Alumni Spotlight: Gavin Silber (MUP 2015)

Headshot of Gavin Silber






Name: Gavin Silber


Program: Master of Urban Planning, 2015

Current employment: Program Co-Director at the Bertha Foundation


“There are few cities in the world like New York that provide exposure to people and organizations from everywhere—and NYU Wagner is located in the heart of it.” – Gavin Silber (MUP 2015)






Gavin Silber came into contact with NYU Wagner through Professor Paul Smoke, who teaches courses on public finance, development planning, and governance and development assistance in developing countries. He saw Professor Smoke as someone also grappling with the challenges of bridging the chasms that exist between policy and practice and between governments and citizens.

“Tough questions lie at the heart of governance in the 21st century—and NYU Wagner doesn't shy away from them,” Gavin said.

Once he became a student at NYU Wagner, Gavin also enjoyed the global and local focus of the coursework. Although his primary interest is in the Global South, Gavin found that New York City served as an excellent urban policy laboratory where he learned a tremendous amount through courses that use the city as a classroom.

As Gavin sees it, some of the biggest challenges of this time can only be addressed through activism that is global as well as local. Attending NYU Wagner and living in New York City gave him the opportunity to meet people from around the world and begin making his contribution toward building international activist solidarity and knowledge sharing networks.

“There are few cities in the world like New York that provide exposure to people and organizations from everywhere—NYU Wagner is located in the heart of it,” Gavin said.

Gavin has already worked with social movements in South Africa—the most unequal country in the world—campaigning for better government service delivery in informal settlements and affordable housing in well-located areas. Previously, he worked for a public health activist group that campaigned for improved access to medication for people living with HIV and more urgent responses to gender-based violence.

While he plans to stay in the activist support space, Gavin now co-directs a global fellowship program called the Bertha Challenge.

“Every year the Bertha Foundation will award fellowships to leading activists and journalists from around the world to focus their attention on answering one pressing social justice challenge,” he explained.

The first Bertha Challenge will launch in June 2019 with a focus on land and housing justice.

“During the first cycle, fellows will spend the year working collaboratively and independently to closely inspect systemic causes of land and housing crises both at home and abroad. Fellows will develop alternative approaches to solving these issues and find ways to amplify these findings to a wider audience,” Gavin said.

“Through the application process we found that there is already so much incredible work being done by activists everywhere,” he insisted as he shared his interest in opening spaces for meaningful connectivity and collaboration. "We find ourselves in a political moment that can at times feel heavy and hopeless. But seeing the extent to which activists are responding makes me optimistic about what the future holds. I want to do what I can to share this with others, and in so doing perhaps even encourage more people to become activists themselves," he said.

Gavin believes that addressing the huge challenges we face today depends on the ability of activists to share ideas and to discuss collective strategies and actions with a global reach.