A Sobremesa on the rooftop of Laboratorio para la Ciudad in Mexico City, Mexico

Think Global Act Local

It’s More Relevant Than Ever

Yesterday I was in Tel Aviv to participate in the Cities Summit Tel Aviv: Cracking the Innovation Code, part of the DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival. What follows is the talk I gave to an audience of entrepreneurs, politicians, city counselors and international senior urban administrators.

Katherine Oliver on stage at the Cities Summit Tel Aviv on September 7, 2015

Think Global. Act Local. I know, it’s not news and it’s not a new message. But in today’s increasingly connected world, made to feel smaller every day by technological advances, there are even more reasons to think global and act local. Today local initiatives in cities can — and will — have a global impact.

Acting local — engaging with the public, developing programs, spaces and brands that are responsive to your city and making use of the creativity, diversity and talent you’re surrounded by will ensure the results are authentic and impactful. A coalition that effectively brings together local public and private interests will be the key to building cities that are equipped to thrive in the 21st century. Over half the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that percentage will only continue to grow. Local starts to become global in our increasingly urbanized world.

Of course, thanks to media and technology, ideas and innovations founded at the local level are no longer bound to the places where they were first generated. Their power is magnified when they become a part of a global exchange. What may be surprising though, is that physical proximity and environments that facilitate face-to-face interactions are still fundamental to creating a sense of community. It might seem paradoxical that in a world where media and technology are bringing people together in more ways than ever before, the most innovative cities are looking at ways to facilitate in-person interactions. People still crave that physical proximity and the energy and transfer of ideas that happen in these environments; a nod to the enduring potency of local, human-scaled interactions. There’s a balance to be found between high-tech and lo-fi, analog and digital.

So, that’s today’s message: develop locally — whether it’s an idea, a company, a brand — tapping into the talent, creativity and diversity of what’s around you means the results will feel authentic, and more importantly they’ll be built to adequately address real needs and opportunities.

I’m thrilled to be here this morning at the Suzanne Dellal Centre for Dance and Theatre, the perfect place to be discussing the role creativity and innovation play in the future of our cities.

I’ve long believed in the potential for media and technology to redefine the ways we communicate and foster the economic development of cities, citizens and businesses. It’s an approach that defined my tenure as Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment under Mayor Bloomberg in New York City and it continues to guide my approach today consulting with cities worldwide.

I have seen amazing innovations happening from Rio de Janeiro to London to Mexico City — and many places between — that are born from some of the same visionary strategies that Mayor Bloomberg brought to New York City and that inspired our now iconic Made in NY brand. This vision insists that a city’s legacy will be built from its ability to recognize its strengths and foster its potential.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / NAVES

In Rio de Janeiro Chief Digital Officer Pedro Peracio is doing some amazing things for his city in terms of digital access and innovation. With Mayor Paes’ emphasis on transformation and innovation as a guide, Rio has developed best-in-class initiatives like the Naves, a series of ‘learning spaceships’ in some of the city’s most digitally disconnected communities. This community access and digital learning project exemplifies the potential for a city to foster community, connectedness and learning driven by technology and innovation.

Nave do Conhecimento in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

During the day the naves, designed to look like spaceships, welcome thousands of community members through their doors. A digital table with a touch screen invites visitors to design their own newspapers. Members of the community, from elementary school children to the elderly, are offered time at computers and can sign up for a range of free classes.

At night the outside of the building is transformed into a screen where films can be projected for the community. The mix of modern architecture- the aesthetic of the naves resemble some of the world’s top tech companies- and the focus on practical, hands-on classroom learning for people at all levels of the digital ecosystem is a vibrant example of how a city is using technology and media to address the needs of their local community.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil / THE EXPLAINER

Mayor Paes is invoking the ‘voice of the local’ in another project as well. As part of his communications strategy he has introduced an alter ego, ‘The Explainer’ or ‘o explicador’ as he is known in Portuguese. The Explainer is played by a Brazilian stand-up comic who addresses constituents in a series of light-hearted videos on timely topics. He’s become a part of the brand of Rio de Janeiro.

O Explicador takes the ‘local’ voice to a whole new level in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

In one video the Explainer speaks with Cariocas about why the city is excited to host the 2016 Olympic Games. As part of the city’s brand ‘The Explainer’ is a local ambassador who can playfully describe how the global spotlight has the potential to bring about positive, lasting change at the local level.


In Mexico City Mayor Mancera created Laboratorio para la Ciudad, an experimental office for civic innovation led by Gabriella Gomez Mont. The Laboratorio has been tasked with helping to build a creative city that stimulates the imagination.

A Sobremesa on the rooftop of Laboratorio para la Ciudad in Mexico City, Mexico

Working from a space with a 3,000 square foot green rooftop in the heart of Mexico City, the Laboratorio hosts sobremesas and other gatherings for a mix of local and international guests from the public and private sectors. The word ‘sobremesa’ doesn’t have an exact translation in English but it refers to the spirit of open exchange experienced at the end of a communal meal; a local tradition reimagined as a form of civic engagement.

