November 12, 2006Below are Mayor Bloomberg's prepared remarks at the opening dinner for the Slate 60 conference celebrating the 10th annual Slate 60 list of generous charitable contributors in America. Please check against delivery.
"Good evening, and thank you, Don, for those kind words. I'm really glad I'm here tonight. Of course, when the spouse of your U.S. Senator wants you to show up at some little get-together back in his hometown, you really can't say no. The library really is magnificent, and it's just the latest example of all the good work that Bill Clinton has accomplished.
"This is an exciting time of year, with the buzz about the elections, and what the future holds. But it's also a time when we look back. And that's why we have all those big 'year-end lists.'
"You've got US News and World Report's 20 Best American Leaders. CNN's 10 Biggest News Stories, Time Magazine's Person of the Year, and the issue I'm waiting for - People Magazine's Top 10 Sexiest American Mayors!
"But even if I don't make that list, I'm in much better company tonight. I'm in the Slate 60, which is such a great honor. Those other lists are a lot of fun, and we all like to read them, but Slate should be applauded for giving recognition to a group that truly deserves it, but doesn't always ask for it.
"The Slate 60 may each hail from different states, come from different work backgrounds, and advocate very different causes. But they all share a similar story. They - we all - have worked hard for our success, had our fair share of luck along the way, and now we find ourselves with the greatest opportunity of all: to make a difference, to fundamentally make life better for ourselves, our children, and our children's children.
"As one of my favorite authors once wrote: 'I've always respected those who tried to change the world for the better, rather than just complain about it.' That quote is from a stirring autobiography written 10 years ago. Maybe you've heard of it. Bloomberg by Bloomberg, currently ranked 235,459 on the Amazon.com bestseller list. But if I believed it back then, I believe it even more now. And it's very gratifying to be in a roomful of people who are doing today the very things I once wrote about.
"I expect that each of us was inspired to become involved in philanthropy for the first time, in very different ways. Maybe each can't recall the exact moment that it hit them, but I know mine. It was a long time ago, sitting at my family's dining room table back in Medford, Mass. - a small, middle-class suburb outside Boston.
"My father, a bookkeeper who never earned more than $11,000 a year in his life, sat there, writing out a $25 check to the NAACP. When I asked him why, he said discrimination against anyone is discrimination against us all. And I never forgot that. Indeed, his philanthropy was a gift, not just to that organization, but to me.
"Growing up, my main exposure to public service came as a Cub scout, and then as an Eagle scout. Twice on Election Day when I was a kid, I escorted my town's biggest celebrity to the polls - Amelia Earhart's mother. It was a huge privilege, and giving something back made me feel great. Later, throughout my business career, I tried to give back whenever and wherever I could. I think it's fair to say that - after my family - public service is my greatest love.
"After all, as I wrote in Bloomberg by Bloomberg (currently available in nine languages including Portuguese), 'The reality of great wealth is that you can't spend it and you can't take it with you.'
"The truth of the matter is: you can create a great legacy, and inspire others, by giving it to philanthropic organizations. And I had learned a great lesson from a wealthy lawyer I knew who planned to give Johns Hopkins, our alma mater, a $50 million donation after his death.
"He realized, on second thought, 'Why wait?' Why let another generation go without an education? Why let some cure for disease be discovered after more have died? So he gave the money then, rather than leave it in his will. That impressed me. Johns Hopkins University and Hospital is one of my favorite institutions to support, as well - and I've tried to follow in the footsteps of my fellow alumnus and give now rather than later.
"In 2001, my desire to make a difference took me in another direction; it led me to take on the biggest challenge of my life: devoting myself to public service full time. Being Mayor of the greatest city in the world has been an incredible opportunity to do good, and has only reinforced my long held beliefs about the importance of private philanthropy.
"Most people won't have opportunity to do full-time service, but those lucky enough to have monetary wealth or some spare time really can make an enormous difference. As someone who's now in the public sector, and is seeing up-close-and-personal the real impact of what we do and what we give, I can tell you: every dollar and every volunteer help, in more ways than you can count.
"Let me share five of those ways with you now: the five essential things that private philanthropy provides that government cannot. I call them the 'Five Gifts of Giving.'
"First, there's innovation. Trying things in new ways is an essential part of a successful business. But being innovative in government is a lot harder because, rightfully so, there's a much greater demand for accountability when using public money.
"The practical political reality is that you just can't commit taxpayers' dollars to a project that hasn't already been proven to work, or to an idea that not everyone agrees is appropriate. But with private dollars and volunteers, there is more flexibility to try new things. To experiment. To take risks. And by partnering with the private sector, we in New York City have been able to make the big leaps that we couldn't have made on our own.
