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Mayor Bloomberg Details How Government And Philanthropy Can Help Each Other Better Help People Through Tough Times In Keynote Address To Council On Foundations Conference

May 6, 2009

Following are the Mayor's Remarks as Prepared for Delivery to the Council on Foundation's Annual Conference "Philanthropy's Place Today and Tomorrow" in Atlanta, Georgia. Please Check Against Delivery

"Thank you, Judith and good morning, everyone. Before I begin, I want to thank Judith for the Rockefeller Foundation's support for so many of the innovations we've brought to New York City government and also for your helping us found the non-partisan coalition 'Building America's Future.'

"The coalition focuses on the nation's unmet infrastructure needs. I've had the honor of leading it, along with Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and my body double: California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

"I'm delighted to be here with you for this important conference and to help celebrate a milestone anniversary for the Council on Foundations. While others this year may be toasting the 60th birthday of the Emmy Awards or the 45RPM record or George Foreman, I'm happy to join the festivities for this truly historic organization. I would sing, but I want them to get to 61.

"Actually, I'm getting a lot of birthday practice in NYC this year. We're celebrating the centennials of two beloved institutions: the NAACP and my mother.

"Both are going strong, thank you very much. The only difference is: I don't speak to the NAACP on the phone every day and the NAACP doesn't ask me if people are treating me nicely.

"Thinking about it, it was probably about 60 years ago when I was sitting at the dinner table, and asked my father why he was writing a check to the NAACP and he said, 'Because discrimination against anyone is a threat to everyone.'

"I never forgot that conversation, and I mention it because the NAACP offers a powerful reminder of why we are here - because we believe in people's ability to change their own communities and countries for the better, and because we want to support those who are out there doing it.

"Civil rights, poverty, public health, public safety, environmental protection, science and medicine, arts and culture - the needs are endless, but of course, the resources are limited, especially these days. 

"It's tough out there for everyone right now. I would bet most of your organizations have made some very difficult decisions over the past six or eight months: Jobs cuts, programs de-funded, grants turned down. It's not easy.

"In government, the time when we can least afford to help people is when people most need help - and that's also true for philanthropy. This morning, I'd like to talk a little bit about this challenge that philanthropy and government share - and what we can do to help each other.

"When I first became mayor, three months after 9/11, the City was facing a similarly terrible economic outlook. We knew that in order to do some of the things we wanted to do, we would need to raise private money.

"One, we didn't have the money and you can only raises taxes so much. And two, in some cases, we couldn't justify spending public money on experiments that might not work.

"The City's charitable arm, the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York, had been around for a little less than a decade, and it had largely funded parades, centennial celebrations, and similar projects. Immediately following 9/11, it served a very useful purpose as a place where individuals and philanthropies could make donations for relief and recovery in our city.

"But over the past seven years, we've turned the fund into one of the largest and most diversified grant-making organizations in all of New York City and we think it has set a new standard for how cities can use philanthropy to advance innovative public policies.

"Since 2002, it's raised more than $167 million, and it now has more than 70 programs and works with 30 City agencies in areas ranging from the social services to public art.

"To cite just a few examples: In our battle against poverty, the Fund has raised private dollars for 'Opportunity NYC' - this is an initiative that incents the poor the same way we incent others, although instead of using tax breaks, it uses direct cash payments. The concept is the same: You offer financial incentives for people to take actions that will benefit society.

"By using 'conditional cash transfers,' or 'CCTs,' we're encouraging people to make choices that will improve their futures: making that doctor's appointment for your child, applying yourself to your studies in school, or opting for the training that will lead to a better-paying job.

"Opportunity NYC is modeled on efforts that have succeeded in Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, and other nations. We want to see if this approach also works in urban America. We're evaluating it rigorously. Is it controversial? Sure. But what's the option? More of a failed status quo? Shame on us if we don't have the guts to try new ideas.

