The past several weeks I have focused on good works on a smaller scale, ordinary people going out of their way to make the world just a little bit better for someone. But today I want to shine a spotlight on someone doing some pretty big things, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Many outside the New York area may not be aware of how much good Bloomberg does, but over his lifetime he has given away more than $4.3 billion! His contributions range from something as small and simple as painting a roof, to the $1 billion he has given to Johns Hopkins University. I have always had rather a soft spot for Mr. Bloomberg, knew he was a good man, but even I had no idea just how much he has given back to the world.
His philosophy on giving is to give to organizations that seek to bring about change on a local level but serve a broader purpose. The majority of his contributions are in the fields of Environment, Public Health, the Arts, Government Innovation, Education, Women’s Economic Development in Africa. Mr. Bloomberg has also signed the Giving Pledge started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, vowing to give away at least half of his wealth over the course of his lifetime. Between 2004 and 2011, Bloomberg was listed as a top 10 American philanthropist each year.
Let us take a brief look at some of the causes he supports:
- Focused on combating climate change and moving toward clean energy sources. In 2011, the foundation partnered with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign and as of this writing he has given more than $80 million to that cause.
- Partners with the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group to curb carbon emissions in major cities around the world.
- Committed $53 million to Vibrant Oceans Initiative over the course of five years to help reform fisheries and increase sustainable populations.
- Invested $5 million in Little Sun, a solar-powered lamp company founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and entrepreneur Frederik Ottesen.
- Public Health
- Donated $100 million to help the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation eradicate polio worldwide.
- Pledged to donate $600 million to curb tobacco use in low- and middle-income countries.
- Partnered with the World Health Organization to donate $125 million to reduce traffic-related fatalities, and committed an additional $125 million to combat road traffic deaths in low- and middle-income cities.
- Committed $50 million to the Global Family Planning Initiative, a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation program focused on providing obstetric care and contraceptives to women in developing countries.
- Pledged $250,000 to support Planned Parenthood, and also donated $8 million to the Bloomberg Philanthropies Maternal Health Program, which focuses on reducing maternal deaths in Tanzania, Africa and Latin America.
- Launched a $10 million program to help top-performing students from low- and middle-income families apply to and graduate from the nation’s top colleges.
- Women’s Economic Development
- Works with nonprofit advocacy organizations including Women for Women International and Sustainable Harvest to create economic opportunities for women in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Recently announced a $10 million grant to the Relationship Coffee Institute to support the expansion of its ongoing women’s economic development initiatives in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
- Announced a $15 million grant to five institutions — Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New York Botanical Garden, and Guggenheim Museum — as part of the Bloomberg Arts Engagement Initiative to develop mobile applications for visitors.
- Committed a total of $83 million to cultural institutions around the world.
- Launched the Public Art Challenge, a competition that invited local leaders and arts organizations to collaborate on temporary public art projects that would celebrate creativity and drive economic development.
- Donated $50 million to the Museum of Science in Boston.
- Bloomberg has donated $1.1 billion to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins University, making him the most generous living donor to any education institution in the country.
These are but a few of the good works being done by Michael Bloomberg and the Bloomberg Foundation. Note that in many instances Bloomberg Foundation partners with other organizations, such as Sierra Club or Sustainable Harvest. “I’d think being a soloist falls apart,” he said. “I think there’s a limit to how much you can do on your own.” And not all of his gestures are on the million-dollar scale, either. He partnered with Al Gore once to paint a roof white in Queens, for which he was the subject of many jokes. The reason for the roof-painting? White roofs, by reflecting heat rather than absorbing it, immediately reduced electricity bills and have since been replicated throughout the borough. His response to the mockers? “We focused on things we could do in America that made a difference and were replicable elsewhere. It wasn’t solving all the problems. It wasn’t making India and China carbon-neutral, but it was something.”
One thing that makes Bloomberg stand out in the crowd of wealthy philanthropists is that he is willing to try new things rather than, like some, wait for what they think will be the perfect organization and miss a lot of opportunities along the way. For example, as part of his initiative to cut traffic deaths both here and in other countries, he helped Vietnam implement helmet laws. “I would have bet anything against the idea of getting the Vietnamese government to pass a helmet law and that people would obey to have helmets. They passed it. They did enforce it. They cut the number of traffic deaths by a third overnight.”
Bloomberg has come under fire from time to time, both as a politician and as a businessman. It is inevitable … one does not live in the spotlight of being mayor of one of the largest cities in the U.S. for 11 years without coming into criticism. Bloomberg is human, so I am certain that he wasn’t always right, either, but overall I believe he was a good mayor and is a good human being.
A couple of things made me want to spotlight Mr. Bloomberg at this particular time. One is his focus on the environment, an extremely hot (pun sort of intended) topic at present, with the current administration determined to roll back the gains we have made in attempting to overcome human-caused climate change. And the other was the fact that Mr. Bloomberg, in addition to being a philanthropist, is two things: a politician and a very successful businessman. In recent months, we have had every reason to trust neither politicians nor businessmen, but Mr. Bloomberg is the exception. He is living proof that politicians and businessmen CAN also be good people. I thought it important for us to remember that, especially now. I try to keep the Good People posts non-political, but as I mentioned when I first started this feature, to some extent that is not always possible, for sometimes the good people are doing their good things as a result of the political environment.