Maria Hedengren - Cities in Transition alumna

Meet Maria, an alumna of the ‘Cities in Transition – Tanzania’ studio in 2013. Maria graduated as an architect from Aalto University in 2019, now working as a creative director, marketing strategist and planner.
Image of Maria Hedengren

I am a planner and a strategist, a change maker with a strong sense of empathy, and someone who sees deep into people’s potential and what they give to the world.

Maria Hedengren

Maria has a master's degree in architecture, with a focus on urban planning. Some courses at Aalto University that shaped her are State of the World DevelopmentLiving in Extreme Poverty, Sustainable Communication, Local Development and GlobalisationBetween East and West, and the Cities in Transition studio. During her studies, she participated in several planning projects in developing countries, which eventually inspired her to pursue a thesis topic that would contribute to the field of global sustainability.

"I cherish seeing the world and learning about different cultures, co-existence, and growing stronger from our differences. I am moved by people’s stories, and I strive to find the best way to express them with beautiful imagery. For a decade I’ve worked as a wedding photographer specifically servicing multicultural clients in Finland and abroad. This position, as well as my own intercultural marriage, has ignited my interest in understanding intercultural communication.”

  • What was the biggest learning from the course ‘Cities in Transition’ at Aalto University?

The Cities in Transition course aimed at building cultural understanding and strengthening global awareness. In 2013, it took an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together students of different backgrounds. The course raised awareness of the complex reality of the developing world and encouraged addressing local challenges through co-creative solutions. 

The work conducted in Tanzania during the Cities in Transition course in the spring of 2013 inspired me to pursue a thesis topic that would contribute to the field of global sustainability. The experience of the Tanzania workshop focused on analysing local conditions, interacting with communities, understanding their needs, holding regard for local values and traditions, and building sustainable solutions. It inevitably contributed to raising consciousness regarding the role of urban planning in a globalizing world, and the need for planners to be more engaged in addressing urban challenges in developing countries. 

My thesis studied the case of Malindi, Kenya, where Western tourism development had a significant social, economic, and cultural impact on the local community. It discussed the challenges and potentials of developing future visions with the use of scenario planning. You can find the link to my thesis “Malindi’s Futures - Challenges and Potentials of Anticipating Future Visions Through Scenario Planning” here.

  • When did you graduate and where did you head after the studies?

My studies are in Urban Planning and Design. My thesis discussed Strategic Planning, Future Studies, and connecting urban studies to Scenario Planning. 

I graduated in December 2019 and received my diploma in January 2020, 10 days after my 3rd baby was born. In early 2020 I was mostly on maternity leave. After completing my thesis, I have been very excited about continuing to work in the field of my studies, but I have not yet found a position that would suit my background. Instead, without formal studies, I have over a decade of experience with artistic content creation and image curation, graphic design, project management, customer service and experience, branding, marketing, and sales.

  • Where are you working / what are you working with now?

For the last 15+ years, I have been the owner, creative director, project manager, marketing strategist, and brand curator behind the Maria Hedengren Photography brand, as well as one of the first and most experienced documentary wedding photographers in Finland. 

Maria Hedengren Photography is an internationally-acclaimed documentary wedding photography brand, with over 15 years of experience in servicing multicultural clients in Finland and abroad.

My work experience, though unrelated to my studies, provided opportunities to dream, set goals, strategize plans, find my own resources, implement ideas, evaluate scenarios, learn from mistakes, and embrace learning by doing. I am thankful for where I am with my photography business. It kept me through my studies and has given me the flexibility of working while raising small children. It has also given me a sense of achievement.

Yet I cannot help but feel that I have reached a point where there is little room for growth. I would love to move into a position from which I can learn more, but also make use of my diverse background: studies in urban planning; specific interest in the developing world; work experience related to storytelling, creative direction, customer experience, content creation and curation; and finally, my newly discovered interest in scenario planning. 

I dream of working as a consultant for an international organisation fighting to bring sustainable global change through creative design.

Thank you Maria, for sharing your inspiring story!

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