Bloomberg funds transformation in six cities

  • July 21, 2021
  • Steve Rogerson

Bloomberg Philanthropies is funding six global cities to accelerate digital transformation, improve the lives of residents and boost recovery from Covid-19.

The three-year grants, which will fund innovation teams, or i-teams, will help mayors in each city leverage data and digital technologies to enhance public services and create value for communities. Reporting to the mayor, i-teams work with colleagues across city government and with residents themselves to understand problems in new ways and develop and test transformative solutions.

Innovation teams will be funded in: Amsterdam, Netherlands; Bogotá, Colombia; Mexico City; Reykjavík, Iceland; San Francisco, California; and Washington DC.

These six cities were selected based on the success and ambition of their current digital efforts and their mayors’ commitment to creating more digitally inclusive and connected cities. Grants and technical assistance from Bloomberg Philanthropies totalling $17m will be split among the cities enabling each to hire new innovation specialists and access coaching and expertise.

“These six cities are already raising the bar for innovation in the public sector,” said Michael Bloomberg, founder of New York-based Bloomberg Philanthropies and 108th mayor of New York City. “This investment will help supercharge their work to bring city services into the digital future, deliver better results for residents, and share lessons with other cities around the world.”

City governments often struggle to address issues such as sustainability and economic mobility because responsibility for these concerns spans multiple departments. Meanwhile, many city halls lack the staff and internal capacity to test and adopt new ideas rigorously.

The i-teams programme was established in 2011 to drive change more effectively, and the teams work to spread a culture of creativity and risk-taking within local government.

This year’s i-team grants are the first to focus specifically on digital innovation, reflecting the important role data and digital services played as cities quickly reconfigured services during the pandemic, as well as the growing demand and interest in cities to build on these gains inclusively.

“We are proud, with the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, to launch an innovation team in the capital of inclusive innovation,” said Washington, DC mayor Muriel Bowser. “DC government is excelling in many ways. We’re accountable, we’re responsive and we juggle the responsibilities of a city, county and state. Throughout the pandemic, the team at DC government – 37,000 members strong – rose to incredible challenges to not only protect our community but continue providing world-class city services. Now, as we make our comeback, the i-team will help us recover stronger and deliver that better normal we know is possible.”

During Covid, San Francisco experienced success by following the data and science to help protect public health.

“Our data-driven approach helped us deliver better services and build trust at a very challenging time for our city,” said San Francisco mayor London Breed. “Thanks to the support of Bloomberg Philanthropies, we can build off the lessons learned from Covid and improve how San Francisco serves all of its residents, and create a more efficient, accessible and equitable government as we emerge from this pandemic.”

The effort to accelerate digital transformation of public services in Reykjavik was intrinsically linked to its vision of the future as it continues to build a liveable city where all citizens have the ability to thrive.

“We are grateful to Bloomberg Philanthropies for this boost to our efforts and are looking forward to the next three years working with and learning from our colleagues in the other great i-teams cities,” said Reykjavík mayor Dagur Eggertsson.

Bogotá mayor Claudia López added: “Being one of the Bloomberg cities i-teams is unprecedented news for Bogotá. This support will be fundamental for the digital transformation of our capital city and its consolidation as a smart territory. Bogotá is radically changing the way it relates to its citizens and responds to their needs. We are determined to innovate to move towards a collaborative, agile and transparent government model that improves people’s quality of life. Thank you very much for this enormous contribution.”

And Mexico City mayor Claudia Sheinbaum said: “When we talk about innovation and citizens’ rights in Mexico City, that means putting-cutting edge technology at the service of the people to bring education, connectivity and security closer to everyday life, while fostering a government that is honest and free of corruption. Together with Bloomberg Philanthropies, we will work to find solutions to the problems in our city.”

Each of the six cities will select a high priority challenge or issue for the i-team’s initial focus, such as transforming how residents receive public health services, reducing application times for city-run services, or digitising urban planning processes to increase resident participation. Bloomberg Philanthropies will document and share successes and lessons learned so that other cities’ digital innovation efforts can benefit.

“Cities are embracing digital innovation like never before, while also working to ensure this transition benefits all residents, not just the most connected,” said James Anderson, head of government innovation programmes at Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Here at Bloomberg Philanthropies, we believe in the power of helping cities raise their innovation ambitions, assess what works, and share lessons widely and ambitiously with their peers.”

Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded i-teams in more than 40 cities around the world to date. The Tel Aviv i-team spurred the creation of Digitaf, a programme that expanded and streamlined resident access to early childhood services. The team in Mobile reduced urban blight by 53%. Meanwhile, teams in Seattle, Long Beach and Baltimore played central roles in helping mayors respond to the Covid-19 pandemic by working with underserved residents to develop various testing, vaccination and contact tracing efforts.

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 810 cities and 170 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for people. The organisation focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the arts, education, environment, government innovation and public health.