Nine Years in Review: MCI Leaders Reflect on Best Practices, Lessons Learned and Ensuring a Durable Legacy

With the close of the Millennium Cities Initiative, MCI’s longest-term staffers gathered recently on the Columbia University campus for two days of review, reflection and brainstorming about our nine years of work.

MCI was established in late 2005 to assist selected sub-Saharan regional capitals — 11 “Millennium Cities,” at peak — in realizing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and alleviating extreme urban poverty within their respective jurisdictions; this unusual MCI Team Summit afforded the Initiative’s leadership the opportunity to debrief regarding our research, interventions and partnerships, both in specific Millennium Cities and project-wide, and to review best practices and lessons learned.

In particular, MCI’s work in neonatal survival, early childhood education, girls’ and women’s programming, community mapping and profiling, and private sector development have been singled out by partners, observers and development practitioners alike for special commendation and for replication, either in other parts of town, of the country, region or in other developing and developed countries.

The session included a review of MCI’s key partnerships and in-depth discussions of how best to ensure that the most impactful programs introduced by MCI and now well underway in the Millennium Cities can be continued, whether under the leadership of local government, NGOs, the private sector or other partners.

The team agreed that MCI’s efforts have fostered a number of readily replicable practices, including: engaging key partners with renowned expertise who proved brilliantly capable of training local governments or departments to lead research protocols or direct interventions; developing and fine-tuning our own uniquely comprehensive, MDG-based research tools for measuring urban poverty; strengthening backward and forward linkages to the surrounding countryside, in the areas of securing maternal and child health, continuity in education through to the secondary and tertiary levels, farm-to-market opportunities and the sourcing of agro-production; and involving dozens of gifted graduate students in seeking creative solutions to some of the cities’ most pressing problems.

The meeting closed with clearly expressed confidence by all in the progress made in the course of the project by the cities themselves, despite ever-present, evolving challenges in fostering truly transformative urban development. Frequent changes in local leadership, the prolonged global economic uncertainty and, relatedly, the stark diminishment of financing from the traditional donor community are prime among these challenges, posing ongoing threats to the cities’ and to poor urban communities’ ability to sustain their hard-won momentum in ascending the ladder to lasting economic freedom and wellbeing.

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