People across the planet are grappling with the effects of multiple overlapping challenges. COVID-19, climate change, social inequality, supply chain disruptions, persistently high inflation and the probability of recession pose significant obstacles to advancing healthy societies and building climate resilience.


Cities concentrate these challenges but also may hold the key to overcoming them.


Despite cultural shifts that have altered the way we live and work, cities continue to flourish. Today, more than half the world’s population (55%) lives in cities, up from just 30% in 1950. And by 2050, this figure is expected to soar to 70%, with an estimated 2.5 billion people migrating to urban areas over the next 20 years.


  • People First - Video transcript

    The post-COVID environment brings new challenges:
    Macroeconomic issues
    Geopolitical conflicts
    Widening inequality
    Climate crisis
    escalating uncertainty. 

    We think of this confluence of events as a polycrisis:
    a cluster of risks whose compounding effects
    exceed the sum of each part.

    And cities concentrate these risks. 

    Today, more than half the world’s people live in cities.

    By 2050, 2.5 billion more people will migrate to urban areas.
    2023 will be a defining year
    as businesses and municipal leaders wrestle with this polycrisis.

    Executives are reimagining the role of their organizations, 
    putting the well-being of their people first. 

    Leaders increasingly recognize the strategic imperative of 
    creating value from values
    and profit from solving the world’s problems.

    We call it being a net-positive company.

    “We ask ourselves a very simple question:
    Is the world really better off because your company is in it?”

    Our people-first platform helps organizations 
    navigate the transformation 
    as cities and businesses remake themselves 
    to become people first.

    Explore how 2023 can be the start of a new era
    for healthier, more sustainable cities,
    and discover how businesses can thrive 
    by being net positive. 

    Download part 2 of our series,
    and stay tuned for more!

    People first: The future of cities post-COVID

Although we see constant speculation about their future, cities will continue to be the centers of wealth, prosperity, creativity and innovation.


Developing nations will likely dominate megacity growth over the next decade; however, the COVID-19 pandemic also impacted developed nations. Although cities remain at the heart of the human experience, we saw movement out of economic hub cities into smaller cities, driven by remote and hybrid working and climate-change risks.


Throughout history, pandemics have shaped how people relate to cities. The COVID-19 pandemic is no exception, highlighting systemic issues touching every aspect of urban life — from access to health, education, and public space, to commerce and economic activity, to social inequality and interconnectivity. Employees are calling on both the private sector and governments to create a healthier society that supports well-being alongside economic prosperity and improved information technology.

People First: The Future of Cities Post-COVID is a platform about well-being in the broadest sense and is built on three pillars: physical resilience and well-being, safety for oneself and loved ones, and financial health and prosperity.

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We must cultivate healthy, thriving companies to have flourishing and prosperous cities, societies and workforces. If designed well, such a change can enable agility and resilience across businesses and institutions through times of volatility and increasing uncertainty. At Mercer, we call the new paradigm or platform we need to aim for the People-First City.
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David Anderson, Chief Commercial Officer, Mercer

See how leaders are reimagining the role of organizations in thriving amid polycrisis by promoting healthier and more sustainable cities.

The second article in our three-part series includes:

  • Insights from Mercer's report "Beat the crisis-How executives are responding to economic shocks and talent shortages"
  • Unique perspectives from our discussion on how your businesses can improve the lives of everyone it touches, greatly increasing long-term shareholder returns in the process, with Paul Polman, former Unilever CEO (2009–2019), business leader, campaigner and co-author of Net Positive: How Courageous Companies Thrive by Giving More Than They Take

Stay tuned! There’s more to come from Mercer and our Marsh McLennan colleagues.

David Anderson
David Anderson

Chief Commercial Officer, Mercer

Samira Elasmar
Samira Elasmar

Growth and Market Expansion Lead, Mercer

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