Philanthropy should be seen not as an alternative to government but as a way to embolden the public sector, former New York City mayor and Bloomberg Philanthropies founder Michael R. Bloomberg argues in his most recent annual letter.
In the letter, which was included in the foundation's 2014 Annual Update (HTML or PDF, 40 pages), Bloomberg notes that "governments have the authority to drive change in ways that philanthropic organizations cannot," citing as an example the New York City ban on smoking in bars, restaurants, and indoor workplaces he signed into law as mayor. Building on that success, Bloomberg Philanthropies has in recent years supported advocacy efforts aimed at convincing governments, most notably those of China and India, to impose higher taxes on tobacco, require graphic health warnings on tobacco products, and enact smoking bans.
Bloomberg's letter also highlights the foundation's support for advocacy efforts in the area of climate policy, including the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group and the Beyond Coal campaign, which, in partnership with the Sierra Club, has helped mobilize communities to replace coal-fueled power plants with cleaner alternatives.
Philanthropy can spur policy change by making it easier for governments to take risks and experiment with new models that, owing to budget constraints, otherwise wouldn't be implemented, Bloomberg argues, citing the foundation's Mayors Challenge, a competition designed to spark innovative solutions to major urban challenges, and the Innovation Teams initiative, which helps cities implement solutions that emerge from the competition. Bloomberg further notes that philanthropic initiatives can be more effective when they are aligned with the goals of local governments and cites, citing as an example the foundation's efforts, in partnership with the governments of Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to create job training programs in industries that are central to the two countries' national economic development goals.
"In so many areas, governments represent our best hope for making the broad-based societal changes that philanthropic organizations are devoted to bringing about," Bloomberg writes. "By leveraging our resources, and forming partnerships with government, philanthropic organizations can help push those changes forward."