Providing cities with tools to scale and spread innovation

Cities + Mayors + Innovation

With Bloomberg Philanthropies, USA

As city populations grow, challenges such as inequality, access to public services, housing shortages and environmental damage show few signs of abating. Across Europe, cities are taking action to tackle these problems head on, and to generate innovations that help.

The problem


of the world’s population living in cities today.


of Europe currently living in towns and cities.

5.7 billion

people expected to be living in cities by 2050, this will include new, larger consumer markets, growing pressure on the supply of critical resources, and changes in people’s personal and social goals and aspirations.

Today’s cities face unprecedented challenges. Yet with increasing needs and diminishing budgets, local governments must find innovative new ways to get work done. While some cities have fostered their own ecosystems of innovation – like The City of Copenhagen’s ‘The Innovation House’ – for others, the support simply doesn’t exist.

In 2014, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced the winners of its first European Mayors Challenge, an ideas competition that encourages cities to come up with bold, inventive, and shareable responses to today’s toughest problems. Barcelona, Athens, Stockholm, Kirklees and Warsaw secured support for innovations designed to tackle loneliness in older people, engage citizens in the fight against climate change, transform communities through the power of sharing, and connect citizens who want to improve their city.

These cities generated bold, new ideas to solve high-priority urban challenges and improve city life, each with the potential to spread.

Innovation Unit has been supporting the Mayors Challenge for 2 years, helping the winning cities to connect to one another, share their learnings more widely and create tools that help other cities to take on their innovation. Using our expertise in scaling and spreading innovation, Innovation Unit has designed replication tools, conducted interviews, and facilitated events, in order to enable other cities to apply the winning innovations in their own context.

Our Impact

3 tools for replication

created for Stockholm and Athens. Outputs from other cities will follow next year.

10 cities interviewed

to gather insights from innovators and share key learnings for Bringing Bold Ideas to Life.

2 learning events

planned for 2018 in Stockholm and Athens. Each event will invite 15-20 cities from around the world to support them with the replication of both ideas.

  • Stockholm biochar project
  • Athens synAthina project
  • Barcelona Vincles
  • Stockholm biochar project

More about the innovations we’re supporting

The cities in the programme offer new solutions that positively impact the environment, civic engagement, health and well-being, the economy, and social inclusion.

Stockholm’s Biochar Project started with an ambitious plan to engage citizens in standing up to climate change through converting their plant waste into biochar. As one of the few global cities with the commitment to becoming fossil fuel free by 2040, and carbon neutral by 2045, the project is the first city initiative to directly involve citizens in meeting this target.

Innovation Unit has worked closely with the Stockholm team to produce a replication manual and checklist for cities who are interested in creating their own biochar project. The manual draws on Stockholm’s own experience and lays the foundation for successful implementation of a biochar project in a city context. Innovation Unit and the Stockholm team are facilitating an event for replicating cities next year.

“Hearing other cities’ ideas and winning an international award helps persuade local politicians of the importance of thinking globally.” Malin Parmander - International Affairs Officer, City of Stockholm

Athens’ synAthina is an online platform created to engage members of the community to engage in problem-solving and reform. Citizens submit ideas, and are connected to local government representatives, non-governmental organisations, and private businesses that can support their efforts in turning idea into reality.

Barcelona’s ‘Vincles’ is a new digital platform aiming to strengthen the social relations of senior citizens who feel lonely, and improve their well-being. The app brings together and coordinates the support of friends, family members, neighbors and professional caregivers around at-risk seniors. The platform coordinates different members of the ‘trust network’, reducing social isolation and health risk by helping to facilitate more in-person interactions.

“We’re building infrastructure in the hope that it’ll pave the way to a more connected citizenry.” Josep Mari

More often than not, members of a community have the knowledge, enthusiasm, and desire to make change in their local area. Kirklees recognises that these resources are often available within a community, but are not readily accessible to those who need them. Comoodle is an online platform designed to build a strong culture of sharing and to transform the way that people work together for community benefit. The platform provides an online space for municipal, community and private assets to be shared.  

Virtual Warsaw aims to give the visually impaired greater freedom of movement across the city, particularly when using public transport and facilities. The city is working to install beacons to communicate location data to the smartphones of the visually impaired, empowering them to navigate on their own. These beacons can also be leveraged to help all citizens more easily locate cultural attractions and navigate public transportation.

Find out more about Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge here.