The Catalytic Fund

What is the Catalytic Fund?

What is the selection process for the Catalytic Fund?

What are the minimum eligibility requirements for proposals to the Catalytic Fund?

What are the guidelines for submitting proposals? 

What are some of the selection criteria that will be used to evaluate proposals?




 CATF Home

 CATF Overview


 Calls for Proposals


The Catalytic Fund (CATF) is a Cities Alliance global funding instrument which provides grant support for innovative projects that strengthen and promote the role of cities in poverty reduction and in sustainable urban development.
The Catalytic Fund has two major strategic objectives: (i) to catalyse urban transformation processes that promote more inclusive cities by connecting cities and their innovative ideas to Cities Alliance members; and (ii) to facilitate the sharing of the knowledge and learning distilled from innovative project experiences on global urban challenges.
Projects supported by the Catalytic Fund should aim to:
  • Promote change through innovation, which is measured in the application of new ideas, products and processes to address both existing and emerging developmental challenges;
  • Make a positive impact on urban development challenges by leveraging cooperation and partnership among urban development actors; and
  • Foster knowledge and learning among cities, practitioners and policy makers.
Some of the key elements of the Catalytic Fund are that:
  • It is a competitive process that is open at least once a year.
  • Initial application is done through a Concept Note on the proposed project.
  • The grant size is between US $50,000 – US $200,000.
  • Sponsorship by one or more Cities Alliance members is required. Multiple sponsors are strongly encouraged.
  • Calls for Proposals usually focus on a selected theme of international relevance.

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There are five fundamental steps in the approval process of a proposal to the Catalytic Fund:
Step 1: Call for Proposals
At least once a year, the Cities Alliance Secretariat will issue a call for proposals via the Cities Alliance website. Once this call has been issued, the Cities Alliance will accept submissions of project Concept Notes over a predetermined period of time, typically two months. 
Step 2: Submission of Concept Notes
The Concept Note is a concise outline of the intended project. All Concept Notes must be submitted in English, French, or Spanish using the available template. Concept Notes should be e-mailed to the Cities Alliance Secretariat at  At least one Cities Alliance Member must sponsor the application. However, multiple sponsors are strongly encouraged.  Sponsorship(s) must be secured prior to submission of the proposed project. Proponent and sponsor(s) must discuss and endorse the Concept Note of the proposed project including the role of the sponsor(s) prior to submission. 
Step 3: Concept Note Assessment and Approval
The Cities Alliance Secretariat screens the Concept Notes to ensure that they meet the minimum criteria for eligibility. Concept Notes that pass the minimum threshold are referred to an independent External Evaluation Panel (EEP), which will evaluate them on a competitive basis using a predefined set of selection criteria. The panel then makes recommendations to the Secretariat based on a ranked list of Concept Note assessments. 
The Secretariat then reviews the ranked list of Concept Notes. In addition to the selection criteria, the Secretariat may also take into consideration additional factors – such as theme, geography or members’ engagement and knowledge needs – in order to maintain the strategic balance of the overall Cities Alliance grant portfolio. The Secretariat then makes recommendations on which Concept Notes are eligible in principle for funding and qualified to proceed.
The Cities Alliance Assembly examines the recommended Concept Notes to ensure that the proposed activities do not conflict with or duplicate Cities Alliance member activities, and the Cities Alliance Management Board endorses  them in principle for funding on a no-objection basis.
Step 4: Request for Full Proposals and Award Confirmation
Once the evaluation process is completed, the Secretariat notifies successful applicants that their Concept Notes have been endorsed in principle for funding and invites them to revise and develop the Note into a Full Proposal, incorporating the feedback provided by the Secretariat.

The Full Proposal is essentially an expanded version of the Concept Note that incorporates any feedback provided by the Secretariat and provides information that is needed to process the grant. An application is not considered to be formally approved until a satisfactory Full Proposal is provided that meets the established standards.

Full Proposals must be submitted within a predetermined period from the Concept Note approval date, typically two months. They must use the appropriate Full Proposal template provided by the Cities Alliance and be in one of the three accepted languages: English, French, or Spanish.

Applicants must ensure that full proposals adhere to the quality of the approved Concept Note, meet established standards of fiduciary and project design, and are submitted within the predetermined time limit. Failure to do so will result in removal from consideration and the applicant must restart the application process during the next Call for Proposals.

Step 5: Secretariat Approval 

Once a full proposal is received and is determined to meet the established standards, it is formally approved by the Cities Alliance Secretariat. From there, the Secretariat begins processing the grant according to its procedures.

