The ICMA CityLinks™ program was inaugurated in collaboration with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 1997 as a means to deliver technical assistance in urban management to cities worldwide. USAID partnered with ICMA to deliver management and strategic guidance for the program. Known at the time as Resource Cities, the program was established to respond to the impact of economic globalization, accelerated urbanization, and rapid decentralization worldwide—events that prompted USAID to view much of its assistance from an urban perspective.
Based on the success of Resource Cities, USAID awarded ICMA a new five year program with the CityLinks name in 2003 and again in 2011. The CityLinks model was designed by ICMA as a way to enable municipal officials in developing and decentralizing countries to draw on the resources of their international counterparts to and sustainable solutions tailored to the real needs of their cities. The program leverages the experience and expertise of ICMA’s membership of over 11,000 local government chief administrators and their professional staffs. It is based on the premise that well-managed cities are the key to efficient service delivery, economic growth, sound management of resources, and political stability. And democratic governance is the system by which local citizens hold their elected offcials accountable for these outcomes.
Cities and other local governments have become a force to be reckoned with on the global stage. As economic engines of the countries in which they reside, their policies and practices have impacts far beyond their geographical borders. Now, more than ever, they have the ability to connect with, collaborate with, and learn from other cities around the world. The impacts of the most pressing global issues are felt most strongly at the local level and are simply too big to face alone.
According to ICMA’s 2015 Local Government Sustainability Practices Survey, 78.1% of the local governments surveyed indicated that examples of other municipalities are an important source of information in developing sustainability strategies. In light of this, ICMA works to create global networks through exchanges and city-to-city partnerships. This allows for technical capacity building as well as increased cultural understanding, resulting in a wealth of opportunities at the local level. The idea of city-to-city exchange is not a new idea; it has been around for many years, with serious practice beginning after World War II. Exchanges have evolved to become more complex, adding strategic and longer-term objectives.
Over the years, ICMA has found that this type of peer-to-peer learning can result in lasting partnerships that go beyond the city-to-city technical exchanges and lead to signiffcant action at the local government level. Through CityLinks partnerships, individuals who are not only knowledgeable in their field, but also passionate about public service share technical expertise and resources with forward-thinking professionals who seek to broaden their perspective and to learn new skills. These professionals are committed to improving the capacity of their local governments and willing to work to overcome obstacles such as lack of equipment or financial resources, pervasive pessimism, or corruption.
CityLinks partnerships in the past have focused on the range of local government challenges:
- Improving the basic public services provided to citizens—including infrastructure development; water, sanitation, and otherenvironmental management services; and crime prevention and public safety—and putting sustainable solutions in place
- Enhancing local economic competitiveness by identifying opportunities, developing strategies, and planning for implementation
- Creating effective municipal management structures for strategic planning, financial management, performance measurement, citizen participation, and advocacy
- Honing the skills of local government officials to enable them to better carry out their mandates.
In addition to employing the CityLinks model in USAID-funded projects, ICMA has utilized it in programs outside the CityLinks umbrella and in projects funded by other donors. through all of these programs and projects, ICMA has sought to
- Use innovative and flexible partnership models involving government and nongovernmental counterparts in the United States, host countries, and third countries
- Empower local governments, NGOs, the private sector, and citizens to effect solutions
- Match the skills, knowledge, and resources of the local community with the skills, knowledge, and resources that U.S. partners can share
- Establish substantive professional relationships between U.S. municipal governments and their counterparts in developing and transitioning countries.
- Facilitate greater understanding of the mutual benefits that can be derived when community leaders in the United States - and their international partners - achieve sustainable solutions that enhance the capacities of democratic local government.
The 2011–2016 program had a three-fold purpose, addressing interrelated technical areas that are important in today’s rapidly urbanizing world, seeking to:
- Improve climate-related governance and systems in targeted urban areas
- Increase resiliency of cities in Feed the Future focus countries
- Improve water supply and sanitation access in urban communities in Global Health Initiative countries.
At the same time, CityLinks fostered transparency and accountability in budgeting, procurement, hiring, and other municipal practices in each project.