When the Citi Foundation and Living Cities launched the City Accelerator in 2014, we envisioned this initiative as an "innovation lab" for cities to create systemic solutions to their most pressing challenges. Limited by cyclical changes in leadership and long-established processes, it was challenging for cities to pursue innovative and embed solutions in their municipal systems to drive more meaningful and enduring impacts. With the City Accelerator, we endeavored to provide a space where cities would be supported and encouraged to test and scale new ways to reach their underserved and low-income residents by fostering collaboration across municipal systems and between urban leaders to accelerate the permanent adoption of innovative practices that drive better outcomes.
Since 2014, 27 cities across the U.S. have participated in six City Accelerator cohorts, working together to tackle a broad array of topics such as community engagement, infrastructure finance, and inclusive procurement. Over the course of a typical cohort, municipal leaders not only have the opportunity to exchange ideas, but also receive flexible grant dollars to test new ideas, tailored support from technical assistance experts to guide their work, and access to national platforms to share information about lessons learned via Governing.com.
As the City Accelerator evolved, there was an increasing focus on connecting underserved communities and Black, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian and Pacific Islander entrepreneurs to greater economic opportunity. For example, as part of our fourth cohort focused on 'Strengthening Inclusive Procurement Practices,' the City of Memphis used a 2016 disparity study they conducted as a guide for improving their contracting process, and in two years, successfully increased the total dollar amount spent on minority- and women-owned business enterprises (MWBEs) by 20 percent.
Cross-sector collaboration – governmental, philanthropic and private – was essential to the many successes, large and small, of the City Accelerator, and we're honored that this collaboration has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Council of Foundations with the 2021 Secretary's Award for Public-Private Partnerships. This award recognizes excellence in partnerships that have both transformed the relationships between the public and private sectors and led to measurable benefits in housing and community development for low- and moderate-income families in America's cities, suburbs and rural areas.
While we are very proud that the groundbreaking work of the City Accelerator has been recognized as a shining standard for these important community efforts, we know that our work is not done. As part of Citi and Citi Foundation's Action for Racial Equity commitments, the Foundation and Living Cities are evolving our collaboration to focus more intentionally on helping cities grapple with the legacy of systemic racism. Our new Closing the Gaps Network will bring together municipal leaders from across the U.S. to understand how systemic inequity impacts their cities and provide support to help test and adopt new practices to close racial wealth gaps.
As we continue to see more of the private sector stepping into the role of addressing societal challenges, it's critical we highlight the profound power of cross-sector collaboration to drive greater opportunity, equity and inclusion in our communities. The recognition of our City Accelerator initiative, involving cities of different sizes, geographies and challenges, has been a powerful reminder that when we work together, we can produce real and systemic positive change.