, she measured differences in child-friendliness between neighborhoods, with a goal to developing a set of indicators that could be used by local governments to improve the experiences of urban children.

Ready to continue her studies, Rakhimova began a PhD program at Germany’s Leibniz Graduate School in Dresden.  The school had a center on resiliency, with a social sciences emphasis – a perfect fit. Rakhimova turned her focus from children to the elderly poor.  Her dissertation looks at aging and financial insecurity, and how private, public and faith organizations can collaborate to create structures that help the elderly poor. 

Reaching out – to Russian-language speakers and globally

While studying in Dresden, Rakhimova realized that there is little information about sustainable development that’s available in Russian to a broad audience.  “This forced me to consider how I can bring proper information about this concept to Russian society,” she said. 

In 2013, with a friend, she began a project to create a series of webinars in Russian, introducing different aspects of sustainable development.  They called their initiative the Open School of Sustainable Development (Открытая школа устойчивого развития), and created a web site,, that hosts the videos.  The team’s newest initiative is to develop full online courses on sustainable development, still free and still in the Russian language.  They’ve also partnered with SDSNedu, an organization that provides high-quality massive open online education, helping the organization provide Russian subtitles for their courses.

Nelya in front of Sustainable Development Goals poster

Nelya Rakhimova in front of a poster showing the 17
Sustainable Development Goals.

By late 2015, with her dissertation complete and under review, Nelya was accepted for a highly competitive internship with the United Nations, this time in New York, in a division that focuses on sustainable development.  When the internship ended, she was offered a position as a consultant with the Division for Sustainable Development. 

As a consultant, Rhakimova is participating in creation of this year’s Global Sustainable Development Report

In addition, she’s helping prepare for the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, with will take place from July 11-20 in New York. The HLPF is the United Nation’s most inclusive and participatory forum, bringing UN members, major groups and stakeholders into the discussion of sustainable development.  This year’s HLPF will guide the United Nations’ policies for promoting 17 Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, which were adopted by world leaders in September 2015 at a historic UN summit.

 “Nelya has a vision for what she wants to do, and a determination to accomplish it,” said Pijawka.