“I’m full of hope. We’ve made a difference in the lives of ordinary Freetonians” -Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr

Amujae Leader and Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, said during the CityLab Global Cities Summit that she was optimistic about her city and its people, despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Produced by Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Aspen Institute, this year’s CityLab Summit brought together city leaders, urban thinkers, experts, and artists in a virtual setting to share solutions for cities’ most pressing challenges. 

It was co-hosted by four mayors from cities on four continents: South America (Bogotá), Africa (Freetown), Europe (Helsinki), and North America (San Francisco), each with a compelling story about how they confronted the crises of 2020 and are now leading their cities toward recovery.  

Mayor Aki-Sawyerr shared her experiences of guiding Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital, through the pandemic, and outlined some of the innovative actions her office has taken to support citizens during COVID-19: 

“Outbreaks, whether Ebola or COVID, have so much to do with people changing their behavior. You start with behavior change messaging, but you’ve got to give behavior change support… 47% of our residents did not have running water. When your message is to wash your hands regularly, the question back to you is: how?”

One example she gave of an innovative solution was the city providing 160 rainwater harvesting systems to its citizens. By providing increased access to water, not only were Freetonians able to wash their hands more regularly during the pandemic, but they were also able to scale up urban farming efforts and put more food on tables.

Finishing her presentation, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr described how proud she was to be Mayor of Freetown and how excited she was for the future:

“I’m full of hope. We’ve made a difference in the lives of ordinary Freetonians. And I’m not saying it. They’re saying it. I’m super grateful for the opportunities cities have all over the world to make a difference at the local level. It’s such a privilege and an honor to be able to serve in this capacity.”

Over the course of the CityLab Summit, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr was joined by current and former leaders, including US Vice President Kamala Harris, who noted the importance of strong cities: 

“Throughout history, cities have driven great change. Home to more than half the world, cities bring people together to exchange goods and ideas, to promote entrepreneurship, and power our economies.”

The full video highlighting Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s COVID-19 response efforts in Freetown can be viewed here.

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