"Some of the biggest leaps came in our campaign to fix our public school system, which had failed a generation of New Yorkers. Beginning in 2003, with more than $77 million in private support, we've operated a Leadership Academy to recruit, train, and develop principals to make all 1,200 of our schools great centers of learning. The program has been a huge success. And because we've proven that it can work with private dollars, we're now able to use public dollars to make it sustainable. In fact, we have recently stopped fundraising and we are going to completely fold the program into the Department of Education's operating budget by next year.
"Philanthropy has also driven innovation in our administration's fight against poverty. Earlier this year, I formed a task force of business and community leaders, chaired by Time Warner CEO Dick Parsons and Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children's Zone. Their assignment was to draw up new strategies for combating poverty - because nearly one in five New Yorkers earn income below the federal government's poverty line.
"It took an enormous amt of dedication, time, and courage for this diverse panel, representing all constituencies, to face the issues we all too often close our eyes to. But they know if you are not willing to address the problems, you can't solve them.
"One of the approaches that they've embraced is a bold new policy called 'conditional cash transfers.' It's designed to address the simple fact that the stress of poverty often causes people to make decisions - to skip school, avoid a doctor's visit, or miss a checkup for their baby - that often only worsen their long-term prospects. Conditional cash transfers will give them an incentive to make sound decisions instead. In our case, we intend to offer cash - privately raised money - to families of at-risk children as a way of encouraging parents and young people to engage in healthy behavior, to stay in school, stay at work, and stay on track to rise out of poverty.
"It's a controversial approach that's gotten a little criticism in the media, and indeed, it has never been tried before in America. So funding it with public money was just a non-starter. But this type of approach has worked in Mexico and other places - and there is absolutely no reason why New York, which has long been a leader in social policy, cannot learn from the experience of other nations - especially when the evidence is so strong and the need is so great.
"And, if our approach doesn't work, we'll find a different way. But we shouldn't let the fear of failure deter us. If you only tried what was certain to work in science, medicine, engineering and the arts - you wouldn't have the innovations, discoveries, and masterpieces that make the world what it is today.
"The second Gift of Giving, the second special benefit of philanthropy, is how it helps public interest prevail over political correctness.
"There are some controversial areas where government is willing to tip-toe even if it's unwilling to use public money. But then there are others where the government fears to tread at all. They're just too highly charged. It's in areas like these that private philanthropy has to step up and take the lead.
"This is certainly the case when it comes to stem cell research. Despite the potential to lead us to new cures, the federal government has restricted funding for creating new cell lines - putting the burden of any future research squarely on the shoulders of the private sector. The consequences of this decision have not only driven thousands of scientists overseas in search of more money and greater opportunity - but also put the brakes on the march of medicine. I've always wondered how these legislators would act if their health - or their children's health - was on the line and stem cell research might lead to a cure.
"I have felt for a long time that this issue is just too important to sit back and wait for the federal government to act, and that's why I've committed significant funding for research - as I'm sure some of you have, as well. On a side note: I was pleased that several members of my staff volunteered in Missouri last week - helping Claire McCaskill get elected to the Senate on a platform supportive of stem cell research. The efforts of dedicated volunteers play a crucial role in important causes that government may deem too hot to handle.
"The third Gift that philanthropy provides might be the most obvious: money - something government doesn't have nearly enough of. Governments are great at identifying the needs, and sometimes even understanding the remedies, but they are always struggling to balance their budgets and live within their means. In fact, a lot of the money in government is spoken for before we even start allocating it. In New York City, more than two thirds of our $57 billion annual budget is already locked in with pension payments, medical expenses, federal mandates, and the like.
"Government just can't do everything it wants to by itself. But that doesn't mean we can give up when there are important things that need to get done. For instance, when a fiscal crisis and recession forced New York to reduce public funding for arts and culture in the city, I and others hosted fundraisers and personally donated to many arts organizations to help them get through the hard times. We've also reinvigorated the city's official non-profit arm - the Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City - to leverage the power of the private sector for the sake of the public good.
"When we created the city's first Family Justice Center, where domestic violence victims can get all the services they need under one roof, the Mayor's Fund provided the money to get the program off the ground. When we launched a new pilot program to provide free eye care to young summer school students, the Mayor's Fund arranged the donation of thousands of pairs of glasses, as well as pro bono services from ophthalmologists. And because of that success, the finance giant, CIT Group, was inspired to step up the following summer to fund a vision screening program that now extends throughout the school year.
"Again, philanthropy has been providing some of the money New York doesn't have but needs for educational reform. With generous support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, we've opened nearly 150 new small schools over the past few years that are expanding learning choices and giving our 1.1 million public school students more of the attention they need. Graduation rates at these small schools are currently 25 percentage points higher than they are in the rest of the system. The Gates Foundation is changing the lives of thousands of young New Yorkers and changing the country, and I thank them.
"Of course, I can't neglect to mention what is probably going to be one of the greatest public-private partnerships in the history of New York City: The construction of a World Trade Center memorial. Just last month, I took on the challenge of chairing the Memorial Foundation and raising the more than $200 million that's still needed to finish the project. Already, we've received contributions from more than 26,000 people representing all 50 states and 18 foreign countries.
