The UCLG Annual Retreat - A Global Community that Cares

The 7th edition of the UCLG Retreat & Campus took place from 15-22 February 2021. This year the 2021 Retreat was dedicated to highlighting how UCLG is A Global Community that Cares, discussing how to capitalize on this window of opportunity, to exchange on how our communities are working for the people, for the planet, for government, and for the future. For the first time, the UCLG Retreat was a truly global experience aiming to make the most of this virtual environment, to highlight the closeness of the network. Even if having a screen between us separates us physically, it cannot separate our synergies, our goals, and our determination as a global network. Physical distancing cannot overcome how close we have become as a Network.

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Programme of the UCLG Annual Retreat and Campus

DAY 1: 15.02.2021 -  UCLG Window of Opportunity
DAY 2: 16.02.2021 - Working for People
DAY 3: 17.02.2021 - Working for the Planet
DAY 4: 18.02.2021 - Working for Government
DAY 5: 19.02.2021-  Powering a Pact for the Future
DAY 6: 22.02.2021 - Leading Transformation

DAY 1: 15.02.2021 -  UCLG Window of Opportunity


The first day of the UCLG Annual Retreat opened the windows of the Global Home to all of the Network in a way that had never been done before: the first ever gathering of all members of the Secretariats of UCLG truly brought to light the human strength of UCLG, showcasing the care that makes UCLG the global home that it truly is. As additional tools to make the UCLG Retreat an unforgettable experience, our UCLG Retreat also provided spaces such as the UCLG TV, with exclusive grids adapted to each day’s programmes and the Help Desk to ensure that everyone can equally enjoy the experience of the Retreat.

What we are trying to give to you is a sense of something special. it is not just one more webinar, one more meeting, it is an experience. To do this, we have created this in the global home, we are offering you different spaces and a glimpse of our work plan.Emilia Saiz, UCLG Secretary-General.

Our Work Areas provided their insights in what was to come for the year, in pitches that would tease the upcoming Learning with UCLG, Advocating with UCLG, and Researching with UCLG. The UCLG Learning team shared the new tools that had been developed during the year, in particular the Learning with UCLG online courses. The goal, the team highlighted, is to ensure that the Network feeds our learning methodologies and also our content.

The Policy and advocacy Team shared their key goal for the year: Enhancing the World Organisation through Policy-Making in view of Building Stronger Advocacy Momentum. The team shared the need to deepen the connections between sections and work areas in order to co-create policy priorities. The Pact for the Future that our World Organization was mandated to adopt is our end-goal, and it is these priorities that will guide our advocacy.

Finally, the Research Team opened their windows into their work for the year, with the goal of reframing the notion of inequality, and placing equality, justice, governance, and fair service delivery to the centre of the global debates through the development of GOLD VI. The Team also shared their focus on the localization of the SDGs through the report to the HLPF and introduced the work on governance of emergencies, together with Metropolis and LSE-Cities building on the priorities expressed by the Constituency in the previous Retreat.

The opening of our Retreat was also the space for the first ever Team Meeting of the entire network of UCLG. The digital Retreat allowed us to bring everyone on board from the different sections. Representatives from each of the regional sections answered what UCLG meant to them, and what they understood by “a global community that cares”.

Members of the Presidency participated from the floor to provide their insights on the Retreat and on the priorities presented by the work areas before the gathering of the Secretariats, highlighting that: 

"Almost 250 people which tells you very clearly more than ever that the passion that our world organization brings to people, especially during these difficult times battling the pandemic" Berry Vrbanovic, UCLG Treasurer.

The UCLG Retreat is also a space for synchronization. Throughout the week, our Regional Section will present their priorities and approach to eed into our Agenda and the construction of the Pact for the Future. The first of these sessions was led by Metropolis and the Forum no Regions. Metropolis introduced how the pandemic had deepened inequalities, which led to the launch of the Call to Rethink Metropolitan Spaces, and addressed the adoption of their Strategic Action Plan 2021-2023. 

We need to tackle metropolitan areas that need to include caring, health, the uses of metropolitan spaces. This action plan takes from these processes developed last year and is not only about endorsing declarations but to work and think together how to reshape metropolitan territoriesOctavi de la Varga, Secretary General of Metropolis.

The Forum of Regions addressed how it is critical to cooperate among spheres of government to build social cohesion as a means to truly ensure a symbiosis between the rural and urban spheres. 

