Personal profile


Laura Hirst is an ESRC PhD researcher at the Global Development Institute and Global Urban Research Centre, University of Manchester. She holds a BA in Anthropology and Geography and MSc in Social Development Practice (University College London). Her current research investigates the social vulnerability of low income urban residents to fire risk in cities of the Global South, through an exploration of everyday urban governance and practices, with fieldwork based in two settlements in Nairobi. She works in collaboration with Operation Florian, a UK based NGO providing support to fire services and humanitarian agencies overseas. She has reviewed their ongoing work with urban fire services and communities in Macedonia and Zimbabwe, and as part of an Operation Florian team authored a fire risk reduction assessment of vulnerable displaced Syrian populations and host communities in Lebanon (2016) for the country’s UNHCR Shelter Working Group.

Prior to her PhD Laura worked as a research and teaching assistant and guest lecturer on social and urban development at the Development Planning Unit (DPU), UCL and as UCL Urban Laboratory Administrator. She then worked as a Young Professional with the Philippine Action For Community-Led Shelter Initiatives and Homeless People’s Federation Philippines, supporting community-driven upgrading processes in informal settlements. She has experience working on gender mainstreaming in development projects; as a gender consultant for the Danish Refugee Council in Georgia and Abkhazia, advising on gendered approaches to policy and programmes supporting refugee and internally displaced populations; providing desk research for a DPU project on gender-based violence and access to sanitation in informal settlements in Mumbai; and as a gender and livelihoods projects officer for Cameroonian NGOs Reach Out and Elena. She also has prior experience supporting international development programmes and advocacy projects for people with disabilities through roles at Leonard Cheshire Disability. Laura works with participatory and action based methodologies where possible, including participatory photography, as part of her commitment to research grounded in socially inclusive and people-centred approaches.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 16 - Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions

Education/Academic qualification

Master in Science, Social Development Practice, University College London (UCL)

Award Date: 1 Sept 2013

Bachelor of Arts, Anthropology and Geography, University College London (UCL)

Award Date: 1 Sept 2005

Areas of expertise

  • GN Anthropology
  • H Social Sciences (General)
  • Gender inequalites
  • G Geography (General)
  • International Development
  • urban development
  • Disaster Risk Reduction
  • Disaster Preparedness

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute


  • urban development
  • urban governance
  • urban infrastructures
  • urban politics
  • urban studies
  • risk perceptions
  • Risk
  • Vulnerability and Risk
  • Fire risk
  • everyday practices
  • Participatory Research
  • Participatory Mapping
  • International Development
  • social development
  • gender mainstreaming
  • Disaster risk reduction