"In a way, it reminds me of what happened more than a century ago when Joseph Pulitzer led a popular crusade to raise the money that was needed to finish building the Statue of Liberty. School children sent in pennies. The elderly dipped into their savings. Everyone got involved. And I know a lot of you - like me - see the World Trade Center Memorial as another chance to come together, to honor those we lost, and give back to the nation that has given so much to us.
"The fourth Gift of Giving is that philanthropy can reflect private passions and interests, often acting as the saving grace of overlooked causes. Public dollars tend to flow to the most popular causes, which are all very deserving. But so many more exist. Private philanthropy gives people the chance to make a difference in the areas that may be less well-known, but carry a personal attachment. For me, it's not only organizations like Johns Hopkins… but groups as diverse as Citymeals on Wheels, the Dance Theater of Harlem, and even 'Puppies Behind Bars' - a wonderful group that helps inmates in prison train guide dogs for the blind. And it's medical causes that don't have a very vocal constituency, and therefore don't receive a great deal of attention from the government or drug companies - like Lupus, A.L.S, and Marfan's Syndrome.
"I also have a great passion for improving public health. In the summer, we started an initiative to fund anti-smoking programs in low and middle income countries when I discovered that these countries accounted for more than two-thirds of smokers worldwide. In New York City alone over the past four years, we've prevented 60,000 early deaths and encouraged 200,000 smokers to kick the habit by implementing a range of initiatives - including raising cigarette taxes and eliminating smoking in bars and restaurants.
"Our efforts have also inspired others. Four years ago only one state - California - banned smoking in all public places. Today, something like 16 state and a dozen countries do. That will save millions of lives. But still smoking is killing on a massive scale elsewhere. So now I want to see this kind of success globally.
"The funding I've committed far more than doubles any public or private money that's ever been dedicated to such a cause in the regions we've targeted. We will work with both the public sector and community organizations to do what works. This includes making tobacco more expensive through taxation, protecting workers and the public from tobacco smoke, and changing the image of tobacco. Even if we are only moderately successful, we will save millions more lives.
"Another private organization which is thinking big and embracing its opportunity to make a difference on a global scale - is the Clinton Global Initiative. It's bold, it's forward-thinking, and President Clinton should be applauded for his great work - which will surely inspire others to make a difference.
"And that leads me to the fifth and final Gift of Giving, which may well be the most important.
"It is the way that philanthropy can encourage the next generation of givers. All of us at one time or another have been inspired by individuals throughout history who demonstrated charity and foresight. Now it's our turn to inspire.
"Slate magazine came up with the Slate 60 to honor the nation's biggest philanthropists and generate a little competition that may spur other wealthy Americans to make large and innovative contributions. But the truth is, we must do more than that. We shouldn't just encourage the rich to give. We should encourage everyone to give - whether it's their money, their talents, or their time.
"I am deeply proud that my own children have developed their own philanthropic interests and have begun to give generously, and also that I started a program in my company many years ago that encourages and makes it possible for every single employee to volunteer in any way they choose - once a week, or even once a year - whenever is best for them. For some, it means planting flowers in a city park on a Saturday morning. For others, it's reading with kids during their lunch hour.
"Now, in City government, I've tried to promote public service not only through the Mayor's Fund, but by overhauling the Mayor's Volunteer Center, making it more user friendly for all ages and incomes. We're also introducing a 'service-learning curriculum' in our public elementary schools so that giving back is reinforced at an early age.
"Every little bit counts. Recently, I was flipping through a magazine and came across an advertisement for a charity called The Smile Train. It touched me. Each year, this organization provides free surgeries to children with cleft and palate problems so they can live healthier, more productive lives. This coming year, they expect to help 60,000 kids around the world with $50 million in contributions. And what's perhaps most remarkable is that they will do this with donations that average less than fifty bucks.
"Clearly, the story of The Smile Train is connecting with a less affluent and possibly younger generation of philanthropists, which is a good sign that the spirit of giving back is being passed down. And who knows? Maybe these young donors will one day be standing where I am, addressing their colleagues in the Slate 60.
"So there you have it: The Five Gifts of Giving. The five benefits of philanthropy that support the great work that government wants to do - but can't, or needs to do - but won't. Promoting innovation. Rising above politics. Providing resources. Supporting private passions. Inspiring the next generation of generosity.
"As someone who's considered philanthropy a passion for so much of his life, it's incredibly gratifying to stand here in front of so many others who understand these gifts, and have used them to make the world a better place.
"Every dollar makes a difference. And that's true whether it's Warren Buffett's remarkable $31 billion pledge to the Gates Foundation, or my late father's $25 check to the NAACP. Indeed, this last contribution is proof that the gift of giving can inspire a lifetime of giving. Thank you very much."