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The Global Cities Fund for Inclusive Pandemic Response (GCF)

GCF Freetown

Global Cities Fund project in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

The GCF is the MMC’s response to the unmet needs of cities as they work to support migrants, refugees, & IDPs during COVID-19. By offering direct financial and technical support to cities in low & middle income countries, the GCF proves fiscal feasibility in places that are often disregarded by donors with low-risk tolerance. The vision is to create a model that can be scaled & replicated elsewhere to ensure that global responses to pressing challenges reflect & address realities on the ground.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

With 95 percent of reported COVID-19 cases in urban areas, cities are on the frontline of the global public health crisis and its socio-economic impact. The pandemic presents unique challenges to many urban migrants, refugees, and internally displaced people (IDPs) due to their legal status, their reliance on informal employment, and their restricted access to public health services and benefits. Their experiences are complicated by language and cultural barriers, xenophobia, racism, and discrimination. In the face of these challenges, mayors and city governments have shown leadership in responding to the needs of their communities, and are doing so with increasingly limited resources. The World Bank projects that local governments may lose 15 to 25 percent of their annual revenues in 2021 alone. Faced with shrinking budgets, cities require new funding streams to respond to increasing unmet needs.

At the same time, there is an inefficiency within the international humanitarian and development grantmaking market. The majority of donor funding goes to international agencies while city governments are often left on the sidelines of responses within their own cities. There is a tremendous unrealized benefit in investing in existing city-level service delivery systems to be more inclusive of migrants and displaced communities rather than funding international actors to establish parallel service delivery structures that exclusively target migrants and displaced. These structures are often siloed, separate and apart from services in place for host communities and miss the opportunity to invest in local capacity.

To fill this gap, in January 2021 the Mayors Migration Council launched the inaugural Global Cities Fund for Inclusive Pandemic Response, a $1,000,000 initiative to respond to cities’ unmet needs as they support migrants, refugees, and IDPs during COVID-19. The GCF is providing direct financial and technical support over one year to five cities from low- to middle-income countries to implement projects related to public health, employment, livelihoods, and social protection. It is achieving this through critical partnerships with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

The inaugural projects include:
- In Barranquilla, Colombia, Mayor Jaime Pumarejo Heins is expanding the city’s Opportunities Center to help refugees, migrants, IDPs, and other vulnerable Colombians access the labour market and strengthen their ability to earn an income for themselves, their families, and their communities.
- In Beirut, Lebanon, Mayor Jamal Itani is partnering with UN-Habitat to purchase and operate the city’s first Municipal Mobile Health Clinic, which will provide free and non-discriminatory COVID-19 vaccines and other basic medical services to any individual who is unable to access them currently, including migrants and refugees in marginalized neighbourhoods.
- In Freetown, Sierra Leone, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is expanding the city’s Waste Management Micro-Enterprise program to ensure more youth living in informal settlements, many of whom are rural migrants, access the opportunity to jointly improve their livelihoods and the public health of their communities now and in the future.
- In Lima, Peru, Mayor Jorge Munoz Wells is establishing a new municipal office addressing the needs of migrants in the Cercado de Lima district by connecting them to the City’s broader suite of healthcare, employment, and other social services.
- In Mexico City, Mexico, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum Pardo is expanding a municipal income protection program to provide direct cash assistance to internally displaced persons while connecting them to national and local social services aimed at helping them settle within the city.

These initiatives stand to benefit more than 3,000 migrants, displaced people, and marginalized residents of these cities. To build on this progress, the MMC put out a call to action: 22 for 2022 - calling on international actors focused on migration and displacement to drive direct project funding to 22 cities in low to middle-income countries by the end of 2022.

Even in its early stages, other cities, donors, and international actors have expressed interest in expanding the number of cities who benefit from the GCF. To meet this demand, the MMC is currently developing a Global Cities Fund Project Prospectus, which will outline concrete partnership opportunities in other cities that are not currently supported through the GCF but have strong and unrealized potential to address the needs of migrants and displaced should they receive financial support to do so.

Innovation Description

What Makes Your Project Innovative?

Few global funding mechanisms directly finance city governments in low- to middle- income countries on issues of migrant and refugee inclusion. The GCF has quickly proven effective in directly resourcing city governments to build inclusive communities. The GCF is unique in that it:

- Provides donors access to a pipeline of vetted proposals led by city governments that show leadership on migration issues.
- Builds fiscal feasibility in city governments often disregarded by donors with low risk tolerance.
- Accelerates local efforts by providing city grantees with customized support services and connecting them with peers and partners.
- Respects the agency, authority, and capacity of city governments and their local partners by supporting projects of cities’ own design.
- Serves as a flexible, simple, and predictable funding mechanism with low overhead and high efficiency.

What is the current status of your innovation?

As the five inaugural grantees implement GCF projects in their cities, the MMC provides ongoing support through monthly coordination calls, technical support workshops, and quarterly knowledge sharing meetings where the grantees have the opportunity to come together to discuss challenges and shared learnings. Additionally, the MMC continues to connect cities with strategic partners for technical support needs in their respective areas of expertise.