"The Fund has also supported a wide range of other initiatives that are making a real difference, and let me just tick off a few of them: It has provided free eyeglasses to needy children - a life-transforming experience. It is financing 'Million Trees NYC,' a project to dramatically increase the size of New York's 'urban forest' - a city-transforming experience. It provides critical support to our innovative 'Family Justice Centers,' which have given thousands of women and children victimized by domestic violence the support they need to re-start their lives.

"It raises private dollars for the public art that makes our city so exciting, like last summer's New York City 'Waterfalls' project. Its 'Fun Food, Smart Food' partnership with the Children's Aid Society gives middle schoolers hands-on instruction in the kitchen, and valuable information about nutrition and food shopping.

"Another partnership with the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund is bringing badly needed access to fresh produce to thousands of shoppers in low-income communities. And 'SaveNYC' encourages New Yorkers to open savings accounts with part of their Earned Income Tax Credit checks by matching a portion of their savings with private dollars once the savings accounts have been established, and untouched, for one year.

"Private dollars are doing so many great public things, but maybe most important of all they're helping us to transform a broken public school and begin giving our children the first-rate education they deserve!

"In New York, the school system was a dysfunctional mess when I became mayor and a generation of students paid a terrible price. That's one of the main reasons I ran for mayor - to take control of the schools and turn them around.

"By nearly every measure, we've made enormous progress: graduation rates up more than 20 percent, test scores up by double-digits and the ethnic achievement gap is finally closing.

"We've done it by injecting accountability into the system and by investing more public dollars. But private dollars have also been critically important, especially in allowing us to establish hundreds of new, smaller secondary schools, which have been performing exceptionally well.

"The Fund for Public Schools, like the Mayor's Fund, is a non-profit organization that we turbo-charged. It has now raised more than 240 million private dollars, with a lot of help from a great New Yorker, Caroline Kennedy.

"Some of that money went to support an experimental Leadership Academy to train and develop the next generation of frontline leaders in school reform, our public school principals. It was a controversial idea and it wasn't cheap. And so to do it, we couldn't justify having the City pick up the tab.

"But because we raised the money and because we asked nonprofit and for-profit leaders to lend their expertise to the Leadership Academy, it proved to be a success. And because it's been a success with private dollars, we're now able to use public dollars to make it sustainable.

"That's a prime example of an effective public-private partnership, and it's the kind of partnership I would encourage everyone here to consider.

"All of you are civic leaders. All of you can help make huge differences in your cities and regions. And if your local leaders don't yet recognize the power of public-private partnerships, now would be a good time to speak with them, because every government is searching for funding.

"Better yet: see me afterwards, and I'd be happy to point to you any number of great projects in New York City that could use your support.

"When we talk about public-private partnerships, we usually think of philanthropies helping government. But in New York City, we recognize that public-partnerships are two-way streets. Government needs non-profits to be partners in bringing about policy change. And non-profits need government's partnership too, especially now.

"Just as New York City government is trying to help businesses weather the economic storm, we're also trying to help nonprofits. Government has a profound interest in the stresses that non-profits face, as the recession both shrinks their financial resources and increases demand for their critical, often life-sustaining, services.

"During the past six months of economic distress, we've listened very carefully to our colleagues in the non-profit sector. We've heard from those who've lost bank lines of credit despite perfect payment histories, from those whose endowments have plummeted as much as 40 percent in value and far too often, we've heard about the pink slips that have gone out to even the most experienced and valuable staff members.

"These are matters that are also of the utmost importance to philanthropies that rely on non-profits to achieve their goals. Last month, we launched a three-pronged strategy to help non-profits in our city weather these hard financial times.

"First, we're working with non-profits to lift their bottom lines by lowering their overhead costs. For years, the 4,000 organizations that contract with the City have separately purchased goods and services. There has to be a better way.

"So we're currently testing group purchasing of supplies by some of our city's flagship social service, cultural and other non-profit organizations. If the results are as good as they promise to be, in a few months we will open such group purchasing to every one of the 30,000 non-profits in the city. And we're going to follow that up with group purchasing programs for procuring information technology, and workers compensation and disability insurance.

