Vilnius outcompeted 600 cities in the world and won USD 1 million in the 2021–2022 Global Mayors Challenge organised by Michael Bloomberg foundation Bloomberg Philanthropies. The victory has been brought to the capital of Lithuania by the idea to tap the city as a classroom, which was offered for the competition. The winners are 15 cities in the world, whose ideas have been recognized to help them recover from the COVID-19 pandemic more quickly. 631 cities participated in the challenge.

“The pandemic has shown that ways must be found to ensure the learning process in unpredictable circumstances and to make it more versatile. This incited the project of Vilnius as an open school, which expands one’s perception of how learning processes could and should take place. The fact that it was recognized by the world-renowned philanthropic foundation and has become one of the winners proves that we are on the right track. I am sure that the city residents will also appreciate the project,” says Remigijus Šimašius, the Mayor of the city of Vilnius.

According to him, there can be no better learning platform than the city itself, which contains everything – history, nature, business, technology and other means. “It is a natural integrated learning platform that can help bring the very education model from the 19th century to the 21st century. By analogy, as Netflix has changed how we watch films, as Airbnb has changed how we order accommodation, this idea is about to change the education in Vilnius,” says the Mayor.

The aim of Vilnius as an open school project is to transform the education in the city in the post-pandemic life. The project is intended to transform the city into an open learning space by offering active mixed learning, where traditional lessons in school classrooms would be combined with remote lessons, lessons in city museums, parks, other public spaces, also using a library of lessons created online. Schools will be provided with a possibility to organize the educational process in cooperation with public and private institutions.

“On the one hand, the pandemic has forced a sudden breakthrough in the application of digital technologies in education, on the other hand, it has severed live social relations at the same time. The aim of our project is to balance the extremes and create a mixed education system, where the latest technologies would be aligned with real experience activities in the city,” says Tomas Gulbinas, Vice-mayor in charge of the project.

During the project, teachers will get special attention. They will be offered temporary internships in various companies, a cooperation platform will be set up, special training will be organised to improve competences.

A team of seven people have been developing this idea in the Vilnius City Municipality for four months before the final application was submitted to the Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation.

In order to implement the project of Vilnius as an open school, the Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation will not only pay USD 1 million, but will also provide the necessary technical assistance and advice throughout the implementation of the project which will take three years.

“As the world works to address the profound public health and economic effects of the ongoing pandemic, cities can implement innovative ideas. Our fifteen winners offer bold, achievable plans to improve health, reduce unemployment, empower women, and more. Collectively, they have the potential to improve millions of their residents’ lives – and the most successful solutions will inspire cities around the world to embrace them,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation and Bloomberg L.P., finance technology, data and media company, and the 108th Mayor of New York City.

The 15 winning cities hail from 13 nations on six continents and collectively represent more than 30 million residents. Mayors from 631 cities in 99 countries submitted their ideas to the competition that started in January 2021.

This year the competition was organized on the global scale for the first time. Until now, Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Challenge took place four times in different regions of the world: in the USA in 2013 and in 2018, in Europe in 2014, in Latin America in 2016.

Among earlier winners of this competition were projects addressing various social and economic issues, for example, the Los Angeles (California) project was aimed at solving the homelessness crisis in the city by facilitating and reducing costs of the construction of additional residential premises, the Stockholm (Sweden) project was aimed at turning plant waste into biochar to encourage plant growth, the Barcelona (Spain) project was aimed at helping seniors to build their community through technology.

Bloomberg Philanthropies foundation seeks to ensure better life for as many people in the world as possible, focusing on five key areas: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Most of the profit earned by Bloomberg L.P., founded in 1981, goes to the implementation of Bloomberg Philanthropies initiatives. In 2021, the foundation invested USD 1.66 billion into various activities worldwide.