These Mayors Are Being Rewarded For Making Their Cities Stronger And More Self-Reliant

Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge is helping cities learn from each other about how to survive and thrive in a world where people need cities to be their safe havens.

These Mayors Are Being Rewarded For Making Their Cities Stronger And More Self-Reliant
[Photo: Matt Mawson/Getty Images]

The City of São Paulo, Brazil, will receive $5 million for winning the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Latin American and Caribbean Mayors Challenge, a competition in which city leaders propose ambitious solutions to combat some systemic urban problem within the region.


In this case, city officials have cooked up a tasty solution to urban sprawl. Farmers outside of town often have trouble finding places to sell their produce, so they offload land to developers. São Paulo is now encouraging them to keep it; the city will develop a digital marketplace for growers to sell directly to restaurants, encouraging healthier eating and reducing stress on the city’s water supply.

[Photo: Flickr user Diego Torres Silvestre]

As Co.Exist has reported, the Mayors Challenge’s goal is to find new ways to make cities more self-reliant and then stress test them for wider distribution. (Each concept is judged for vision and creativity, potential for impact, transferability, and viability of implementation.) To that end, four runner-ups will each receive $1 million to try to enact their own civic fixes.

Two of the top plans deal with improving the lives of kids. In Bogotá, Colombia, the city will shorten insufferably long school commutes through cityscape changes that include bus lanes, pedestrian walkways and a bike share program, and an experiential–enlisting volunteers and developing online games to keep kids engaged on their way to class. In Santiago, Chile, schools will adopt new programs to battle obesity by incentivizing parents and kids to, say, “walk to school or pack healthy lunches which they can then convert to rewards such as new playgrounds,” according to a press release.

The other two are about combating corruption. In Medellin, Colombia, citizens will start a community-sourced loan program, so others can avoid dubious high-interest loans. In Guadalajara, Mexico, officials plan to create a website that open sources just about everything about building permitting practices to let citizens audit what is happening in their communities, and force business to follow the right development and urban planning rules.

[Photo: Flickr user Gabriel de Andrade Fernandes]

While Bloomberg Philanthropies has run such challenges before in the U.S. and Europe, this event drew an unprecedented turnout: Nearly 30% of eligible cities responded, representing 290 cities from 19 countries that brainstormed proposals, which were submitted for judging by Bloomberg’s panel of city-building experts earlier this year.

To figure out what might really work–and how other leaders would improve upon it–there was also a built-in layer of collaboration. The top 20 finalists attended an “ideas camp” to hone and shape everyone’s ideas earlier this year. Finalists beyond the top five will still receive some coaching and an undisclosed amount of funding (although it will be relatively small) if they continue putting their plans into action.


James Anderson, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ head of government innovation says proposals that did the best shared three key themes. First, they went easy on the tech. “A lot of times we see governments assume that technology is the solution to a problem. They’ll create an app or–you know the drill,” he says. “Here, the technology is used as a means and not an end to itself.”

Groups that did well also focused on win-win partnerships, which have staying power. In São Paulo, for instance, the farmers, city, and restaurants all benefit from continued collaboration. Finally: “You see across some of the wining ideas that engaged citizens are part of the delivery of the solution,” he adds. That enables a level of trust and adoption that the government couldn’t have achieved on its own.

About the author

Ben Paynter is a senior writer at Fast Company covering social impact, the future of philanthropy, and innovative food companies. His work has appeared in Wired, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the New York Times, among other places.