"Second, we're making City agencies themselves more efficient and responsive in paying non-profits for services rendered. Too often, too many non-profits have suffered financially because the City hasn't paid them as promptly as we should. Not any more.

"Third, the City is helping non-profits share best practices, and tackle hard choices. This is a huge challenge - and while the leadership has to come from the non-profits themselves, government and foundation funders must encourage such innovation.

"As part of this effort, we're asking volunteers from the private sector to join leaders of non-profit groups to bring new thinking to bear on the challenges non-profits face. In fact, we're tapping the power of volunteers to help nonprofits across the City, through an exciting new initiative we call 'NYC Service.'

"People are hungry for the chance to help solve problems that are bigger than just our personal concerns and I think that's especially true in a recession. We devised NYC Service with the help of our non-profit and philanthropic sectors, and it's a vehicle for mobilizing literally millions of volunteers and directing their efforts where they're needed most.

"I believe very strongly that one of the primary goals of philanthropy should be to encourage service and giving by others. That's just what NYC Service will do. Philanthropy at its best is inspirational - as my father taught me. It's entrepreneurial - as I've learned over the years. And it's need-driven and, whenever possible, data-driven.

"I'm a great believer in wisdom I learned in my first Wall Street job: In God We Trust. Everyone else, bring data. It's that mantra that turned me on to two issues that, the data showed, were two of the world's most deadly and preventable problems: tobacco and automobile accidents.

"Tobacco is the largest single cause of preventable death worldwide and it's one that is an especially growing menace in the developing nations. Today, developing countries, which already account for 70 percent of cigarette consumption, are where tobacco companies are stepping up their marketing.

"They're in a race to get people there hooked before governments can respond. Unless we do respond, the result will be one billion pre-mature deaths - from cancer, stroke, and heart disease - in this century. This would be a public health calamity of the first magnitude.

"But there's nothing inevitable about its coming to pass. It can be prevented - if governments around the world act now to head it off. That's why my foundation, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, has invested $500 million in a worldwide Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use.

"We now conduct a global tobacco survey to determine which governments are enacting basic policies that can save lives.

"We're taking the same measurement-based approach to traffic safety. Auto accidents, which kill more than a million people and injure between 20 and 50 million people worldwide, are on the rise in growing and newly motorizing cities.

"Unless we take vigorous steps now, they're expected to become the eighth-leading cause of death internationally by the year 2030. But again, there's nothing inevitable about that coming to pass. And that's why we've funded pilot programs in Mexico and Vietnam. They're intended to reduce traffic fatalities through passage and enforcement of laws mandating use of seat belts and motorcycle helmets, and prohibiting drunk driving. So far the results are very encouraging.

"Before I became Mayor, I focused my philanthropy in cities where our company did business. We had offices all around the world, and I think that helped drive my interest in global health issues. But public health is just one area where I've focused my philanthropy. I'm also a big believer in supporting arts and culture, education, the environment, medical research, social service organizations and other areas that I know many of you are also active in.

"Together, we have an incredible opportunity to make a difference in this world - and that is a great gift. I loved every minute of my job on Wall Street - right up until the day I was fired. And I loved every minute at my company even more.

"But, there is nothing like public service and there is nothing like getting a chance to see how your work can make a difference to a child, or a parent, or an entire community - or even a city and a country.

"Despite what we read in the papers and what we hear on the news, we're going to get through this global economic recession. Whatever difficulties we face in the short term, I know that, ultimately, we'll be fine.

"This is still the greatest country in the world - and the most generous country. Today, we may struggle. Today, we may fight to keep ourselves moving forward. But since we're here in Atlanta, let's remember the words of another great optimist and local celebrity, Scarlett O'Hara, who said, 'Tomorrow is another day.'

"The pundits may predict the worst. But frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn. Thank you for having me."

Stu Loeser

(212) 788-2958