Taking lessons from the US on social action
1,000 graduation coaches working with Philadelphia’s high school students, 1 million square feet of Manhattan rooftops painted white, 35 tons of debris cleared from Nashville’s flooded waterways and nearly 90,000 New Yorkers trained in CPR as emergency first responders. These are just some of the amazing feats of social action that have been achieved as a result of the US Cities of Service movement, started by the 108th Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, and spread like wildfire to over 180 cities across the United States since 2009. It’s pretty awe-inspiring stuff, and the reason why we are bringing the movement to the UK over the next two years with support from the Cabinet Office, Bloomberg Philanthropies and Cities of Service in the US.
It’s an exciting journey, and even in our first few weeks I already feel inspired by the potential of the programme – and a little overwhelmed by our aspirations! Over the next two years, we’ve set ourselves the ambitious task of helping seven cities solve some pretty hefty challenges – from reducing social isolation, to creating positive learning experiences, addressing food poverty and encouraging healthy eating. Happily, we’re not starting from scratch: thanks to the diligent work of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Chief Service Officers since 2009, we have a suite of blueprints which show us how to develop and implement high-impact service strategies and a Playbook outlining the step-by-step process for developing a City Service Plan.
Making this work is not going to be easy and the US have set a high bar. We’re currently contemplating the challenge of creating genuinely impact-focused metrics rather than listing outputs, how to ensure initiatives enhance existing work and don’t become an add-on to already stretched local authority resources, and how to find the perfect Chief Service Officer to lead the programme in each of our chosen cities.
Nonetheless, it’s not every day that you get to be involved in a transatlantic movement and the challenges just seek to demonstrate why it will be so valuable if we can get it right.