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Bloomberg Philanthropies Pushes Governments to Drive Change

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Michael Bloomberg cites his 12-year tenure as New York’s mayor for his appreciation of “government’s ability to be a force for good and a catalyst for global change.”

Now his Bloomberg Philanthropies is leveraging its resources to push those changes forward, he writes in his foundation’s annual letter.

The foundation believes in “big, bold ideas,” chief executive Patricia Harris writes in an accompanying letter.

“We’re entrepreneurial at heart and apply the best lessons from business and government to the management of our global philanthropic work,” Harris writes.

In his letter, Bloomberg gives pride of place to his successful effort as mayor to ban smoking in bars, restaurants and all indoor workplaces as an example of government’s being a force for good.

Other cities around the world have adopted similar measures. Bloomberg Philanthropies is striving to accelerate the anti-tobacco movement by focusing on government advocacy, he says.

The foundation’s advocacy is also pushing governments to confront the challenge of climate change. It supports the C40 Cities Climate Leadership group, a global forum to strategize on ways to address climate change.

It has also partnered with the Sierra Club to get communities in the U.S. to replace coal power plants with cleaner energy sources.

Critical as such advocacy is, Bloomberg writes, philanthropy can also give government leaders, who understandably have to pick and choose their fights, the backbone to join the toughest battles by showing them that these can be won.

He cites global concerns about rising obesity rates and the foundation’s support of local advocates who pushed Mexico’s Congress to vote for a national tax on sugary drinks, a leading contributor to obesity, according to Bloomberg.

Advocacy is one way to promote public sector change. Another way is to support government leaders constrained by scarce resources who need help to test unproven ideas.

The foundation’s Mayors Challenge, now involving some 150 cities in 28 nations, invites cities to develop experiments to address their biggest problems. It has awarded five winning cities some $10 million to carry out their experiments.

Another foundation initiative, called Innovations Teams, helps cities implement their innovative ideas.

The foundation also funds innovation by encouraging governments to support the arts. New York’s support for the arts, Bloomberg writes, helped boost tourism by 40% and make the city a more attractive place for companies to invest.

Bloomberg says that philanthropy’s focus on empowering individuals and communities can be much more successful when that endeavor is aligned with the goals of governments.

For example, the foundation’s women’s economic empowerment program has helped create job training programs that are important to economic development goals of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Bloomberg concludes his letter by saying that although he has resumed full-time leadership of his 34-year-old company, Bloomberg LP, “in 2015, I will remain as involved as ever in the growing work of Bloomberg Philanthropies.”