Concurrently, the MMC is developing a GCF Prospectus which will outline over 20 concrete projects in other cities that are not currently supported but have strong potential to address the needs of migrants and displaced should they receive financial support. The MMC is in conversation with other cities, donors, and international actors who have expressed interest in partnering to expand the number of cities supported by the GCF.

Innovation Development

Collaborations & Partnerships

Project development: Consultations with more than 18 city networks. funders and international organizations
Project funding: the Open Society Foundations and United Cities and Local Governments
City selection: A Selection Committee of five individuals from the private, philanthropic and public sectors
Project implementation: Formal strategic partnership agreements with IOM, UNHCR, UN Habitat, and UCLG, who work with the MMC to provide direct technical support to city government grantees.

Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries

The 5 inaugural grantee projects are collectively improving the lives of 3,000+ migrants, displaced people, and marginalized residents while strengthening each city’s capacity to sustainably support countless more. City governments also benefit as implementing their projects increases capacity to manage and spend non-reimbursable funding to achieve outcomes related to inclusivity while serving as a proof of fiscal feasibility for international humanitarian/development grant making to cities.

Innovation Reflections

Results, Outcomes & Impacts

In addition to the inaugural 5 projects that serve over 3,000 people, in January 2021, the MMC called on international actors to provide at least 22 cities with the financial support to realize smart and inclusive projects by the end of 2022. Today, the MMC has a project pipeline of over 20 city government project proposals and has received donor interest to nearly double the number of city grantees. Given widespread support, the MMC is interested in further scaling the mechanism to cover additional areas of intervention, such as climate migration and inclusive climate action.

This increased support, both from potential donors as well as implementing partners, demonstrates that the GCF’s aim to prove the feasibility of financing and programming from the bottom-up—supporting city governments to achieve local and global impact—is coming to fruition. The MMC intends to leverage the Global Cities Fund’s early success to ensure as many cities as possible benefit from it.

Challenges and Failures

The unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic has caused unanticipated timeline delays and logistical challenges in some of the projects, especially as second and third waves have hit these cities. Additionally, the pandemic has made site visits for technical support and implementation assessment impossible. To manage these setbacks, the MMC remains in close coordination via email, WhatsApp, and regular calls with each city to troubleshoot and problem solve in real time.

Additionally, while $174,000 is beneficial for a proof of concept or pilot program, it limits the potential scope of projects for the inaugural grantees. Through the first round of grantees, the MMC has learned that cities require more funding and by and large have sufficient capacity to manage higher budgets. As such, the MMC is accepting project proposals of up to $1M USD for the GCF Project Prospectus.

Conditions for Success

The following conditions are contributing factors to the anticipated success of projects and contribute to evidence of the GCF as an effective funding mechanism:
- Demonstrated need & impact for migrant, refugee, & IDP communities.
- Evidence of commitment from city leadership & connection to existing city policies or goals.
- Clear identification of project leads & implementers.
- Ability to receive funds & provide fiscal oversight.
- Likelihood of successful implementation & risk mitigation.
- Clear metrics for success.
- Engagement of migrants, refugees, or IDPs in understanding the problem & designing or delivering response efforts.
- Additional community benefits
- Additional sources of funding or in-kind support & potential for sustainability after the grant period.
- Building a foundation for future policies or initiatives that effectively respond to the needs of migrants, refugees, & IDPs.
- Replicability & contributions to the field


The future is now for the Global Cities Fund. The positive early returns, coupled with expanding donor and partner interest, represents a window of opportunity to actualise the concept of the GCF into a more permanent funding mechanism and make progress towards 22 by 2022.

To do this, the MMC is currently developing a Global Cities Fund Prospectus, which will outline concrete partnership opportunities in other cities that are not currently supported through the GCF but have strong and unrealized potential to address the needs of migrants and displaced should they receive financial support to do so.

The MMC is seeking like-minded partners interested in investing in and working with us to maximize the impact of the GCF beyond pandemic response to inclusive recovery for many more cities in the future. Should funding be available, we are considering expanding the scope to include projects centred on climate migration and inclusive climate action.

Lessons Learned

In the face of compounding crises, cities are being asked to do more with less. While many have the mandate to serve people in vulnerable situations, including migrants and displaced residents, cities often do not have the financial resources to meet needs. There is a tremendous unrealized benefit in investing in existing city-level service delivery systems to be more inclusive of migrants and displaced communities rather than funding international actors who miss the opportunity to invest in local capacity.

In a period of 8 months, the MMC secured seed funding for the GCF, launched the initiative, recruited Strategic Partners, selected 5 inaugural city grantees, and launched a global Call to Action endorsed by key influencers in the space. This unity of purpose and mission across various fields and experiences is proof positive that international leaders believe urban investment is both a critical and a feasible pathway to meet the needs of migrant and displaced populations.

Supporting Videos

Year: 2021
Level of Government: Other


  • Implementation - making the innovation happen

Innovation provided by:


Date Published:

7 September 2021

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