We have a difficult road ahead of us but this "symbiosis" could be a good line to start this work of cooperation between the regions of the world and levels of government present in UCLG. Antònia Sabartés, coordinator of the Forum on Regions

Our UCLG Retreat was also the space to remember critical actors in the municipal movement, people who have dedicated their lives to advocating for a better world built from the botom-up. In what was truly an emotional moment, Secretary General of UCLG-MEWA Mehmet Duman remembered Mayor Kadir Topbas, former mayor of Istanbul and UCLG President who passed away recently, and brought to life his heritage as a champion of the municipal movement, as a leader who was willing to listen to every individual, and as a true partner for transformation for the time he served as President.

Wrapping up the day, it’s safe to say that our first day was essential to break the ice in our Retreat. Tune in to #UCLGmeets tomorrow with the UCLG Campus, the Waves of Action and the session on Advocating with UCLG!

DAY 2: 16.02.2021 - Working for People

Day two of our #UCLGMeets Retreat had, as its motif, UCLG Working for People. With our communities at the core of our efforts, the day kicked off with UCLG listening to their regional sections in a session in which the African session laid out their priorities for the year, showcasing their trajectory towards Africities and the renewal of their strategic priorities, with the goal of making UCLG-Africa a “one-stop shop” for Local Africa in 2021-2030.

In Africa we empasize the long-term perspective, and we want all of our actions to be forward looking, to align ourselves with the Pact for the Future, and always in line with the principle of proximity and putting national associations at the core of our actions''. Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, UCLG-Africa Secretary General.

The Plenary moment of our Retreat allowed us to share the priorities from the #CitiesAreListening Experience, an integral element of the People axis of the UCLG Pact for the Future.The session, with speakers from our partners from the civil society, built upon the lessons learned in the past experiences, emphasized the need to put caring at the center, to address cultural rights, to strengthen cooperation between the urban and rural spheres, and above all to rethink how we relate to each other to truly develop a world that cares.

"After one year of dialogues as part of the GOLD VI process, we are building an agenda that identifies at least 6 different pathways in which LRGs can advance the equality agenda: caring, renaturing, connecting, prospering, commoning and democratisingAlexandre Apsan Frediani, Principal Researcher, Human Settlements Group, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED).

"Thinking in terms of trade-offs has limitations, pits health against livelihoods That way of thinking has not tackled the roots of inequalities brought about by the pandemic. If we frame the pandemic as a crisis of care, it helps to determine who should be taken care of" Fakhri.

Our stocktaking plenary gathered the inputs from the five breakout sessions that took place today: 

  • Representatives from Lampedusa highlighted the Lampedusa Charter as a critical element to further our narrative on migration.

  • Representatives from the CIB Working group addressed the importance of rethinking development cooperation to address the challenges brought upon us by the COVID-19 crisis.

  • The participants of the Generation Equality breakout session addressed the importance of accelerating the achievement of SDG5 through a feminist municipalism

  • Participants from the Digital Rights breakout session addressed the Coalition of Cities for Digital Rights and the importance of using it as a connector for digital rights

  • Participants from the Accessibility session addressed some success stories in supporting people with disabilities but also argued for the need to look at policy implementation to ensure everyone is considered. 

Our session on advocating with UCLG celebrated the achievements of our advocacy with partners and the sister networks of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments, and asked participants how our joint advocacy within UCLG -including consultation mechanisms and communities of practice- can be taken to the next level. Representatives from the GTF took the floor, as did our UCLG Regional Sections, to challenge how our advocacy will look going forward.

There is a huge danger: once COVID-19 has passed we will need to pass the message that the essential conditions have not changed,  We need to develop a roadmap that ensures that the conversation about then recovery resonates with our communities and outside our constituenciesBilly Cobbett, Cities Alliance.

In a context deeply marked by covid and the climate emergency, we need to continue to demand that we be recognized as governmental actors. We need the support of the States and all spheres of government.” Iñaki Susaeta, Secretary General, Regions4

Our Secretary General Emilia Saiz closed the day addressing potential next steps for our advocacy, addressing the need to upgrate how we advocate and campaing. The urgent messages that we share within our advocacy are critical, but often do not provide the entire picture.

The sessions that took place today showcased how UCLG is working for people. Stay tuned as tomorrow opens our windows on how UCLG is working for the planet with the priorities by our ASPAC and American regions, and the lessons learnt from the first Waves of Action!



