Ada Colau has worked as a researcher and activist in the field of human rights for years, specialising in the fields of housing and the right to the city. Her professional and political experience over the past two decades include academic and informal study, working with civil society organizations, and participating in social movements. This path is typical of her generation, many of whom, in a context of growing labour-market insecurity, have acquired a range of cultural and professional skills that they are increasingly using for political ends, in both social movements and citizen electoral platforms.
During the 1990s, Ada studied at the Philosophy Faculty of the University of Barcelona and as an Erasmus student in Milan. Thanks to her time in Italy, she speaks fluent Italian and takes an ongoing interest in the country's culture and politics. Over the following years, she worked in the fields of communication, audiovisual production, and translation and interpretation. At the same time, she was involved in political activism, including protests against the Gulf War and the first anti-globalization movements, through which she gained knowledge of global debt mechanisms and international financial institutions.
In 2007 she began to work at the Observatorio DESC, a nationally and internationally renowned platform in Barcelona, dedicated to the study and defence of economic, social and cultural rights. As the person responsible for the issue of housing, she organized a number of meetings, seminars, courses and conferences, including the International Seminar on Women and Housing Rights: Building Habitat for Human Dignity (2007), the International Seminar on the Right to the City (2009) and a Conference on the right to housing and the city in the context of the crisis (2010). These meetings were attended by a number of high-profile speakers, including Raquel Rolnik, Miloon Kothari, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to housing, and the geographer David Harvey, one of the most renowned international scholars in the field of urban speculation and the the right to the city. These events allowed experts in architecture, housing and urban development, activists, civil society organizations and policy practitioners, to pool their work and experience. A prominent feature of Ada's work in the area of the right to housing and to the city has been her efforts to link citizen action to academic research, legal debates and public institutions.
In 2006, during the official mission to Spain of the UN Special Rapporteur, Miloon Kothari, Ada coordinated a number of meetings between Kothari and local groups in Barcelona, in order to highlight the issues of public policies, the property bubble and the housing emergency being felt across the country. This visit led to the Observatorio DESC's report The right to housing and housing policies (2008). This publication was followed up by another, which is closely linked to the political campaigning for which Ada has become well-known: The housing emergency in the Spanish state: the crisis of foreclosures and evictions from a human rights perspective (2013).
During the same period, Ada participated in international meetings and conferences, including United Nations Habitat: For a Better Urban Future (Rio de Janeiro, 2010); The Second Habitat International Coalition Urban Social Forum, Global network for the right to habitat and social justice (Naples, 2012); Rethinking crisis, debt and property, at the National Institute of Advanced Studies (IAEN) (Quito, 2013), and El nuevo rapto de Europa. Guerra, crisis y revoluciones democráticas at the Reina Sofia Museum (Madrid, 2014).
Ada is most well-known for her role as one of the founders of the Platform for People Affected by Mortgages (la PAH), for which she acted as spokeswoman until 2014. Born of the economic crisis and the bursting of the housing bubble, the PAH's struggle against the housing emergency has gained increasing prominence and recognition. It was one of the first organizations to truly comprehend the scale of the mortgage crisis. Ada has told the story of how the PAH alerted the political leaders responsible for the crisis to its impact in her book, Mortgaged lives: from the housing bubble to the right to housing (2012), co-authored by her partner, Adrià Alemany, and in her subsequent book, Sí se puede! Chronicle of a great victory (2013). Over the past five years, the PAH has become an international touchstone in the defence of human rights, and has been recognized by the European Parliament Citizen's Prize (2013), among other awards, including some given personally to Ada for her work as its spokeswoman.
Ada first came to widespread public attention in 2013, following a rapid sequence of events. First, she gave a combative testimony on behalf of the PAH at the Economic Committee of the Congress of Deputies in Madrid. Then, a Popular Legislative Initiative proposed by the PAH and supported by over 1,400,000 signatories was debated on the floor of the Spanish Congress. This was followed by a speech to the European Parliament Committee on Petitions in Brussels. In early 2014, she decided to leave her position as spokeswoman of the PAH, subsequently taking up the same role for Guanyem Barcelona, a citizens platform set up with the aim of winning the May 2015 municipal elections. She is currently the mayoral candidate for Barcelona in Comú, a candidature made up of civil society, social movements, and political forces (Guanyem Barcelona, BCN Podem, Procés Constituent, ICV, Esquerra Unida, and Equo).
Ada's candidacy for mayor of Barcelona has reinforced her role as a figurehead for the majority who want democratic change to tackle the economic and institutional crises. Over recent months, in the light of her new political activity, Ada's public profile has increased further, thanks to countless public meetings, interviews and newspaper articles, as well as her contributions to books on the new politics and citizen electoral platforms.