Valentina Zuin

Social Sciences (Urban Studies and Environmental Studies)

Assistant Professor of Practice


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Dr Valentina Zuin is interested in making cities more liveable and sustainable, especially for the poor. Her specific interests include water and sanitation planning and policies, informality, slum upgrading and sustainable urban service provision in developing country settings. Dr Zuin holds a PhD in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources from Stanford University, and a Master’s in Urban Planning from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She has a Bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and International Institutions Management from Bocconi University in Milan Italy. Before joining Yale-NUS as a Postdoctoral Fellow in 2017, Dr Zuin was an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Ashoka University in New Delhi, India.

Dr Zuin’s research and teaching are influenced by her 10 years of experience living and working in developing countries cities in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia. Dr Zuin has worked in various capacities for international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), multilateral donors, and developing country governments.

Broadly, Dr Zuin’s research is motivated by a drive to improve the quality of life of slum dwellers in developing countries. She is keen to understand what modes of planning can be mobilised in contexts where informality is the current pattern of urbanisation. In particular, Dr Zuin believes that providing access to basic services plays a fundamental role in improving living conditions of slum dwellers. Given the financial, technical, and institutional challenges of municipal governments to provide conventional – i.e. individual and formal – services, less conventional, incremental, and often informal options are likely to be more relevant in slum contexts.

Starting from the assumptions that informal does not necessarily mean bad or low quality, and that indigenous and informal modes of planning are – under certain conditions – successful in improving basic services, Dr Zuin is interested in understanding: a) What is the potential role of informal service provision in improving basic services in slums? b) What incentives can be provided to landlords and local elites, to invest in improved services? c) To what extent does improved access to these services impact urban citizenship?

This research will build on Dr Zuin’s dissertation work which investigated the extent to which a shared informal and indigenous water arrangement – such as water resale from neighbours connected to the municipal water supply network – is an option for improving services in slums from both the point of view of consumers and resellers. Dr Zuin’s dissertation work was based in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where – like in many other Sub-Saharan African cities – only a small percentage of the urban population has a piped water connection on premises.

Dr Zuin has extensive experience developing and implementing large-scale in-person household surveys, structured and unstructured observation, and interviews in resource constraint settings such as slums and rural areas of developing countries.

Brown, J., Cumming, O., Bartram, J., Cairncross, S., Ensink, J., Holcomb, D., Knee, J., Kolsky, P., Liang, K., Nala, R., Norman, G., Rheingans, R., Stewart, J., Zavale, O., Zuin, V., Peter Schmidt, W. (2015). A controlled, before-and-afer trial of an urban sanitation intervention to reduce enteric infections in children: research protocol for the Maputo Sanitation (MapSan) study, Mozambique. BJM open. Vol. 5, Issue 6.

Zuin, V., Ortolano, L., Davis J. (2014). The entrepreneurship myth of small-scale service provision: water resale in Maputo, Mozambique. Journal of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Development. Vol. 4, No 2, pp 281–292.

Zuin V. (2012). All that Glitters is not Gold: Unexpected Lessons for a Slum Upgrading Program in Brasil. Lambert Academic Publishing.

Zuin, V., Ortolano, L., Alvarinho, M., Russel K., Thebo, A., Muximpua O., Davis J. (2011). Water supply services for Africa’s urban poor: The role of resale. Journal of Water and Health, Vol.9, No 4, pp. 773-784.

Social Science Research Methods
Cities of the Global South
Water and Waste in Urban Environments