Centre for Urban Transformation Launches Urban Innovation Challenge in Eight Fast-Growing Cities

06 Dec 2021

Lisa Chamberlain, Public Engagement, World Economic Forum, lisa.chamberlain@weforum.org

  • In partnership with Utopia, the Urban Innovation Challenge aims to activate an ecosystem of 800 innovative urban entrepreneurs, investors and mayors in eight global megacities of tomorrow to shape the next urban age
  • World’s fastest-growing cities are mostly in Asia, Africa and Latin America, with population booms that create both challenges and opportunities

Detroit, USA, 6 December 2021 – The World Economic Forum’s new Centre for Urban Transformation launched its inaugural Urban Innovation Challenge today in partnership with Utopia, an innovation group focused on emergent cities in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

As part of this challenge, eight of the world’s fastest-growing cities have designated neighbourhoods to serve as urban testbeds for new businesses, products and services that can improve quality of life for local residents and mitigate social and environmental challenges associated with rapid urbanization.

Participating cities include Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lagos, Dhaka, Jakarta, Kigali, Nairobi, Kigali and Rio de Janeiro.

Entrepreneurs and early-stage start-ups with a presence in these eight locations are encouraged to apply by 22 January 2022. The winners will receive increased visibility, connection with investors, over $25,000 in start-up resources and an opportunity to join the Technology Pioneers of the World Economic Forum.

Global judges will help define the winners for each city. They are Iyinoluwa Aboyejii, General Partner, Future Africa; Shin-pei Tsay, Director of Policy, Cities & Transportation, Uber; Rajan Anandan, Managing Director, Sequoia; Jennifer Musisi, Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative Leader in Residence; Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Airbnb; Tim Brown, Chair, IDEO; Shivani Siroya, Founder and CEO, Tala; and Prem Ramaswami, President, Urban Products, Sidewalk Labs.

In collaboration with IDEO, Urban Us and URBAN-X, the challenge will be accompanied by a three-month programme of regular public events to build collective intelligence and bring together an imaginative community to explore urban futures. Winners will be announced in February 2022 with mayors participating.

What leaders are saying about the Urban Innovation Challenge

“To revive the economy and accelerate sustainable urban development, we collaborate with multiple stakeholders and believe the Urban Innovation Challenge will nurture an urban innovation ecosystem that shapes Jakarta as a liveable city," said Anies Rasyid Baswedan, Governor of Jakarta.

"Cities continue to be hubs for people around the world to come together, ideate and become tomorrow's entrepreneurs,” said Nathan Blecharczyk, Co-Founder and CSO of Airbnb. “The blurring of work, travel and living through remote work means even more cities have a tremendous opportunity to emerge as hubs for innovation.”

“The way we shape our cities has a profound influence on every aspect of society and our impact on the planet,” said Tim Brown, Chair of IDEO. “The future demands we radically shift that impact and so innovating at the city scale has never been more essential.”

“I aim to democratize technology and drive digital inclusion. This Urban Innovation Challenge can help Dhaka’s entrepreneurs leverage technology to solve problems of people in underserved communities for rethinking our city,” said Sonia Bashir Kabir, Vice Chairperson of SBK Tech Ventures.

"So much of Africa’s urban growth is happening these next few decades. The Urban Innovation Challenge encourages young people all across the continent to help build the better futures of their cities,” said Jennifer Musisi, lawyer and public administrator in Kampala. “Governments can see entrepreneurs as key allies in tackling complex challenges, improving their cities for the many.”

"I fundamentally believe that solving for sustainability and equity in cities is the first step in addressing the impending climate crisis. By harnessing the power of urban innovation, we can positively impact our planet, while radically improving quality of life for all – starting in cities," said Prem Ramaswami, President of Urban Products, Sidewalk Labs.

“Lagos, the heartbeat of Nigeria, West Africa’s economic engine and the start-up capital of Africa, teems with innovative potential largely driven by our incredible youth population,” said Babajide Sanwo-Olu, Executive Governor of Lagos. “Our participation in the Urban Innovation Challenge is a great opportunity to harness this potential, which further underscores our commitment to enabling and empowering that spirit of innovation to create transformative value in one of the world’s densest urban landscapes.”

“While there’s a lot of talk about the urgent challenges of climate change and equity, cities can act. Innovation and creativity at the city scale fundamentally shape the future and have the greatest chance of centering people – who matter the most – in the midst of it all,” said Shin-pei Tsay, Director at Uber.

Notes to editors

Learn more about the Urban Innovation Challenge here
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