Bloomberg Philanthropies takes mayors challenge to Latin America and Caribbean

In a video, Michael Bloomberg asks mayors from Latin America and the Caribbean to submit innovative ideas to the third round of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge.

When Michael Bloomberg put up prize money for mayors with bold ideas in Europe and the United States, hundreds of innovative approaches to urban problems came bubbling out.

Bloomberg is hoping the same will happen in Latin America and the Caribbean. The former New York City mayor is launching Bloomberg Philanthropies’ third “mayors challenge” for cities of 100,000 or more people across the region. The competition’s top prize is US$5 million. Four additional awards of US$1 million are also available.

Prize money is only part of the draw, however. Cities entering the competition get significant assistance with developing and honing their ideas. About 20 finalists will receive more intensive support services, as well as an invitation to a two-day “Ideas Camp” in July at which teams from the different cities will critique each other’s plans.

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

“Expanding the Mayors Challenge to Latin America and the Caribbean provides new opportunities for progress on a wide range of issues that impact the lives of citizens,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “We’re looking forward to seeing what exciting new ideas emerge from creative city leaders throughout the region.”

The program builds on previous mayors challenges 2013 and 2014. The winner of the first one — the city of Providence, in the U. S. state of Rhode Island — proposed a strategy for improving the educational outcomes of low-income children by increasing the number of words children hear before entering kindergarten. Barcelona won the second challenge with an idea for combating isolation among seniors by mobilizing and coordinating the efforts of family members, neighbors, volunteers and others.

Winning cities from both competitions have stayed in touch, forming something of an international support network of local government leaders. Julie Rusk, assistant director of community and cultural services in Santa Monica, California, is one of them. Santa Monica won $1 million in the U. S. competition to create the nation’s first “wellbeing index” for a city — essentially a broad set of data indicators meant to drive policy toward improving residents’ overall health and happiness.

“You can’t underestimate the value of that network of cities,” tells Citiscope. “The mayors challenge puts you as a city government leader in touch with some of the most interesting and forward-leaning and creative people working in local government.”

[Read: For Milwaukee, losing the Bloomberg mayors challenge was still a win]

The format of this year’s program is similar to the ones in the U. S. and Europe. According to James Anderson, head of Government Innovation programs for Bloomberg Philanthropies, one change is that the Latin American and Caribbean cities will receive more guidance earlier in the competition process.

“As soon as mayors RSVP they will have access to tools to help them focus on clearly defining the problem they’re trying to solve,” Anderson says. “One problem we often see is a race to a solution — mayors starting with the idea they want to implement. Mayors need to first define the problem they want to solve and then turn to citizens, the private sector and academics to generate ideas that are right-sized to the problem they want to solve.”

It will be interesting to see what policy areas the Latin American and Caribbean mayors choose to focus on. Anderson says a lot of the U. S. mayors wanted customer-service improvements, while many European mayors focused on strategies to foster social inclusion. In the next round, Anderson says he expects to see some amount of focus on issues such as security, urban transport and anti-poverty efforts. And he’s hopeful Latin American mayors will have new ideas for engaging the public.

“Regionally, there’s a tremendous interest in social media,” Anderson says. “We are hopeful we’ll see some new and exciting methods of citizen engagement.”

Cities interested in applying must RSVP here by March 15. They have until April 15 to submit their ideas. Cities from 23 countries are eligible. All the details are available here.

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Christopher Swope is managing editor of Citiscope. Full bio

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