2021 Global Mayors Challenge Proposal


In the wake of COVID-19, the Bloomberg Global Mayors Challenge competition asked cities from across the world to submit innovative solutions to address the pandemic and related major issues facing urban areas. The I-Team worked alongside various partners to address this challenge through a proposed project entered into this competition. Of the 631 cities from 99 different countries that participated in the challenge, the City of Durham’s proposal was selected as one of 50 finalists.

the problem

People Struggling to Afford Basic Needs Are Not Aware of or Utilizing Public Benefit ProgramsDuring the pandemic, many programs and forms of assistance were made available that the city did not have formal authority over. Efforts from the federal and state governments, non-governmental organizations and health systems were abundant in response to COVID-19, yet the complexities of their rollout inadvertently created barriers that prevented the many residents from participating. For example, the team estimated that 3% of Durham’s residents, primarily from low-income households were eligible for stimulus packages but did not receive checks because they hadn't filed taxes.

The problem extends to city government policies as well: during the pandemic, only 30% of residents surveyed had heard of Durham’s Eviction Diversion Program and only 6% had used it. Other assistance programs similarly had little name recognition with the public.

In a time when financial assistance and medical supplies could be imperative to a resident’s health, accessibility is of the utmost importance. Federal stimulus packages, rental assistance programs and vaccines were available to residents. The failure of cities to make these amenities accessible meant that residents, often from historically marginalized communities, failed to benefit from widely available resources.


The goals of the project were to:

  • Develop a system to engage a web of resource navigators using WhatsApp as a tool 
  • Connect residents with peers experienced in navigating complex systems and programs
  • Enable resource navigators and health workers to better engage with residents and offer them better information
  • Reduce barriers involved in government processes not directly overseen by government assistance programs 
  • Ensure accessibility for residents with multilingual and multicultural backgrounds

the solution

Local government organizations were not effectively connecting residents to these potentially life-changing programs. This project sought to address issues involving user experiences in processes not formally administered by the city. The I-Team sought to create a permanent structure with multilingual resource navigators and trusted community leaders to connect residents to untapped resources.

the prototype

Before the launch of the prototype, the team conducted a thorough preliminary research and information gathering stage. In this period, the team conducted 23 stakeholder interviews, four focus groups with design storyboards, and a literature review on the use of the WhatsApp platform.

The team worked with City and County government staff, a local graphic designer, and staff from the UNC School of Public Health – Health Ambassador Program to construct a prototype engagement structure with resource navigators. The team created a bilingual WhatsApp group with over 50 community health workers from nine different organizations in the hopes of promoting vaccine equity. This group interacted over the course of a two-week period with support from the team’s moderators. 

During the prototype, the resource navigators used the WhatsApp platform to quickly connect residents to COVID-19 tests, housing and utility support, and more. While initially only using information that was prompted from the City moderators, the participants eventually began exchanging resources with one another. The group platform enabled the participants to have an immediate and rapid response network to help residents with their problems. After the prototype, 41% of the resource navigators said that they felt more connected to local government and 32% said they felt more connected with one another.

Peer navigator storyboard

Peer navigator storyboard.

why it matters

Though the city’s proposal was not one of the Global Mayors Challenge winners, the initiated program exceeded expectations and was an overall success. The community health workers involved referred nearly 7,000 residents to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 90% of these residents identified as Black or Latinx, indicating that the program successfully reached historically marginalized communities and created equitable outcomes. The program also effectively implemented a multilingual model, showing how local government can and should make language considerations a part of their work. 

“I have loved seeing all of these organizations coming together for similar causes. It is good to know that in hard times, we can come together and collaborate for a greater purpose.” 

- Program Participant

The project also demonstrated a strong network of caring community leaders in Durham and how the City can effectively engage with these workers to help residents. 91% of the participants in the group stated the community helped them with their work; 96% stated they would participate in a similar group. The resource navigators also cited the quality, speed and accuracy of the information the group enabled them to receive. Overall, the team’s idea allowed for the health workers to more effectively and efficiently connect residents to government resources.