October 15, 2012

Michael Bloomberg Kick-Starts Innovation to Unleash the Power of City Governments

Last week we published our new case study on Eli Broad to accompany our new study, “Philanthropy in the New Age of Government Austerity.” We promised to dig deeper into four case profiles: Eli Broad, Michael Bloomberg, the Irvine Foundation’s five-foundation California Forward initiative, and Pete Peterson. Today is our second installment; check back next week for the California Forward case profile.

By: The Bridgespan Group
Could a little healthy competition unleash the power of city governments to solve problems—and catalyze a wave of urban innovation across the country?

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is betting on it.

In June 2011, Bloomberg’s private foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, invited city mayors to submit bold new ideas for solving major problems and improving city life—and offered them a chance at $9 million in prizes to fund those ideas. In September, 305 cities stepped up to the challenge, submitting ideas ranging from economic development and public health to sustainability and citizen engagement.
  This Mayors Challenge is the latest initiative of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Mayors Project, which aims to inspire and accelerate innovative solutions in city governments. In an era of shrinking public budgets, the Mayors Project is investing in local government’s capacity to govern—and creating a platform to spread successful ideas across the country.

Why is Michael Bloomberg investing in city governments, which may be more closely associated with bureaucratic red tape than innovation?

Bloomberg’s experience running America’s biggest metropolis convinced him that local governments can be powerful forces for change—especially if they share successful ideas with each other. His own administration drew on examples from Berlin, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Delhi, Copenhagen, Chicago, and Los Angeles as they designed a new comprehensive initiative to fight climate change (PlaNYC). He witnessed other cities borrowing from New York City’s approaches to poverty, education, and entrepreneurship.

But in other cases, Bloomberg ran up against frustrating roadblocks that can stifle municipal innovation—such as a lack of public financing for new ideas, bureaucratic silos, and poor communication between leaders of different cities. He reasoned that a relatively small investment in local government capacity could have a catalytic impact on the billions of dollars spent by cities every year.

One of the Mayors Project’s initiatives, Innovation Delivery Teams, is already showing great potential for impact, tackling problems from homicide to small business growth. Designed to overcome common barriers to municipal innovation, this grant program funds small teams in five mayors’ offices who are charged with developing and delivering powerful solutions that address critical cross-cutting priorities.

Learn more about how the Innovation Delivery Teams are supporting local governments with much-needed capacity.

This is the third post in our Philanthropy and Government blog series. Read the full article that inspired this series, and read the first case study on Eli Broad. Join the conversation by commenting below or on Twitter. You can follow Give Smart Twitter updates at @BridgespanGroup

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