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Vanessa Leon


Member Spotlight

What is your occupation and academic background and how did you come to work in this field?

As a Haitian-American urban planner, I have been primarily focused on land use development and management in developing countries throughout Latin America and the Caribbean since the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

I began my urban planning career with a concentration in economic development and housing policy in low-income communities throughout the United States but realized fairly quickly that I had a professional skillset that could be contributed towards strengthening Haiti, and countries like it, in the quake’s aftermath. I hold a Master of Urban Planning from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner School of Public Service and am currently pursuing doctoral studies in Urban and Regional Planning and Design.

What is the biggest challenge of your work?

Often times, assisting struggling nations is limited to providing short-term (though important) provisions of food, water and clothes for example, just to get people by. Rarely is there a strategy that allows for more sustainable considerations regarding how a particular community can actually thrive, both in the present and in the future. My disciplines enables me to ask, “What can be done today to ensure that this community is not still struggling five, ten, fifteen years from now?” and then equips me with the ability to plan for these long-term improvements. This is an exciting, yet daunting, position to be in because I am continually learning as I go. Given that not many people or organizations have taken this approach, the answers are not always available for me to reference. Of course it is easy to get caught up with not wanting to mess up or fail. However, if I let insecurities or other people’s opinions of what I should (or should not) be doing with my talents hinder me from making an attempt, then an even bigger failure would be not capitalizing on the ever-present opportunities available for me to make a real difference in people’s communities and in their lives.

Identify one or two of your proudest achievements?

Considering that I am an emerging professional, the road ahead is far greater than the one I have already travelled. Therefore, I try not to spend too much time looking back at what I have already done but rather focus my sights on what I still hope to accomplish. I am proud of my decision to start an international urban planning firm, Pinchina Consulting, with the mission of “Improving Communities, Planning Realities” in countries that do not already have a strong precedent for urban planning. In this way, I am grateful to be in the process of carving my own path and in many respects, blazing a trail for those present and those to come.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

In terms of my professional goals ten years from now, I am still working with communities in developing countries to meet their urban planning and land use challenges in addition to advising governments of these countries in this regard. Additionally, I am teaching and researching at the university level in the United States and while also partnering with universities throughout the Central American and Caribbean region to further support the application of urban planning in these countries.

What would be your advice to young people who want their careers and lives to have impact?

Sometimes the path you would like to travel on is one that you will have to simultaneously create. Just because no one (that you are aware of) has done something before you or no one is approaching an age-old issue or topic from your perspective is even more reason why you should be the person to do EXACTLY that. Do not be afraid to relentlessly pursue what you know in your mind you are capable of and passionate about doing. Yes, this will not always be easy and challenges will come to rock you to your core but be sure to always have a defined core to keep you grounded. Also be open to making incremental changes along the way, and to even changing your mind, in terms of your approach. In sum, do your absolute best to chart out your career and life while trusting that some facets of that journey will work itself out in time.

Would you recommend NAHP to Haitian students and professionals? Why?

It is always beneficial to belong to a network of equally ambitious and like-minded individuals that work to foster one another’s personal and professional development. As such, students and professionals stand to benefit from the opportunities and support that NAHP readily provides.


National Alliance for the Advancement of Haitian Professionals

NAAHP is focused on connecting a global community of peers with career advancement resources as well as fostering transformative relationships to strengthen Haiti through philanthropy and social entrepreneurship.

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