Supporting City-to-City Exchange Towards Applied Innovation: The Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development

Supporting City-to-City Exchange Towards Applied Innovation: The Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development

April 2016

Colleen Thouez, Senior Advisor, Training and Research, UNITAR Geneva

I. Introduction

For the first time in history, more people are living in urban areas than in rural ones.  It comes as no surprise that cities are the main entry points for migrants, since they provide the necessary economic opportunities and the desired social networks.  By extension, cities are at the forefront of integrating newcomers, and they often do so without the support and resources needed.  As a group of mayors assembled on this topic conceded: “We receive migrants but often act beyond our powers; we need more tools.”    

The United Nations system and related organizations are increasingly acting as direct institutional partners supporting city administrations to develop the technical capacities to meet this challenge. Further, they open access and dialogue amongst different levels of governance so that the fruits of city-to-city exchanges become part of the consciousness of inter-governmental dialogues such as the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD).  And, they operate as conveners bringing voice to city leadership that shares a progressive view of greater human mobility, understands the challenges and opportunities elicited by it, and is thinking creatively of new ways to translate diversity into economic development. In today’s context, where many consider migrants and refugees societal burdens, there is a need to support bold leadership, courage and dialogue rooted in global values founded in justice and equity for all.

II. The Mayoral Forum

The Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development is the annual gathering of mayors and city leaders serving to promote globally relevant policy dialogue, foster the exchange of experiences in governing migration, and strategize on how to work collectively.  It seeks to support new and innovative approaches to urban governance in contexts of greater diversity, and to showcase city leadership in the implementation of migration policies for inclusive growth. Its starting point is the shared conviction that migration is a primarily positive, urban phenomenon, and that cities are the main attraction pole and driving force.

Hosted in a different city each year, the Mayoral Forum gathers up to 80 city leaders together with local and regional authorities. The private sector, civil society, international organizations, and other relevant stakeholders take part in line with the annual theme.  The Mayoral Forum also serves to bridge macro and micro levels of governance by sharing information and insights from the annual GFMD, the forthcoming UN-Habitat III Conference, in addition to supporting in the implementation of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (“2030 Agenda”) and Addis Ababa Action Agenda.  Its institutional partners  buttress the Mayoral Forum with a knowledge trust, comprised of an inter-agency mechanism to support knowledge acquisition and management.  

An important supporter of the Mayoral Forum, the Government of Switzerland has characterised the annual gathering as an urgently needed space to “provide dialogue, share best practices, and launch new initiatives”.   From 2016 onward, the Mayoral Forum will move beyond dialogue to action, identifying and supporting the implementation of new initiatives for city administrations in developing countries.  

An Emerging Process…

The First Mayoral Forum was launched on 19-20 June 2014 in Barcelona.   Its official outcome – the Call of Barcelona  – unanimously endorsed by the cities represented , stresses equality of rights, duties and opportunities as core bases for a cohesive society, “demand[ing] a dignified treatment and respect for all people, regardless of their origin”. Furthermore, the Call of Barcelona beckoned “the international community to pay attention to local policies of integration and to take into account cities as key actors in discussions and decision-making processes on the design of migration policies.”  

The Second Mayoral Forum took place in Quito on 12-13 November 2015. In preparation, a draft roadmap was developed on cities’ current and potential role in the implementation of the new 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) known as the Quito Local Agenda on Migration and Development.  The Quito Local Agenda outlines 11 concrete Action Areas where cities, regions and civil society organizations are making progress or seek to make progress.  Endorsed at the Quito Forum, it affords a more visible and explicit understanding of the role played by local administrations in the implementation of the new 2030 Agenda, and can (as the Mayoral Forum process has begun to do) lead to greater inclusion in national, regional and global decision making processes on migration.

The Third Mayoral Forum will take place in Quezon City on 29-30 September 2016.  Its focus will highlight projects underway within communities in the spirit of the Quito Local Agenda and the international principles it espouses, with a two-pronged emphasis on Actions 6 and 10.

III. Why Invest in City-to-City Exchange?

While the Mayoral Forum convenes annually, it is by the on-going shepherding of its institutional partners that gains in understanding can be maintained and capitalized, areas of agreement built upon, and linear progress achieved (following each Forum’s outcomes).  For instance, a central feature of the Barcelona Forum was an emphasis on the need to include local policy-makers in decision-making circles at other levels of governance. Its outcomes were shared at the GFMD in Istanbul where for the first time, a dedicated panel for local government was organised by the Forum’s institutional partners. Similarly, the Quito Local Agenda is now the basis for consultations on how to best support integration in a number of policy circles including within the UN Habitat III preparatory process.


1. With 3.9 billion people moving to city centres by 2030 (as compared to 309 million in 1950), it has been described as “the largest migration in human history” See: Douglas Saunders, Arrival Cities: How the Largest Migration in History is Shaping our World (London: William Heinemann, 2010).
2. JMDI, From Migration to Development: Lessons Drawn from the Experience of Local Authorities (2010). Available at:
3. First Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development, 19-20 June 2014, Barcelona Spain
4. The UN Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the Joint Migration and Development Initiative (JMDI) and the World Bank Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD)
5. Ambassador Pascal Décosterd, Second Mayoral Forum on Mobility, Migration and Development, 12-13 November 2015, Quito Ecuador
6. Institutional partners also included: IOM and UNU
8. including Barcelona, Athens, Lisbon, Paris, Quito, La Paz, Sincan, La Unión, Bilbao, Budapest, San Salvador, Cologne, Ankara, Seoul, Malaga and Milan)  Related information is available from:
9.  (Also available in French and Spanish)
10. Refer to above

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