Next Stop for Bloomberg's Cities Work: South America

It seems Michael Bloomberg's potential presidential bid hasn't distracted from his philanthropy.

In fact, to start the new year off right, Bloomberg Philanthropies recently announced the launch of its third annual Mayors Challenge.

A model that's become increasingly popular with philanthropists looking to spark innovation in perennial areas of need, the Mayors Challenge is putting out an open call to hundreds of cities in a particular region of the world to offer up their most groundbreaking ideas on how government can more effectively serve the interests of its citizenry. No small question, to say the least.

For the 2016 Mayors Challenge, Bloomberg is offering $1 million apiece to four runner-up cities, and a grand prize of $5 million to the city that produces the best idea, with preference going to those that solve complex economic problems, embolden civic participation among the populace, and improve government services for private companies and individuals. After all applications are reviewed, a select few advance to the next round, in which relevant experts help shape and mold the ideas even further as applicants compete to win money to back the real-world implementation of their idea.

Having held the competition for both the United States and Europe in years past, this Mayors Challenge now makes its first foray into the Global South, moving this year's competition to Latin America and the Caribbean. Per Bloomberg himself, "Expanding the Mayors Challenge to Latin America and the Caribbean provides new opportunities for progress on a wide range of issues that impact the lives of citizens. We’re looking forward to seeing what exciting new ideas emerge from creative city leaders throughout the region."

The deadline for cities interested in participating is March 15, with cities that have populations north of 100,000 eligible to compete. Also, Bloomberg Philanthropies is running the competition with the Center for Public Impact, a global advocacy group that will work with applicants.

Few foundations care more about the future of cities than Bloomberg Philanthropies. And while the foundation is better known for its work on climate change and global health, its work on municipal and civic issues has been expanding. For example, last year, BP launched What Works Cities, a data-driven program used to benefit mid-sized American cities. Another effort, Innovation Teams, relies on advanced tech and data analysis to improve governance in cities.

Making urban government work is clearly a cause close to Mike Bloomberg's heart, which makes sense given that he was mayor of New York City for 12 years. If he could make government work there, maybe he'll be able to make it work anywhere.