The international Mayors Congress has become a new platform for meeting and sharing experience between the mayors of Ukrainian cities and their colleagues from other countries. Ukraine’s faced such a need in the light of the decentralization reform, which presupposes local communities to acquire more power and be more responsible for solving their own problems. “I think that the tradition of the Congress, which started from now on, and the discussions on the reform of municipal governance is extremely important. Because local government is the Foundation of any democratic state” – said Prime Minister of Ukraine Volodymyr Groysman during the opening of the event.
The Congress is a joint initiative of the Western NIS Enterprise Fund and the project “School of Mayors”, supported by the Fund earlier this year. “Ukrainian cities still have a long way to go to become truly innovative, attractive to investors and most importantly – comfortable for their residents. To ensure this, Ukrainian mayors need to study and adopt best practices from cities around the world. The Congress is only the first step. However, having Ukrainian cities with their own success stories is important as well. Sharing experience between Ukrainian mayors is another big opportunity provided by the Congress. And therefore, Western NIS Enterprise Fund was the co-organizer and key partner in the first year of the Congress staging”, – commented Jaroslawa Johnson, President and CEO of Western NIS Enterprise Fund.
During the panel discussion “Global Trends of City Development” the mayors of Canadian cities of Kitchener and Steinbach Berry Vrbanovic and Chris Goertzen shared their experience of economic diversification in the small and once-industrial cities. They highlighted that it was implemented through high-tech industries (medicine, pharmacy) and service sector. “In the early 2000s, we realized that we had an issue because of the production decrease in the city. We had to reinvent ourselves as a city to maintain economic growth. So, we faced a choice: to keep focused on production, or choose a plan “B” – economics, based on knowledge. We had an advantage, represented by two universities and a community college in our city,” said Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener, Canada.
The speakers stressed the importance of partnership of local authorities, citizens, and business community for the successful development of the city. The mayor alone cannot cope with various challenges facing cities in the process of decentralization. Another important factor, which was particularly underlined by Meg Shields, senior consultant on corporate policy and management of the city of Toronto, is the overall transparency of city authorities’ decision making and full access of residents to information. This idea was reinforced by the Vice-President of the Polish city of Lodz Krzysztof Piątkowski. He told about community involvement in the allocation of the city budget that is practiced in Lodz. Along with revitalization of the city center and industrial buildings it allowed residents to discover a hidden potential in the previously depressed city with high unemployment rates.
Ukrainian mayors and representatives of cities shared their successful experience in management, presenting case studies of their cities. The Mayor of Mykolaiv Olexandr Senkevych revealed the work of the Mykolaiv Development Agency. “Due to the cooperation of Mykolaiv Development Agency and the Western NIS Enterprise Fund, we were able to run the Resource Office for Social Projects. People come with their projects and we determine their perspective. Then we look for an opportunity to implement these initiatives with budget and extra-budgetary funds”,– explained Senkevych.
The Mayor of Vinnytsia Serhiy Morhunov presented a solution for the reorganization of city transport infrastructure, which helped to improve the quality of public transportation. The Mayor of Trostianets Yuriy Bova presented a successful experience of attracting local business to solving the city problems. The Deputy City Major of Lviv Andriy Moskalenko spoke about the implementation of electronic administrative services in the city. The Mayor of Mariupol Vadym Boychenko shared his experience in reforming city government. “In 2016, we have launched a contact and communication center, which staff has passed through a rough selection. We are also introducing e-petitions and have already launched the e-budget. The fact that the youth came to work with municipality is of same importance. And it happened because we have created new conditions, and today it is a promising place for work“, – said Vadym Boychenko.
A separate Congress panel was dedicated to innovations in urban development. In particular, the Director of StartupAmsterdam Ruben Nieuwenhuis told about the stages of creating a startup ecosystem in the city. “Startup city is not only a city of startups. It is a city of investors, universities, technology companies. Talking about Amsterdam as a city of startups, we are talking about all these players. Therefore, making a program for the startup cities development we should talk about the creation of an ecosystem,” said Ruben Nieuwenhuis.
Summing up the Congress outcome, Iryna Ozymok, Local Economic Development Program Manager of Western NIS Enterprise Fund, said: “Our country comprises of 460 cities, and a quarter of mayors from different regions took part in the first International Mayors Congress. Interest in the Congress shown by the Prime Minister and the heads of cities proves the readiness of mayors for transformative changes, adopting the experience of their colleagues and creating the best Ukrainian practices. The translation of the book by Ruben Nieuwenhuis “City Startups” which we co-presented with the author in partnership with Greencubator became a significant addition to discussions of the role of local authorities in promoting innovation and attracting investment. We want the International Mayors Congress to become an annual event involving more Ukrainian actors of local development nationwide“.