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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

13 hours ago - Health

Bill and Melinda Gates warn of "immunity inequality"

Bill and Melinda Gates at a Goalkeepers event in 2018. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images

Bill and Melinda Gates warned in their annual letter Wednesday that the lasting legacy of the coronavirus pandemic could be "immunity inequality" — a wide and deadly gap between wealthy people, with easy access to coronavirus vaccines, and everyone else.

Why it matters: As long as there are large swaths of the world that can't get vaccinated, they warned, it will be impossible to get the pandemic under control.

AAPI leaders praise order on discrimination but say Biden needs to do more to "prioritize" community

President Biden on the left. Rep. Judy Chu on the right. Photos: Doug Mills-Pool (left) and Paul Morigi/WireImage for The Recording Academy (right) via Getty

Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) lawmakers, community organizers and advocacy groups commended President Biden's Tuesday order directing an examination of anti-Asian bias and discrimination, but pushed the administration to commit to stronger action.

Why it matters: Anti-Asian hate crimes have surged since the pandemic began, reaching more than 2,500 in August according to Stop AAPI Hate, an initiative that tracks anti-AAPI racism.

13 hours ago - Health

One year of the coronavirus

One year ago today, a novel coronavirus was barely beginning to catch the public's eye. There were just over 2,000 confirmed cases worldwide, mostly in China, and five cases in the U.S.

The big picture: The sea of red says it all. Today, there have been over 100 million cases worldwide, led by the U.S. with 25 million.