Part of any good, fully functioning democracy is agency; the ability and right of individuals to have a say in their lives and their governing.  In a piece for Foreign Policy magazine, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy writes, “The attraction of a democracy is the ability of ordinary people to decide their future and for those same ordinary people to join with one another in collective action to right long-standing wrongs.”  Although not always described specifically as “agency,” it certainly flows directly from what is often guaranteed in democracies—liberty.

For the French, their promise is prominently contained in their national motto, “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”—liberty, equality, fraternity.  Deep history suggests that the German concept of liberty exists “in rights which are simultaneously duties” (Democracy in Western Germany, 1957), a concept similar to the “rights and responsibilities” of citizens in the best of civic societies.  And in the United States, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are but three of the unalienable rights included in the Declaration of Independence, “bestowed to all human beings by their creator, and which governments are intended to protect.”

Greater participation of residents in cities, and the ability for citizens to impact policies—or to have agency—will typically result in better decision-making and lasting outcomes.  GMF Cities strives to include the concepts of broad civic engagement in all our projects, especially with those populations that have been marginalized or completely left out over the years.  Agency is at the core of our current work in finding pathways to diversity in civic life and leadership, especially with newcomers to cities.  And along with uncovering innovations around integration and building inclusive communities, it is also key to strengthening social cohesion at the local level generally and specifically in our Cities Managing Migration initiative.

Current Projects

Cities Managing Migration

Migrants and refugees cross national borders, yet they settle in local communities. Cities are and always have been the place where the challenges and opportunities related to migration and integration materialize. Engaging cities to share, learn, and experiment with policies and practices is important to ensure sound and effective policies on migration that enable inclusive societies and strengthen social cohesion at the local level. Moreover, exploring and working on ways cities can strengthen their role and input into national and international policymaking spheres will not just help improve policy coherence and intergovernmental cooperation, but can ground discussions in the liberal democratic values and pragmatism that inherently characterizes many cities’ approach to migration and integration. 

The Cities Managing Migration project will bring together the GMF Cities’ network and experience, the expertise of GMF’s Migration program, and GMF’s international policy connection, to build an outcome-oriented program for European and U.S. city leaders working on this topic to learn from others, share their insights, and strengthen their role as actors on the national and international stage. The project will be structured around a selected number of thematic tracks and including cross-cutting learning themes.

Projects in Development

Everyone In 

Cities are made up of the people who inhabit them, irrespective of nationality, religion, or ethnicity. Yet too often the leadership and civic life in social, cultural, political, and economic institutions isn’t reflective of a city’s diversity and includes few, if any, voices of newcomers to the city or people of migrant background. Finding ways to disrupt this pattern is critical to the inclusive development of cities. People of different backgrounds and diverse identities need to see that there is a place for them to be active and lead in the civic life of their community and city. Similarly, leaders and institutions need to come to grips with the increasing diversity of their city and understand how failing to accommodate this reality will undermine the potential of the city to thrive in the 21st century. Achieving this is not easy, and it does not happen without deliberate and thoughtful action involving current civic and city stakeholders and leaders, as well as unrecognized or prospective ones from diverse communities.

GMF Cities will engage with different stakeholders in selected cities to develop ways of improving the diversity in civic life and leadership in a place-based manner, including political, social, cultural, and economic spheres. The "Everyone In” program starts by analyzing the local context and consulting with a wide range of local cross-sector entities before convening a local seminar. The seminar will draw from innovative ideas and methodologies of transatlantic cities and will works with local actors to identify and ideate pathways to leadership in civic life for diverse communities that could effectively be implemented locally.

Additional Information
Concept Note »

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