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Bloomberg Philanthropies throws its weight behind urban innovation

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Bloomberg Philanthropies recently launched the Mayors Challenge, a contest for funding in the European Union where large cities submit new, innovative ideas for solving local problems.

The EU contest is modeled on a similar competition for cities in the United States, where more than 300 cities submitted ideas covering issues ranging from sustainable development to education to citizen development. The grand prize of that contest went to a program in Providence, R.I. that works to improve the vocabulary of children in low-income households.

piggy bank
Photo by Flickr user Sebastien Bertrand

The winners in the domestic challenge covered a broad range of issues Sunlight cares about, including public procurement, public sector innovation and the use of data to improve public administration. If last year’s challenge was any indication, this year’s European-focused competition will likely demonstrate that cities around the world are turning towards new technology and open data to improve the lives of city residents.

Importantly, the challenge judges proposals on how easily the project can be transferred to another city, providing a platform for international learning and collaboration. While the value of funding challenges is debatable, platforms for more discussion and collaboration between cities facing similar problems are valuable. Cities across Europe face similar problems, and sharing potential solutions can strengthen efforts to address these common challenges.

To be eligible, cities must have over 100,000 residents and must be located in either an EU member state or one of the Associated Countries of the FP7. Cities have just a little over a month to get submissions in — they are due January 31. A selection committee will choose 20 finalists who send representatives to an “Ideas Camp” where they will present, discuss and redraft their proposals. Four winners will then be selected and grants will be distributed to the winning cities over a two to three year period.