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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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, incoming 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 Philanthropies' 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 Philanthropies 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."

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director says number of U.S. Omicron cases "likely to rise" — Two years of COVID-19 — Prior coronavirus infections may not protect well against Omicron.
  2. Vaccines: Data demonstrates most-vaccinated counties less vulnerable to worst of COVID — Omicron adds urgency to vaccinating world — Omicron fuels the case for COVID boosters.
  3. Politics: Nevada to impose insurance surcharge on unvaccinated state workers — New Jersey GOP lawmakers defy statehouse COVID policy — Oklahoma sues Biden administration over Pentagon vaccine mandate.
  4. World: Vaccine mandates lose steam in the U.S. while Europe doubles downWHO: Delta health measures help fight Omicron — COVID cases surge in South Africa in sign Omicron wave is coming.
  5. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.
Jan 30, 2021 - World

Germany to impose travel restrictions to curb spread of coronavirus variants

Border police officers check passports and COVID-19 tests at Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Thomas Lohnes via Getty Images

Germany announced Friday that it was imposing new travel restrictions in an effort to curb the spread of more contagious coronavirus variants.

Details: All non-German residents traveling from countries deemed "areas of variant concern," including the United Kingdom, South Africa, Portugal, Ireland, Brazil, Lesotho and Eswatini, will be banned from entering the country, even if they test negative for the coronavirus.

15 mins ago - World

Pope Francis denounces European governments' migrant response

Pope Francis adresses refugees at the Reception and Identification Centre (RIC) in Mytilene on the island of Lesbos on Sunday. Photo: Louisa Gouliamaki/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Pope Francis criticized European countries' response to asylum seekers during his visit to a migrant camp on the Greek island of Lesbos Sunday.

Why it matters: The pope said "migration is a humanitarian crisis that concerns everyone," but little had changed in the global response to displaced peoples since his first visit to Lesbos five years ago, per a transcript of his remarks. "Human lives, real people, are at stake. ... let us stop this shipwreck of civilization!"