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Each Concept Note proposal submitted to the Cities Alliance Secretariat must comply with the following minimum requirements in order to be considered for further processing
Country eligibility. Consistent with the emerging Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework, Cities Alliance now has a universal mandate. However, because of its focus on poverty reduction, preference will be given to applications from low- and middle-income countries. Preference will also be given to those countries where the Cities Alliance does not have a Country Programme. (The six Country Programmes are: Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mozambique, Uganda and Vietnam).
Cities Alliance member(s) support. Proposed projects must be sponsored by at least one member of the Cities Alliance. Multiple sponsors are strongly encouraged, in keeping with the Cities Alliance objective of improving the coherence of urban development cooperation. Sponsorship(s) must be secured prior to submission of the proposed project. Proponent and sponsor(s) must discuss and endorse the Concept Note of the proposed project including the role of the sponsor(s) prior to submission. Support documentation will need to be provided. Access a list of Cities Alliance members
Within scope. Project objectives and activities must be in line with the mandate and scope defined by the Cities Alliance Charter. Generally the Catalytic Fund will only support those activities that strengthen and promote the role of cities in poverty reduction and in sustainable urban development. Proposed projects will also need to fully address the theme of the call.
Budget. The grant request to Cities Alliance must be limited to between US$50,000 and US$200,000.
Co-financing. The Cities Alliance will cover up to 80 per cent of the total cash requirements for the project. The remaining balance must be contributed in cash by the recipient organisation, the sponsoring organisation and/or other partners and sources. If this concept note is approved, proof of the co-financing will need to be provided.

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In order for a proposal to be considered, it must adhere to all of the following guidelines:
Use of template. All initial submissions must use the designated Concept Note template.
Language. All submissions must be in, English, French, or Spanish.
Completeness. Concept Notes must provide all of the information and support documentation requested.  
Timing. Concept Note submissions can only be made in response to the Cities Alliance’s Call for Proposals for the Catalytic Fund, which is issued at least once a year.
Deadlines. Once that Call has been issued, Concept Notes must be submitted before the specified deadline.
Submission modalities. All Concept Notes should be sent via e-mail to the Cities Alliance Secretariat at

