Varanasi, Detroit, and Venice chosen to host Toyota Mobility Foundation’s $9m Sustainable Cities Challenge

The goal of the $9 million global initiative is to help cities accelerate toward sustainable mobility, fostering healthier and safer urban environments while enhancing people's ability to commute, work, study, and access services.

The Toyota Mobility Foundation (TMF) has announced that Varanasi along with two global cities, Detroit and Venice, have been selected to host innovation challenges as part of the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Sustainable Cities Challenge. The goal of the $9 million global initiative is to help cities accelerate toward sustainable mobility, fostering healthier and safer urban environments while enhancing people’s ability to commute, work, study, and access services.

Over 150 cities from 46 countries entered the Sustainable Cities Challenge after the call to cities was first launched in June 2023. In November 2023 the shortlist of 10 cities were announced from which the top 3 were chosen as the finalists. Now, the three selected cities will launch their own City Challenges inviting global innovators to work with them with Varanasi launching its City Challenge on June 27, 2024.

Innovators could be from anywhere around the world – residing both locally or anywhere else, but the solutions must be applicable and tailored to meet the mobility needs of the winning cities. In late 2024, solutions that best meet the needs of the cities will be selected and have access to a share of USD 3 million per city in innovation grants to demonstrate and pilot test. In 2026, winners of the challenge will be selected for further scaling and implementation.

As one of the most prominent heritage cities in India, Varanasi experiences huge influx of tourism, which, while vital to strengthening the city’s tapestry of faith and culture, brings with it concerns of safety and crowding. The Varanasi City Challenge creates an opportunity to address these issues by generating innovative, data-driven solutions incorporating elements of technology and design. Overall, the aim is to make the city, and particularly the crowded areas of Varanasi’s old city (Kashi), safer and more accessible to pilgrims, local residents and the vulnerable populace.

Akshat Verma, IAS, Municipal Commissioner/Chief Executive Officer, Varanasi Municipal Corporation/Varanasi Smart City said, “Participating in the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Sustainable Cities Challenge presents an exciting prospect for Varanasi. This initiative offers us a valuable chance to explore technical and design related avenues for enhancing mobility within our city, benefiting both our residents and the growing tourism. By collaborating with innovative minds, we aim to bolster Varanasi’s reputation as a premier global tourist destination. We eagerly anticipate the opportunity to work closely with TMF, their partners, and experts to achieve this goal.”

Speaking about the initiative, Mr. Pras Ganesh, Executive Program Director, Toyota Mobility Foundation, said, “As the Toyota Mobility Foundation, we are passionate about the freedom of mobility, and the opportunities that such mobility can unlock for individuals and communities. With like-minded partners such as World Resources Institute and Challenge Works, we seek out innovative solutions to overcome the barriers that hinder these opportunities.

The Sustainable Cities Challenge, our global challenge that matches visionary cities and the most creative innovators, will now focus on the 3 incredibly dynamic cities of Varanasi, Venice, and Detroit. We will now seek out the most innovative ideas that solve these cities’ most pressing mobility issues, and ensure that identified ideas can be scaled, replicated, and amplified globally”.

Elated with Varanasi making to the final list, Mr. Vikram Gulati, Country Head and Executive Vice President for Corporate Affairs and Governance, Toyota Kirloskar Motor said, “We at TKM are thrilled that Varanasi has been chosen as one of the global cities in the Toyota Mobility Foundation’s Sustainable Cities Challenge. At Toyota, we are committed to redefining mobility—extending beyond traditional automotive solutions to encompass human-centric, sustainable urban transportation. The Challenge in Varanasi exemplifies our dedication to this vision by providing a platform that bridges innovative minds and local stakeholders. Also, closely aligned with our global commitment to producing “Happiness for All”, I am confident that this initiative will not only transform Varanasi but also contribute significantly to the global pursuit of creating more sustainable urban environments. The solutions could also act as a template that could be replicated not only in India but also globally providing potential solutions to city planners.”

More about the Challenge: The three City Challenges will focus on different areas of sustainable mobility relevant to their specific context, spanning the expansion of access to safe, affordable, and inclusive modes of transportation. Potential solutions could harness the power of data to create connected and resilient mobility or ecosystems or reduce environmental impact through low-carbon and renewable solutions.

The three cities have been working with Toyota Mobility Foundation alongside Challenge Works and World Resources Institute (WRI) to finalize their Challenges. They are focusing on areas of their respective mobility barriers that could be best addressed through open innovation. They have been consulting with local organizations and wider stakeholders to inform the design of their respective Challenges.

Innovators from across the globe with solutions ready to be tested are invited to respond to the specific issues of each city as each City Challenge launches over the next two months. The innovative solutions that best meet the needs of the city (or the criteria for the City Challenges), will be selected to be supported. Together, the cities and selected innovators will test, further develop, and deploy solutions using real-world data, with access to transportation departments and infrastructure.

The Sustainable Cities Challenge is funded by the Toyota Mobility Foundation and has been designed in partnership with Challenge Works and World Resources Institute to bring cities and innovators together to develop sustainable, inclusive, data-driven mobility solutions fit for the future.

For more information about the Sustainable Cities Challenge and the Toyota Mobility Foundation, please visit the official website at Sustainable Cities Challenge website.