This week, the City of Rotterdam was announced as one of the 15 winning cities of the Bloomberg Global Mayors Challenge, a worldwide competition that rewards cities’ boldest and most ambitious innovations with $1 million.
As part of the project design team, UpSocial worked closely with the City of Rotterdam throughout the competition, firstly to select Rikx as the idea with the greatest potential among others that the city was exploring, then to develop it and write the winning proposal. After winning the first stage of the competition by being selected as one of the 50 finalist cities, we guided the design thinking process for the presentation of the final idea. Once again, we congratulate the City of Rotterdam and the Rikx team for this innovative solution to generate further investment in social impact.
This was the first time that the competition has been global. The 15 winners hail from 13 nations on six continents and collectively represent more than 30 million residents. Rotterdam is one of only three winning cities in Europe, selected from 631 applicants for their work creating ambitious urban innovations in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg L.P. and 108th Mayor of New York City says: “As the world works to address the profound public health and economic effects of the ongoing pandemic, cities can implement innovative ideas at a pace that national governments simply can’t match. Our 15 winners offer bold, achievable plans to improve health, reduce unemployment, empower women, and more. Collectively, they have the potential to improve millions of their residents' lives – and the most successful solutions will inspire cities around the world to embrace them.”
This adds to a successful track record for UpSocial. In 2014, we supported the design of another winning idea in the first European Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, when Barcelona won with ‘Vincles’ – an innovative collaborative care network for lonely people in the city.
In Rotterdam, like in many cities, persistent poverty and chronic unemployment puts a strain on the lives of its residents, particularly in the wake of the COVID pandemic. In 2021, 1 in 5 children live in poverty, despite longstanding investment and action: the municipality spends on labour reintegration almost €90 million, in addition to the €635 million of welfare investment, and a further €88 million in poverty relief and debt reduction.
One of the ways to approach this is to tap into the capacities of citizens, the private sector, and all other stakeholders. A more effective engagement of these actors could bring about higher levels of collective action, creativity, and accountability. But cities have struggled to create incentives to effectively mobilize both social energy and sustained funding to address pressing social challenges. Often, social innovations remain too small to be noticed, too anecdotal to offer a systemic alternative, too weak to generate strong evidence of outcomes and impact.
The Winning Innovation
With Rikx, Rotterdam is developing a new, transformative solution: a marketplace for social outcomes, generating sustainable, private investment for proven unemployment projects. Through Rikx, private-sector partners can purchase tokens that monetize social impact generated by entrepreneurs, similar to “offsets” in the carbon market.
With the support of the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge, Rikx will be expanded to cover a range of social challenges in addition to unemployment, and, as a highly innovative solution with the potential to trigger systemic change, Rikx will be scaled both nationally and internationally.
Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam, responded to the win: “I am thrilled that Bloomberg acknowledges our innovative efforts by awarding Rikx further development. By selecting Rotterdam as one of the 15 best innovative cities in the world, I am confident that we are on the right track to build cohesive societies in our cities. With this support from Bloomberg, it is my firm belief that Rikx has the power to generate significant social outcomes in Rotterdam, and elsewhere, resulting in increased social and economic resilience in our cities.”