DAY 3: 17.02.2021 - Working for the Planet


Our sessions continued to contribute to feed our priorities. Today, UCLG ASPAC and the Americas shared their priorities. Secretary General Bernadia Irawati introduced the ASPAC session highlighting their Manifesto 2021-2025, strengthening the linkages between the recovery and SDG localization. Participants of the session addressed the importance of health, and showcased the Climate Resilient and Inclusive Cities, a project led by UCLG-ASPAC that is a unique collaboration to advance climate resilience strategies through integrated planning. Gender equality, Migration in the region, and strengthening joint collaboration between regional sections -such as Metropolis- was identified as a critical priority.

“We often see women as the minor gender. But as I say, never underestimate the power of women. Women contribute to our local economic development and sustainability, and need to have a stronger voice in the decision-making processes of our cities.” Madelaine Alfelor, Mayor of Iriga, UCLG Treasurer.

“We are preparing the manifesto 2021-2025, which continues our work around democratic self-governance, and emphasizes the importance of service provision and localization as critical to achieve the global agendas” Bernadia Irawati, Secretary-General of UCLG-ASPAC

The session in which the Americas presented their priorities offered a space for all of the nodes of the American Sections to participate. Representatives from all of our Networks in the Americas argued for the need to enhance coordination among the section, to share lessons learned and to contribute, from the Latin American municipal movement, to the wider municipal movement. Participants argued for the need to reduce inequalities as a means to co-create peaceful territories, investing in green innovation to ensure a resilient recovery, and fostering collaboration among associations of local and regional governments to strengthen continental cohesion.

"We have to think about how we are going to recover, how we are going to get out, how we are going to contribute to the economic reactivation of our countries, of our cities. The contribution of our sections is important  to define our priorities. Let's shake hands through this shared space"  Johnny Araya, Mayor of San José, UCLG Copresident

"It is important to work for more integration, to seek consensus, it is the only way that the regional dialogues promoted by UCLG will lead us to fairer, more inclusive and more solidarity societies, to agree on a common agenda. Marcela Petrantonio, Secretary of International Relations

The first 3 waves of action -on Housing, Migration, and Local Finance- came to an end in 2019 with a resounding success and were essential for bringing issues that our world organization already worked on to the next level, with the development of key advocacy documents such as the Declaration of Cities for Adequate Housing and the follow-up of the Global Compact on Migration.

The session in the Retreat explored what is next for our Waves of Action, with inputs from all of our Network, and brought to light innovative issues and formats. Our commitment as UCLG to work for the Planet calls on the next generation of waves to be mindful of the need to traverse towards a system of cities and territories, to link our themes with the priorities of the planet, and to protect our ecosystem.

“As we set priorities for the recovery, we need to start by considering the most vulnerable and excluded by the global system. We need to ramp up the potential of public employment to rebuild a sense of identity and transitioning into more stable work” Edgar Pieterse, UCLG Ubuntu Advisor, Urban Africa ACC.

“The COVID-19 framework is the perfect moment to change the way the economy is conceived, going beyond the most immediate response to the current needs of the population. Local and regional governments need to be entrepreneurs to create and shape markets and determine the society we want to see in the future.” Mark Watts, C40





“There is a direct link between the natural space, the living, and us. In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights we have found an answer that may suit many: living beings have the right to live in a healthy environment.” Corinne Lepage, former French Minister for the Ecological Transition.

The session wrapped up with a presentation for the upcoming UCLG World Congress in Daejeon by the city itself, introducing the four keywords for the Daejeon Congress: Smart, Resilient, Sustainable, and Inclusive cities.

Our stocktaking plenary offered the UCLG Learning an opportunity to showcase the work around the resilience module, co-created with the UCLG sections over 2 years, with a focus on practice exchange and how urban realities interact with the concept of resilience. It also showcased the outcomes of our breakout sessions, that were all aligned with the theme of the day: UCLG Working for Planet, and our work to ensure the Ecological Transition.

  • The session on the Race to Zero addressed the GCoM Strategy on the Race to Zero and Resilience, which sees the Race to Zero as a critical element to strengthen the link between COP26, the UCLG Sections, and the Networks of the Global Taskforce.
  • The session on Localizing Sustainable Financing provided a reflection on how to enhance the local finance strategy of UCLG and reinforcing capacitie to enhance access to resources
  • The linkages between Culture and Nature were addressed in their own breakout session, which highlighted the need to integrate heritage and the environment, as well as the need to strengthen the UCLG Community of Practice.
  • Food security has been high on our agenda for a long time, and the breakout session addressed the importance of food as a way to enhance our relation with climate justice, health, and social justice.