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A predefined set of selection criteria are used by the External Evaluation Panel (EEP) and the Cities Alliance Secretariat to assess Concept Notes. These selection criteria are in line with the core principles of the Cities Alliance Charter and the objectives of the Catalytic Fund.
The selection criteria are broken down into five major categories outlined below, with sub-criteria provided for each. A weighted scoring method is used in which the relative weight of the criteria is established in accordance with its priority to the Catalytic Fund objectives. Please click on a category for more information and explanations of the sub-criteria.
1. Innovation (30 per cent)
  • Innovative design, process and products
2. Impact (30 per cent)
  • Scalability
  • Transferability
  • Institutionalisation
  • Follow-up investments
  • Targeting the objective
  • Gender mainstreaming
3. Implementation Conditions (20 per cent)
  • Ownership
  • Capacity 
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Results framework
  • Fiduciary management
  • Risks and mitigations
  • Co-funding
4. Cooperation (15 per cent)
  • Harmonisation
  • Alignment
  • Partnerships, dialogue and consultations
5. Knowledge and Learning (5 per cent)
  • Learning from monitoring and evaluation
  • Learning and dissemination 
  • Applicability
Innovative design, process and products. The extent to which a project idea is innovative in absolute terms or a novelty in its application and adaptation to a specific context, and how this is justified in the project proposal. This includes whether the method employed is distinctive compared to other approaches, and if the project outputs could potentially be used innovatively within the local context.
Scalability. The potential of a project to be expanded over its initial geographic area to benefit more people within a city or country. In order to increase the potential for scaling-up, the selected city should preferably have (or have realistic ambitions to develop) appropriate links to other cities in the country, for example, through local authority associations.
Institutionalisation. The potential of a project to become an integral part of the urban governance of a city or country. The project should preferably reflect activities that directly or indirectly impact policy formulation, legal framework, institutional reform or work processes. Since the process of institutionalisation may take place after the completion of a project, its financial sustainability serves as a relevant indication for the likelihood of institutionalisation.
Transferability. A project whose design is flexible enough to be potentially adapted in a new and different context. While scalability is country-oriented and related more to a quantitative increase in inputs and outputs, transferability refers to the 'concept' of a project and its adoptability in different cities worldwide.
Follow-up investments. In order to strengthen catalytic transformation, project activities should be able to stimulate, mobilise and attract potential capital and/or impact on a government’s budgets. Private and public sector investment partners should be clearly identified and involved in the design of the activity from the beginning in order to increase the odds of investment follow-up. In addition, the project should establish mechanisms to foster continued financing beyond its lifespan.
Targeting the objective. The project must aim to strengthen and promote the role of cities in poverty reduction, and in sustainable development along the lines emphasised by the Cities Alliance Charter.
Gender mainstreaming. As a minimum requirement, the project should provide a gender analysis to ensure the proposal takes into account the differentiated access to resources, activities, and the constraints faced relative to each other as stakeholders and beneficiaries of the project.
It should provide a general explanation of the relative situation of women and men in the context under review. For example, this could include references to gender disparities in access to land and property, mobility, decision making, health, education and labour markets using gender statistics (such as maternal mortality and time-use statistics), sex disaggregated data, and/or women’s differentiated access to data/information. Where sex disaggregated data is not available, this could be one focus of capacity strengthening.
The project should also identify how capacity support required to facilitate transformative change will also address gender inequalities. At the Concept Note stage, references to gender equality issues can be general (“gender responsive plans, budgets, outreach/advocacy”) but should be further detailed in the full proposal with indicators and targets.
Ownership. A project should reflect strong ownership by the local and national governments, citizens and communities. The local/national partner should be committed to leading the development and implementation of the project and account for its results, and be in a condition to do so. In difficult contexts, capacity development and participatory activities might be critical in creating, strengthening and broadening ownership; this should be adequately reflected in the project design.
Capacity. The capacity of an organisation refers to its potential to perform, i.e. to successfully utilise its skills and resources in the forms needed to accomplish the objectives of a project. Generally, capacity to perform is captured along organisational dimensions, such as human capital, financial and technical resources, and partnerships. Other aspects also include more intangible criteria such as the leadership and the history of the organisation. The external operating environment should also be taken into consideration, especially when it might constitute a significant obstacle to an organisation’s performance.
Cost effectiveness. The rationale provided for the project’s major costs, which should be well proportioned between the project activities and the intended results. The project should also make adequate use of existing local and/or national resources.
Results Framework. The central idea behind the project and how the idea is captured in the results framework should be clear, realistic and achievable within two years or less (the timeframe of project implementation). The project should have a realistic plan with concrete steps or activities for achieving the project objectives, as well as clear and measurable results that will have a direct impact on the intended beneficiaries.
Fiduciary management. The project needs to be in compliance with specific UN corporate policies that regulate the use of Cities Alliance grants. This covers procurement, financial management and disbursement policies and is informed by targeted Cities Alliance Secretariat assessments.
Risks and Mitigations. The project should adequately identify any potential social and/or environmental impacts and risks connected to its activities, and outline relevant mitigation measures accordingly.
Co-financing. The Cities Alliance will cover up to 80 per cent of the total cash requirements for the project. The remaining balance must be contributed by the recipient organisation, the sponsoring organisation and/or other partners and sources. The amount of co-financing should match the financial capacity of the proponent as well as the size of the project.

Alignment. Project activities should reflect domestic priorities. The expected results should be aligned with the overall national poverty framework and with urban strategies at the national and/or local level. They should also be aligned with relevant urban development and urban poverty alleviation projects on the ground.
Harmonisation. Project activities should be designed to promote coordination among development partners. The project should reflect complementary cooperation among Cities Alliance members’ activities on urban development in the country/city and other national or international development partners.
Consultations, dialogue and partnerships. Project proposals must be conceived as a participatory process with local stakeholders, including both the private sector and community organisations. Special emphasis should be given to women’s meaningful participation, demonstrating the quality and quantity of women’s participation in the project to avoid tokenism.
The project design must include appropriate strategies and actions to ensure adequate participation of communities, paying attention to gender, age and other relevant characteristics. The project will need to demonstrate the nature and extent of participation by relevant stakeholders.

Learning from M&E. Project design should incorporate ways to capture the experience and results of the project implementation. Of particular importance are the quality of the indicators and other monitoring tools that track (and re-adjust) project progress, as well as dedicated activities targeted at measuring project success, such as impact assessment.
Learning and dissemination. A project should convey and/or stimulate learning-oriented activities with the aim of sharing and disseminating the experiences, information and knowledge stemming from project implementation and outputs. Examples include peer-to-peer exchanges, write-shops, communities of practice, centres of excellence, and study tours.
Applicability. Projects with a focus on knowledge development should envisage outputs that are ready to be used by practitioners engaged in similar contexts. The quality of the knowledge product should consider the potential interest to other governments, cities and practitioners and, most importantly, direct applicability and relevance in the field.
For more information on the Catalytic Fund, please e-mail