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Vittoria Zanuso is the Executive Director of the Mayors Migration Council (MMC), a mayor-led initiative to accelerate global responses to migration and displacement. Steering Committee member of the UN Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund and the Mayors Mechanism of the Global Forum on Migration and Development, Vittoria also sits on the Advisory Board of the Platform on Disaster Displacement and the EU-UNOPS Lives in Dignity Grant Facility. Prior to joining the MMC, Vittoria held multiple positions at the Rockefeller Foundation’s 100 Resilient Cities initiative, liaising global leaders to address natural and human-made disasters. Originally from Milan, Italy, Vittoria holds an MPA in International Policy and Management from NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and a BA in Politics from Queen Mary University of London.
We spoke with Vittoria Zanuso to learn more about her work and what drives her:
What ignited your pursuit for more peaceful, just and inclusive societies?
As a migrant who lived and thrived in multiple cities throughout my life, I’ve always admired how mayors work around the clock to provide for all their residents regardless of where they come from or what their migration status is. This sometimes comes at odds with national leaders focused on visa regimes, restrictions, and exclusion. With my work, I wanted to serve city leaders so they can better serve their migrant and refugee communities. I also wanted to promote dialogue and broker partnerships between cities and national governments so they can complement and reinforce their respective agendas.
To achieve a peaceful, just, and inclusive world, what does success look like to you? And what are the key factors in achieving this vision?
For my team and our organization, success is about dismantling anti-immigrant racist and oppressive mentalities, behaviors, and outcomes.
This means we need to examine our own behavior as much as we try to influence those of others. As a dear friend and colleague told me once, “It’s not about meeting a quota, but about challenging our own assumptions and behaviors daily, especially if we are to ask the same of others.”
How does your work contribute to the SDG16+ goals?
I advise and support mayors from all over the world to engage in international diplomacy on migration and displacement so they can shape policies and unlock more resources to do their job better, faster, and at scale. The goal of this work is to ensure that global responses to pressing challenges — from pandemics to climate change — both reflect and address realities on the ground for the benefit of migrants, displaced persons, and the communities that receive them. It goes without saying that inclusive societies that leave no one behind are not only more just, but also more peaceful.
How has COVID-19 impacted your work? Are there any lessons learned from the pandemic that you hope to apply in future work?
When COVID-19 hit just a few months later, it completely disrupted how diplomacy is done (now virtually); it shrank municipal budgets; and it exacerbated the inequalities and injustices already faced by migrants, refugees, and IDPs living in cities. In the face of all this, we could not turn our heads to the other side. We had to adapt and expand our mission to respond to new demands.
That’s when we mobilized our Leadership Board mayors to call out major gaps in the system and push the international community to step in. This advocacy secured the seed investment needed to set up our Global Cities Fund for Inclusive Pandemic Response. Fast forward to today, and we have an incredibly strong cohort of city grantees supported by a stellar pool of international donors and partners.
While we cannot predict the next crisis, we can control how we respond to it.
What advice do you have for those seeking to make a difference for a more peaceful, just and inclusive world?
As Shirley Chisholm, the first Black U.S. Congresswoman once said: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” To that, I’d add that if you indeed get that seat at the table, use it to lift up the voices of others who didn’t have the same chance. Be ready to step back and be silent when it’s time for others to be heard.