Bloomberg Philanthropies unveiled a $50 million initiative Wednesday to help cities address global issues, including climate change, by launching programs proven effective in other cities around the world.
The Bloomberg Cities Ideas Exchange will give city governments grants for startup costs and technical support, as well as sponsor trips and webinars to inform leaders about new programs.
“Cities are a force for change on all of the big challenges we’re facing, and we’ve long worked to spread the best ideas globally,” Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of Bloomberg LP and Bloomberg Philanthropies, said in a statement. “This new Bloomberg Cities Idea Exchange will intensify and expand those efforts, bringing new muscle and rigor to the replication process.”
The new initiative, announced at the Bloomberg CityLab conference in Washington on Wednesday, formalizes a process that CityLab has used for years. As former mayor of New York City, Bloomberg knows the importance of seeking out ideas that other cities have already proven, said James Anderson, who leads Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation Program.
“He understood the unique opportunity that city leaders have to drive progress locally, but also contribute to driving around global issues like climate change,” Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview. “We looked around and we understood very quickly that many city halls did not have the capacity they needed to find solutions and to implement them locally, to make them more ambitious and move their cities and the world forward.”
They decided that philanthropy could play an important role in helping cities launch innovative programs and then unlock further funding from governments or other donors, Anderson said.
The Bloomberg Cities Ideas Exchange builds on the success of programs like an environmental initiative in Lincoln, Nebraska, that turns wood waste into a charcoal-like material called biochar that reduces the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.
In 2022, the city received a $400,000 grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch the program and it has already made a difference in the city, said Lincoln Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird. The biochar — which the city produces from trees blown down in storms or damaged by the emerald ash borer beetle — traps carbon, conserves water and improves the soil.
“We have ambitious climate action goals,” Gaylor Baird said. “And we’re looking for innovative solutions to help us sequester carbon and improve quality of life and also just deal with some of the impacts of changing weather patterns.”
Without the Bloomberg Philanthropies grant, Lincoln would not have been able to launch the biochar initiative so quickly, Gaylor Baird said. Or receive a $100,000 grant from the Nebraska Forest Service.
Mattias Gustafsson, co-founder of the consulting firm EcoTopic and the project manager of the Stockholm Biochar Initiative, which the Lincoln project is modeled after, said he is “proud and amazed” to see the idea replicated around the world. In the United States, Cincinnati and Minneapolis have also launched biochar projects, along with Helsinki, Darmstadt, Germany, Helsingborg, Sweden, and Sandnes, Norway – all with help from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
“Cities are really crucial for fighting climate change because they have a different angle coming in,” Gustafsson said. “Cities are not trying to make a profit. They are trying to do something good for their citizens.”
The Bloomberg Cities Ideas Exchange is designed to help cities in that effort, Anderson said. Numerous projects, highlighted by Bloomberg Philanthropies' Global Mayors Challenge, have already been replicated by cities around the world.
The Providence Talks program in Rhode Island, which helps young children learn by increasing the number of words they hear each day, has been adopted by Birmingham, Alabama. The Visor Urbano program in Guadalajara, Mexico, which allows businesses to receive licenses completely online, has already expanded to 100 other cities in Mexico and will soon launch in other Latin American cities.
Anderson said that city officials receive so much real time feedback from their residents that they are always looking for new ideas to help them do their jobs better.
“They don’t spend as much time giving speeches and engaging in partisanship because they’re in the business of delivering services that people count on every single day,” he said. “There’s an accountability to residents to bring solutions that make a difference in their lives that are visible and measurable. And the cities understand that sometimes those ideas can come from entrepreneurs at hom and other times it’s great to steal those ideas from the city down the street.”
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