An intense equator of the Retreat! Stay tuned for more #UCLGMeets tomorrow, in which UCLG Works for Government. We will share the priorities of our MEWA and Eurasia Regional Sections, show you what it means to Research with UCLG and -no spoilers, we promise- the digital revolution of the municipal movement.

DAY 4: 18.02.2021 - Working for Government

The Digital Revolution of the municipal movement was the core of the priorities for today in our #UCLGMeets Retreat. Secretary General Emilia Saiz introduced the history of the World Organization, from its origins over a hundred years ago to now, showcasing the many issues in which local and regional governments are involved, and the agendas that municipalism is pushing. The session also allowed for the pitch of  the platformization of our municipal movement, highighting how UCLG is going to transform how it tells its stories, and how it is going to showcase its value as a network by laying out its network of priorities.

In order for communities to be at the driver’s seat when it comes to decision making, in order to bring our historic movement to the next level, it is necessary to go beyond what we have done and to think, together, about what we need to do.  With this thought in mind, the Special Guests for today’s plenary, María Fernanda Espinosa, President of the 73 United Nations General Assembly, and a member of the UCLG UBUNTU Advisory Board; and Philipp Rode, Executive Director of LSE Cities addressed the important lessons learnt during the pandemic, in particular in regards to emergency governance, and decision-making processes and mechanisms, as well as the next steps: the needs of the municipal movement in the face of crises and the role of our movement in the renewal of the multilateral system.

We are entering a moment where decentralization and multilevel governance are again on the agenda under conditions of emergency, although not everywhere". Philipp Rode, Director of LSE-Cities

We need to reassert the idea of global common goods that are non-exclusionary of universal access and the role of multilateral system is critical for this.”  Mª Fernanda Espinosa,  President of the 73 United Nations General Assembly, member of the UCLG UBUNTU Advisory Board;

We have created technical cooperation mechanisms that demonstrate that it is possible to have multi-scale technical development by working collectively.” Jorge Pérez-Jaramillo, UCLG UBUNTU advisory Board

Our stocktaking plenary provided an opportunity to catch our breath and reflect on how our values have evolved over the year with a Mentimeter exercise on what colours we associate to peace, echoing the presentation on Peace that took place one year ago, and also laid out the outcomes of the Breakout Sessions based on the theme of the day: UCLG Working for Government.

The session on Crises addressed the International Solidarity Fund and the two axes on the work of the Working group on Crises Management: advocacy, through exchanges and meetings to facilitate coordination, and action -through aid projects on the ground.

The breakout session on Voluntary Subnational Reviews highlighted the importance of going beyond localization of the SDGs and reporting on the progress made, taking stock of where we are and harnessing subnational reporting as a political tool to advance in the achievement on the goals.

The Local4Action Hubs had their own space in the breakout sessions, in a small event that gathered the first 14 Local4Action Hubs which kickstarted the synchronization of their agenda.

The Breakout Session on the Special Rapporteurs gathered partners from the civil society to address the connection between Habitat Rights and the Right to the City, and addressed the renewal of multilateralism and the creation of shared roadmaps between municipal movement and the civil society to push for a stronger multilateral system.


Our regional Sections took the driver’s seat as well, with back-to-back sessions led by UCLG-Eurasia and UCLG-MEWA. Our MEWA Section addressed their priorities for the 2020-2022 regions, chief among them the importance of their migration and refugee agenda. The ecological transition is also an important priority for the MEWA region, who highlighted their work on their reional partnerships around resilience. Finally, good governance and including communities in the decision-making processes.

In MEWA, we are promoting human rights and social justice to co-create solutions to President of our key challenges, such as supporting refugees during the health crisisMohamed Saadie, Copresident of UCLG MEWA, Vice President of UCLG

UCLG-Eurasia addressed their priorities until 2022, chief among them was increasing membership, contributing to the global agenda, and embarking in partnerships between sections and with different stakeholders” to further their agenda on decentralization. The team of UCLG-Eurasia then participated showcasing the priorities for the secretariat

We would like to highlight that it is through strong solidarity that we will be able to maintain stable collaboration, continue sharing experiences and support each other.” Rasikh Sagitov, Secretary General of UCLG Eurasia.

