The vision of cities working together and leveraging shared experience to overcome obstacles for a better and more sustainable urban future has its roots at the United Nations Conference on Human Settlement (Habitat II) in Istanbul in 1996. This was where WACAP was first discussed, and where cities began networking with an eye to tackling common challenges with renewed enthusiasm. That same year, the United Nations International Year for the Eradication of Poverty, UNDP finalized plans for the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty (WACAP) and launched it as a UNDP sponsored global project, with funding drawn from multiple sources, but largely from a few early member cities. Since convening it first bi-annual mayoral forum in Lyon, France in 1998, WACAP has continued to expand and to grow its network to include more than 900 cities (link to list of cities) across five continents.

WACAP today is a global partnership facility and platform committed to the vision of establishing a global network of cities working together to meet their current and future development goals – with the aim of improving the quality of life, the urban environment and opportunities for all citizens. Through its global forums, online network and privileged situation within the UN structure, WACAP has been uniquely positioned to help connect municipal authorities, individuals, governments, the private sector and representatives from all sectors of society to share and exchange best practices aimed at helping municipalities confront a host of urban development challenges often common to cities both large and small, and whether in the Global South or North. (Read More)

WACAP has evolved into an important partnership and information-sharing platform that enables local officials to coalesce, exchange and fast-track time-tested solutions for improving access to services and conditions in their cities, as they work on meeting their post-2015 development goals. The decision taken by the WACAP Executive Steering Committee in 2014 to move WACAP coordination from UNDP to the UN Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) has bolstered the Alliance’s opportunities for success as it prepares to meet the demands of future growth and expansion, while importantly increasing participation and contributions from cities in the Global South.

The WACAP/UNOSSC convergence, which is consistent with the priorities outlined by the UN Secretary-General and member states to foster greater harmonization throughout the UN system and to strengthen South-South cooperation in international development programming, provides WACAP with valuable institutional support as it prepares to respond to rising numbers of partnerships, networks and practical solutions, and works to expand member city involvement and ownership in the Global South.

For UNOSSC, whose mandate is to promote South-South cooperation across the UN system, WACAP brings important strategic and programmatic benefits by broadening its reach with municipal leaders and partner networks and strengthening the sharing and replication of urban development solutions identified and tested in the Global South – and supported through triangular cooperation with cities of OECD/DAC countries. It is also helping to ensure that WACAP activities benefit from and are strategically aligned with the UNOSSC 3-in-1 multilateral support architecture – by leveraging synergies with its Global South-South Development Academy, the Global South-South Development Expo and South-South-Gate.

As it prepares for new strategic opportunities and future growth at this strategic juncture, WACAP has identified a number of income-generating activities with the aims of: (i) ensuring the ongoing sustainable financial viability of the management and operations of the Alliance and Secretariat; (ii) continuing to provide an important and recognized forum for member interaction and information exchange, and (iii) to contribute over time to a fund used to support urban renewal and poverty alleviation projects in developing country cities worldwide.

WACAP’s goal of financial self-sufficiency is expected to be reached within three years. Until then, the Alliance will follow its interim funding strategy aimed at attracting financial and in-kind support from partners, foundations and member cities to ensure that its resource requirements are met, and as detailed in the financial projections shown in Annex I, to help the Alliance bridge the funding gap as it implements its financial sustainability strategy.

With financial stability and continued active membership involvement, WACAP will endure as a reference in its goal of reducing poverty in cities all over the world.

Global Challenge and Context

Some 3.9 billion people, more than half of humanity, now live in urban areas . The urban population in 2014 accounted for 54% of the total global population, up from 34% in 1960, and is expected to grow to two-thirds of the earth’s population by the year 2050. This expansion, in absolute numbers, is concentrated in the less developed regions of the world, where the urban population is expected to grow approximately 1.84% per year between 2015 and 2020, 1.63% per year between 2020 and 2025, and 1.44% per year between 2025 and 2030.

This dramatic demographic shift will pose big challenges to municipalities already struggling to provide adequate housing, transportation, employment, energy and social services for their inhabitants. Urban growth is expected to be especially challenging for cities in Africa and Asia, where 90 percent of the growth is projected to occur. Creating inclusive urban environments that embrace sound, sustainable principals for managing this growth and providing for their inhabitants is an important goal of the post-2015 development agenda, and will go a long way to determining whether cities succeed or fail in creating livable habitats that can meet the basic needs of their populations.

In 2014 nearly half the world’s urban population lived in smaller settlements with populations of under 500,000, where the lack of adequate infrastructure and social services can often readily be seen, while the earth became home to 28 mega-cities with populations of 10 million or more, according to the UN Population Division. This number is expected to swell by nearly 50 percent, to 41, by the year 2030.

While the demographic shift to urban areas will challenge local authorities and governments, with appropriate policies and planning cities can become poised to offer important social, economic and political opportunities for people to reach their full potential – but only if the goals of inclusiveness, poverty reduction, social justice and improvements in basic services and infrastructure are pursued. Without the necessary policies and investments in sound development programmes – and access to adequate resources for funding sustainable development programmes and urban renewal – cities risk quickly becoming overwhelmed by rapid and unplanned urbanization, putting further strain on inadequate infrastructure and under-funded social services, and threatening to deepen poverty, environmental degradation and political and human insecurity.

Situation Analysis

These remarkable demographic and economic changes are resulting in greater demand for and intensified commitment to a focus on the urban environment as an entry point for achieving the kind of sustainable and transformational change that can contribute to an end to poverty as we know it while ensuring dignity, peace, prosperity and justice for all.  This renewed focus on the urban entry point for ensuring success with the post-2015 development architecture necessitates a new era of decentralized south-south and triangular partnerships at the municipal level.

Inspired in part by this realization, WACAP in recent years has adopted a partnership structure and is led by an Executive Steering Committee composed of representatives from UN Organizations and rotating member cities. In January 2014, the Executive Steering Committee approved in principle the proposal from UNOSSC that it assume the leadership of the Secretariat and serve as the Alliance’s institutional home.

Since its inception, WACAP has dedicated itself to building a better future for the more than half of humanity that now live in or are migrating to the world’s diverse and sprawling urban habitats, and is focused on helping municipalities create more sound and livable environments – with greater opportunities and quality of life for all – by promoting city-to-city cooperation and identifying and scaling-up innovative solutions for complex and urgent development challenges. The Alliance’s mission has taken on increased significance as municipal leaders are seeking proven approaches for meeting their post-2015 agendas, and as cities in all parts of the world are attracting growing influxes of people drawn by the promise of more productive and secure lives – adding pressure to already limited social services, infrastructure and financial and natural resources.