Bloomberg ‘Ideas Camp’ heads to Bogotá

Teams from 20 European cities participated in a Bloomberg Philanthropies 'ideas camp' in Berlin in 2014. A similar session will be held next week in Bogotá, Colombia. (Neal Peirce/Citiscope)

Camp isn’t just for kids.

Next week, management teams from 20 cities across Latin America and the Caribbean will gather in Bogotá, Colombia, for an “Ideas Camp.”

It’s the next stage of the latest “Mayors Challenge” put on by Bloomberg Philanthropies. The cities are competing for US$9 million worth of prize money to be awarded to five cities judged to have the boldest and most replicable ideas for solving urban challenges and improving city life.

The field of 20 finalists was narrowed from an initial group of 290 cities that applied to the competition. At the Bogotá Ideas Camp July 11-12, the finalists will get coaching from urban experts. They’ll also critique each others’ proposals, with an eye to making all of the ideas stronger. This formula of turning competitors into collaborators has worked well in previous Mayors Challenges held in the United States and Europe.

[Read: Behind the scenes at Bloomberg’s ideas camp for cities]

“Hands down, the most popular part of the two days is always the peer-to-peer feedback that they get from one another,” says James Anderson, head of government innovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “It’s very different when one bureaucrat says to another bureaucrat: ‘This doesn’t quite make sense to me.’ Or: ‘If I was going to adopt this in my city, here’s what I’d be thinking’.”

Anderson says there are two strong themes running through the Latin American and Caribbean finalists.

One is social inclusion, particularly with the disabled, immigrants and unemployed youth. Two finalists — Caracas, Venezuela and Curitiba, Brazil — put forward ideas on improving transport access for persons with disabilities. Compared to the U. S. and Europe competitions, Anderson says, “There’s less customer service and government efficiency. And more, ‘Here’s a population in need. Let’s develop an innovation that addresses this particular population and the needs they have’.”

[Read: For Milwaukee, losing the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge was still a win]

The other theme is citizen engagement. Asunción, Paraguay, wants to deploy citizens to lead a data-collection drive that can give city officials better information to base decisions on. Pudahuel, Chile, wants to match a growing number of seniors who want to stay engaged with the community with families that need help with childcare.

“The type of citizen engagement that we see in these applications is less about discussion and deliberation,” Anderson says, “and more about the co-creation and co-production of services in partnership with government.”

One other theme in this year’s competition, echoing the previous U. S. and Europe challenges, is the presence of many small cities in the group of finalists. While big cities such as São Paulo, Santiago and Medellín made the cut, so did Godoy Cruz, Argentina; Milagro, Ecuador, and Cap-Haïtien, Haiti, among other less-known places.

“It’s why you do a competition,” Anderson says. “The whole point is to cast the broadest possible net, and not start with a bunch of presumptions around who’s going to be the best.”

Winners of a US$5 million first prize and four US$1 million awards will be announced later this year. The full list of finalists is below, along with a brief synopsis of their ideas provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies.


1. Asunción, Paraguay – Data: Closing the city’s socio-economic data gap by conducting citizen-led research to gather demographic information that can inform and measure the impact of policymaking for the first time.

2. Barueri, Brazil – Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities/Workforce Development: Increasing access to the workforce for people with disabilities by creating a physical and virtual network to improve job training, analyze workplace conditions, and provide technical assistance to employers and job candidates.

3. Bogotá, Colombia – Education: Twice daily, the city will leverage all transportation channels, public facilities, volunteers and the city’s cultural history to enhance and shorten the severe school commute times for children.

4. Cap-Haïtien , Haiti – Waste Solutions/ Environment: Reducing deforestation and mangrove destruction by creating community bio-digesters, which are closed containers that break down organic waste and turn it into renewable energy.

5. Caracas, Venezuela – Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities/Mobility: Enrolling volunteers to drive people with motor disabilities to and from public transport points and providing assistance during their commutes,  opening access to education, culture, healthcare, employment and productive citizenship for a vulnerable segment of the population.

6. Corumbá, Brazil – Environment/ Economic Development: Combatting further environmental degradation caused by improper disposal of ore – a mining byproduct – by repurposing the waste into productive materials for construction.

7. Curitiba, Brazil – Social Inclusion for People with Disabilities/Mobility: Drawing on its history of transit innovation, improving the mobility of disabled people by integrating more inclusive transport services and introducing better designed routes.

8. Estación Central, Chile – Social Inclusion for Immigrants / Entrepreneurship: Promoting social inclusion by matching immigrants with new business ideas to technical assistance, office space, and local entrepreneurs looking to partner to launch a new startup.

9. Godoy Cruz, Argentina – Waste Solutions: Preventing illegal waste disposal in canals – an essential feature of the city’s irrigation system – by placing sensors to monitor and identify the exact location where infractions occur.

10. Guadalajara, México – Transparency / Government Efficiency: Tackling  corruption by streamlining the legal requirements for construction projects through a new geo-referenced app that publicly maps business names, plans, licenses and payments, speeding processing times and increasing transparency.

11. Kingston, Jamaica – Youth Unemployment / Workforce Development: Tackling entrenched youth unemployment through a mobile digital platform that encourages young people to explore, create, and access career opportunities in a variety of industries, especially Jamaica’s cultural and music industry, based on their strengths and interests.

12. Medellín, Colombia – Public Safety / Financial Empowerment: Reducing demand for illegal loans that finance organized crime by creating neighborhood lending collectives that offer low-interest commercial loans and connections to employment.

13. Milagro, Ecuador – Environmental Sustainability: Encouraging emergency preparedness for children through the creation of a network chaired and formed by students that promotes better preparation for adverse weather and natural disasters.

14. Pudahuel, Chile – Education: Pairing older residents wishing to volunteer with the children of working families in need of after-school child care, limiting social isolation for seniors and providing a vital service for families.

15. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – Public Health: Improving children’s healthcare standards and outcomes by removing silos and integrating data across agencies to improve the health and wellbeing of children ages zero to six.

16. Santiago (Commune), Chile – Public Health: Through citywide challenges, encourage neighborhood groups to work together to reduce childhood obesity; communities earn points they can use to fund local recreational and civic infrastructure.

17. São Paulo, Brazil – Economic Development: Creating an online exchange that connects growing local demand for locally produced farm products from restaurants, markets, and schools to struggling local farmers on the outskirts of the city, addressing a market failure.

18. Tlalnepantla de Baz, México – Social Cohesion: Publishing and promoting a municipal catalog of good deeds, an effort to address widespread civic apathy by engaging citizens in acts like helping the elderly and improving the local environment.

19. Tuxtla Gutiérrez, México – Anti-Corruption: Fighting corruption and improving efficiency by streamlining service delivery for public facing transactions and allowing users to monitor the activity of civil servants through a new mobile app.

20. Valdivia, Chile – Entrepreneurship: Directing promising academic research toward practical problems and helping the local economy by testing bright ideas from local universities in real-world markets  with a new mobile lab.

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Christopher Swope is managing editor of Citiscope. Full bio

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