The day came to a close with our session on Researching with UCLG, which provided insights on what it means to research with our world organization and our three lines of work: the GOLD VI Report, the Emergency Governance Initiative, in partnership with Metropolis and LSE Cities, and the localization of the SDGs in the form of our yearly report to the HLPF. The panel discussion that ensued addressed our relationship with Academia, and included participants such as Caren Levy, Principal Investigator, KNOW Project, DPU-UCL; Philipp Rode, Executive Director, LSE Cities; Ana María Vargas, International Center for Local Democracy, as well as representation from UN-Habitat and the UCLG Sections.

The UCLG Galaxy has been represented during the entirety of the #UCLGMeets Retreat and, on Friday, the entire constituency takes the stage with the meeting of the Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments. Stay tuned as well for the priorities of our European Section and our session on what it means to Learn with UCLG!



DAY 5: 19.02.2021-  Powering a Pact for the Future

Day 5 of the #UCLGMeets Annual retreat was our Global Taskforce Day. The Annual Meeting of the Global Taskforce  gathered within the Retreat to provide a space for topics related to pivotal Advocacy moments of the year. Over 200 participants gathered in a session that included representatives from all the networks of the Global Taskforce, local and regional leaders, and representatives from the United Nations to debate our key priorities and how our constituency was gearing up to join forces for sustainability, our roadmap towards Habitat III+5 and the challenges of a year full of summits with gatherings such as Urban 20, CSW65, or the UN Food Systems Summit. 

“There is an absolute necessity to accelerate sustainability at all levels in the decade of action. The work and understanding for doing things different in the future is now clear to us at all levelsGino van Begin, Secretary General, ICLEI

"Where local and regional governments  have been involved in COVID responses, there has been a better response. We need to be very practical in our decentralization messages using COVID-19 as an example… and we need to persevere". Greg Munro, Secretary General, CGLF

“It is essential to address this need: to talk outside of this constituency. To link the agendas of cities and informalities and demonstrate how they are interlinked with the green agenda ad COP26.” Billy Cobbett, Director, Cities Alliance

“This week we have seen the landing of the Perseverance, a true milestone, and we have also heard about the efficiency of the vaccines... but we need to connect the dots. We will be the first to call when we address the delivery of vaccines, or service delivery in Mars!” Emilia Saiz, UCLG Secretary General

During the session we welcomed the two newest members of the Global Taskforce to a family of networks that already boasts 27 members, The Mayors Migration Council (MMC) and 100 resilient cities will surely be essential to further our agenda on migration, resilience and the ecological transition, and allow us to strengthen linkages between our agendas, and advocate even more strongly in our spaces.

At the end of the meeting, it was proposed to develop a structural process for the World Assembly of Local and Regional Governments that is set to take place this year, as well as to provide shared messages from our  constituency to that end. Our constituency also agreed to provide recommendations for the events in the agenda and to host technical meetings on the processes.

Our European Section, that is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2021, brought to the debate its priorities and showcased their recently adopted CEMR strategy: during the Policy Committee in January, based around 3 key goals: To ensure that CEMR is a key interlocutor to convene European local and regional governments' messages and values; to position CEMR as a key contributor in both UCLG and the constituency of local and regional governments; and to strengthen its involvement and contribution to the work of UCLG. 

“We need to use our experiences to build bridges for a sustainable future. We will work for the SDGs and make local democracy, gender equality, and finance for the future to ensure a sustainable world.” Carola Gunnarsson, Vice President of UCLG

“With the knowledge that we live in a globalized world, our reflections cannot stop at European borders. We need to consider linkages and interactions. The recovery is a unique opportunity to invest in the SDGs. A chance to foster just, green, digital, and social transition” Fréderic Vallier, Secretary-General of CEMR

Our Learning with UCLG session began with a direct question to participants: in order to talk about learning together, the mentimeter exercise shared asked participants what they understood by Learning.  The session addressed how to integrate the #LearningWithUCLG platform to promote activities and collective learning materials, the next steps on the Training of Trainers Programmes, and how to integrate the best practice programmes for peer-learning. Representatives from our regional sections as well as FEMP,  FAMSI, and the CIB Working Group joined the conversation to showcase learning examples from their areas. 

“Our #UCLGRetreat comes to an end! Over 250 cities have participated. Over 600 participants, 3000 clicks on #UCLGMeets are an amazing number for an amazing event. We have opened our windows for all of you. We are diverse. We are powerful. The power of “we” is coming!


DAY 6: 22.02.2021 - Leading Transformation