Report: International Organizations Need Cities to Stay Relevant

October 29, 2018

The inaugural U20 Mayoral Summit kicks off today in Buenos Aires, where mayors from leading cities of G20 countries will meet to develop priorities to influence the G20 agenda. As cities play a larger role on the international stage, the world’s top international organizations (IOs) must evolve to this new urban world order and engage with, and within cities, to stay relevant and effective, according to a new report from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Shifts in demography, technology and diplomacy are now testing these institutions, raising new questions around their mandates, structures and impact.

“The most pressing global challenges, many of which IOs are charged with addressing, cannot be solved without enhanced urban expertise and engagement," says Ian Klaus, author of the study and nonresident senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

The report, “Invited to the Party: International Organizations Evolve in an Urban World,” offers recommendations on how major multilateral organizations can effectively engage at the local level to address the needs of the urban world. It also highlights examples of where cities have worked collectively and in parallel to international organizations when their perspectives were not formally included at the decision-making table.

  • The report’s recommendations for IOs to adapt to the urban world are:
  • Use their access to national governments and departments to encourage and facilitate policy alignment at the national, regional, and municipal levels.
  • Develop systems, including pipelines and liaisons, for local knowledge building and effective communication.
  • Ensure their outreach engages with cities’ long-term strategic planning efforts.
  • Facilitate access to municipal finance, including through private sector and state engagement.
  • Gain insights from other IOs with urban expertise through formal processes and partnerships as well as informal engagements with diplomats and experts.
  • Identify whether subnational engagement is encumbered by legal or statutory restrictions or, as is also often the case, capacity or resource limitations.
  • Continue coordinating with cities’ and their networks’ established platforms to influence international agreements and produce immediate results.​​​

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The report concludes that institutional adaptations are bureaucratic and that the urban world is anything but uniform. The sheer number of cities and challenges the world is facing are far too complex and decentralized for multitudes of IOs to engage at the local level. Nevertheless, while cities may never have a seat at the decision-making table, they must have a voice in the process.

To read and download the full report, please click here.

This report was made possible through a generous grant from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation for the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ research on global cities.