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“One of my long-term personal goals is to make an impact on people’s lives and the planet…”

June 25, 2020

Kellogg part-time student Marvin Lagonera was fascinated by the culturally diverse city he grew up in the Philippines. The strong historical, religious and political influences affecting the city’s growth sparked an interest in urban development and climate change, and led to him applying for the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development programme. 

Marvin comes from Metro Manila in the Philippines and works for the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, serving as a city adviser in its climate action planning programme, liaising with various cities and local governments in the Southeast Asian region in the field of climate action. He completed his master’s degree in Political Science major in Global Politics and bachelor’s degrees in Economics-Honours and Political Science from the Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

What was it that got you interested in climate action and sustainable urban development?

I’ve always been fascinated by how cities grow and develop ever since I was in primary school (student at Ateneo de Zamboanga), although at that time my understanding of urban development was limited to economic terms. I was born and raised in Zamboanga City, which is a highly urbanised port city in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. It’s a culturally diverse city with strong historical, religious and political influences, and that fascinated me.

It was in college, when I moved to Ateneo de Manila University to study political science and economics, that I gained a strong appreciation of local policy and governance, sustainable development and climate change. In college, I had various opportunities to do advocacy work with indigenous peoples, farmers and fisherfolk from the Northern Philippines. That’s really when I started to think about what is development? and who is it for? For one, the Philippines is one of the countries most impacted by climate change, affecting the most vulnerable communities. This reality was amplified when typhoon Ketsana happened in 2009 and typhoon Haiyan in 2013, causing irreversible consequences.

What was the process of applying to Oxford like for you?

Applying was both an exciting and terrifying experience. Completing the application took a lot of time, energy, and preparation. There is always that self-doubt as to whether the application is good enough. At the end of the day, I marched on, put my heart in to it, and the efforts paid off. I am also extremely grateful to my department and programme for the scholarship award.

Why the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development at Oxford?

I applied for the MSc in Sustainable Urban Development because of my background and passion for climate action and sustainable urban development. For me this MSc is an opportunity to broaden and deepen my understanding of the field I am in. It has given me diverse opportunities to do that – from the interactive learning environment, great cohort, professors, and great college (socials, college dinners, communal lunch) and involvement in Oxford-based organizations like Oxford Hub’s Green Labs. I am also currently with Oxford Urbanists, which is an organization comprising of young urban professionals committed to engaging critical perspectives to urban development issues with broader groups. One of my long-term personal goals is to make an impact on people’s lives and the planet by working more with city governments and by taking on mentorship roles to students and youth champions in the field of sustainability.

Are you managing to keep a work/life/study balance? If so, how?

I am generally able to keep work/life/study balance. I find a lot of synergy between my MSc in Sustainable Urban Development and my current profession, and that enriches both my learning experience and innovation at work. It is not always perfect because there are extremely jam-packed and exhausting days. One way I am able to keep the balance is by planning ahead of time. I still work full-time with C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group. Luckily, my director and team are very supportive of my graduate studies. Our company headquarters is also located in London, so I am able to quickly switch between the two environments when I am in the UK.

As I travel, I make sure I set aside quality time to catch up with old and new friends in London or Oxford to perhaps catch a play in town, watch a speaker event at the Oxford Union, or just spend a nice evening in one of Oxford’s great pubs.

What do you do in your spare time?

On a normal day, you would catch me sharing a lot about plant parenthood and mindfulness. During long breaks, I frequently visit surf towns. Luckily the Philippines has a number of those. I enjoy surfing, hiking, and travelling to different islands and beaches in the country and the Southeast Asian region. Recently, I have been working on a passion project, which is a nudge think tank (using behavioural insights) I founded together with an amazing group of people back home.