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Birmingham selected as 2021 Global Mayors Challenge finalist

The city proposed training a “food corps” to develop business ventures that can increase access to quality, affordable food.

Mayor Randall Woodfin. Image courtesy of Facebook.

Birmingham was one of 50 cities named finalists in a worldwide competition that is looking for the best innovations to help cities emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic better off than they were before.

The 2021 Global Mayors Challenge is the inaugural contest from Bloomberg Philanthropies, founded by billionaire and former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg. It will award $1 million and continuing technical assistance to 15 cities selected from the finalist pool to help implement their winning ideas.

Birmingham entered the competition with its proposed Birmingham Food Corps, which would train graduates of the city’s schools to form a network of food system experts who would work to transform their communities’ food options.

Almost 70 percent of Birmingham residents do not have easy access to good-quality food that is affordable, the city estimates. Corps members would get hands-on training and be put in rotations with stakeholders in the local food system. Their task would be to develop entrepreneurial ideas that put the health and needs of people first. Their ideas would receive seed funding to get them off the ground.

“The pandemic showed us that we can’t rely on existing grocery store models and emergency food supply chains to meet the need in our community,” said Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We need to shift the balance of food power back to the community and catalyze home-grown solutions for food access. The Mayors Challenge will help us test and refine how to do this, alongside local food system partners like Jones Valley Teaching Farm and neighborhood
leaders who are immersed in this work.”

As a finalist, Birmingham enters a four-month “Champion Phase” that runs from June through October during which Bloomberg Philanthropies and its network of innovation experts will help the city refine its proposal. 

James Anderson, head of government innovation at Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in a statement that this phase is exciting because it helps mayors take their ideas further.

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“While 15 cities will ultimately take home grand prizes, all 50 cities receive world class coaching and support to improve their ideas and their potential to improve lives,” Anderson said.

The 15 winners will be announced early next year.

There were more than 630 applications from 99 countries, Bloomberg Philanthropies said.

“These 50 finalists are showing the world that in the face of the pandemic’s enormous challenges, cities are rising to meet them with bold, innovative, and ambitious ideas,” Bloomberg said in a statement. “By helping these cities test their ideas over the coming months, we will have a chance to identify cutting-edge policies and programs that can allow cities to rebuild in ways that make them stronger and healthier, and more equal and more just.”

Micah Danney is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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