Mexico City, Mexico / Hack CDMX

This spring, for the second year in a row, the Lab hosted Hack CDMX, a data festival that welcomed over 500 hackers, technologists, city leaders and members of the public to create tech based solutions for pressing urban challenges. Mayor Mancera kicked off the event, which took place at a converted multi-level warehouse.

Hack CDMX took place at a converted warehouse space in Mexico City, Mexico.

While hackers feverishly developed apps using city data, there were also workshop sessions that took a more analog approach to collecting data. Participants used balloons, string and stickers to represent population growth. This interplay of technology and a reverence for simple, analog, human-scaled interactions is representative of the Lab’s unique mode of community building.

Mexico City’s commitment to setting up the Laboratorio and hosting events like Hack CDMX and sobremesas speaks to the opportunities cities have to create forums for real exchange between government and citizens. Cities impact people’s lives on a daily basis. The ability for that immediate and local experience to reverberate globally is at the crux of a ‘think global, act local’ approach.

London, United Kingdom / HERE EAST

Mayor Boris Johnson’s passion for redeveloping the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, home to the 2012 Olympic Games, represents a unique inflection of the relationship between global and local. Following one of the most global events in the world, London had an opportunity to adapt the Olympic park to become an important centerpiece in the city’s future. Building upon East London’s diversity and cultural vibrancy, the long-term vision for the Park will create economic growth and a newly expanded community with some of London’s leading academic and cultural institutions.

Here East, based at the former Press and Broadcast Centre at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

One of the most exciting components of the Park redevelopment is the vision for Here East, a home for makers on an unprecedented scale. Gavin Poole and his team are using the high-speed, high-capacity data and connectivity infrastructure originally built for the Press and Broadcast Centre at the 2012 Olympic Games to power the 1.2 million square foot space. Here East will house creative companies of varying sizes, part of its offer being to serve as an incubator where these businesses can grow and collaborate. Retailers with shops on the ground floor along the canal, which connects the site to the neighborhood of Hackney Wick, will make Here East inviting for a range of visitors, not to mention provide a new source of jobs and economic growth for the local community.

New York, New York / MADE IN NY

Government isn’t always associated with creativity. In fact many might suggest the two are often in opposition. My experience has been a bit different. For twelve years as the Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment in New York City it was my privilege and pleasure to find ways for government to serve and support the creative industries in New York City. We listened to the needs of the community and tried to use the platform of city government to empower the creative community for the greater good of the city. In partnership with companies, schools and local non-profits we took a different approach to government.

the Made in NY Media Center by IFP. Photo Credit Erik Fuller.

At the heart of this approach was tapping into a sense of local pride. Creating a logo was the first step in unifying New York City’s creative community. We knew the industries we were aiming to promote were best positioned to help tell the story. So we enlisted them as partners — and found they were excited and willing to do their part to celebrate and support their city. With the help of local company Radical Media we created the Made in NY logo. Inspired by a classic New York subway token, the black and white emblem came to signify everything the city was doing to support the media, entertainment (and just a few years later), tech communities. The logo was a unifying sentiment. It was embraced locally and then globally. The pride it inspired was palpable.

Graduates of the Made in NY Production Assistant Training Program proudly sport the Made in NY brand.

Trademarking the logo made it an official seal of the City of New York. We could then apply the seal to an array of programs promoting homegrown media and tech. The logo signified the real economic impact the creative community brought to New York City and served to unify the media and tech industries. But the key to creating this sense of unity was the community support. Cultivating a local brand and developing a strong community of brand ambassadors ensured the local adoption of “Made in NY,” and ultimately the visibility it received on a global scale.

Concluding Thoughts

From Rio to Mexico City, London to New York, we see how cities are building brands, providing digital skills, promoting civic engagement, and supporting businesses. These endeavors are often most powerful when pursued at the local level. We’re seeing more and more how building local communities can have global results.

On that note I’ll leave you with a few parting thoughts:

· The power of proximity should not be underestimated. Communities are built and defined by people. The City has a role to play in providing spaces for people to develop new ideas and foster civic engagement.

· Don’t forego the analog in favor of all things digital, both approaches are necessary. Finding the balance between the two is the key.

· Cultivate talent, creativity and diversity at the local level. These qualities are vital for 21st century success.

· Make it easy and inviting for the private sector to give back to their community, ultimately it can benefit everyone.

And, of course, think global act local. The ability to deliver on the promise of both will be essential to the future of our cities.

Article a creative collaboration with Shaina Horowitz

About the Author: Katherine Oliver has long recognized the potential for media and technology to redefine the ways we communicate and foster the economic development of cities, citizens, and businesses. Guided by decades of experience in the private sector — where she launched and then managed Bloomberg LP’s international TV and radio operations — and the public sector — where for 12 years she served under Mayor Michael Bloomberg as New York City’s Commissioner of Media and Entertainment — Katherine is a founding principal of Bloomberg Associates, a New York-based consulting firm, through which she provides media and technology consulting services to cities worldwide.