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First look: Bloomberg to hold contest for cities to address pandemic

Mike Bloomberg is staging a global competition that asks mayors to describe nimble responses to the pandemic in their cities, with 15 winners receiving $1 million grants.

Why it matters: Urban areas around the world have been the hardest hit by COVID-19, and by pinpointing approaches that have worked particularly well — or that have the potential to do so —  Bloomberg Philanthropies hopes to foster long-lasting societal improvement.

Driving the news: In an announcement provided first to Axios, Bloomberg Philanthropies today introduces the "2021 Global Mayors Challenge."

  • Cities with populations of 100,000 or more are asked to submit ideas at any stage of development about how to better address COVID-related challenges in various areas.
  • Applications will be taken through March 21, then 50 finalist cities will be selected and given support to strengthen their ideas. The 15 winners will be named in December.
  • Mellody Hobson, chairwoman of Starbucks, and David Wright Miliband, CEO of the International Rescue Committee, will lead the selection committee.

What they're saying: During the pandemic, "cities innovated boldly and at scale in a way we rarely see outside of a crisis," said James Anderson, head of government innovation at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

  • "We saw new ways of delivering services, new forms of governance, imaginative new uses of public spaces, and new ways of building community — we expect to see ideas in these areas and more."
  • “Mayors are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael R. Bloomberg, former three-term mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg Philanthropies.
  • The contest “is designed to support leaders who are on the cutting edge of urban policy and work with them to test their most innovative ideas — and spread what works to other cities around the world."

Of note: This is Bloomberg Philanthropy's fifth "Mayors Challenge," but the first that's global in scope. Providence, R.I., won a 2013 competition with an early childhood literacy initiative called Providence Talks.

  • The program gives families a recording device called a ‘talk pedometer’ that counts adult words spoken in a child’s presence, to foster maximum language exposure.
  • It's been so successful that in 2019 Bloomberg Philanthropy funded the expansion to five more cities: Birmingham, Alabama; Detroit; Hartford, Connecticut; Louisville, Kentucky; and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Winning the contest has been "a big source of pride for the entire city," Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza tells Axios. "It positions Providence as one of the leaders in city innovation, and that's a mark that we that work really hard to uphold."

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