In its first annual "program update" (27 pages, PDF), Bloomberg Philanthropies has announced that it awarded grants totaling $370 million in 2012 in its key focus areas, which include public health, education, the arts, government innovation, and the environment.
In what is likely to be the first of many annual letters, Bloomberg Philanthropies founder Michael R. Bloomberg also noted that his experiences as an entrepreneur and three-term mayor of New York City, as well as the example of his father, had shaped his philanthropic principles. Those principles, he writes, include leading from the front, spreading solutions that work, empowering advocates, forming partnerships, focusing on cities, and following the data.
According to the Financial Times, Bloomberg's reliance on data to identify funding opportunities, assess impact, evaluate results, and measure performance has its critics. Others see the mayor as authoritarian. When it comes to education reform, for example, Bloomberg — who lists Andrew Carnegie, Andrew Mellon, and John D. Rockefeller as his philanthropic role models — rejects approaches such as smaller class size, computer-aided learning, and infrastructure upgrades. As he told the FT, the "only solution" to the education crisis in America, "is to battle the teachers' unions...and upgrade the quality of the teachers."
Bloomberg's willingness to mix philanthropy with politics also has been controversial at times. He has given an estimated $100 million to Republican and Democrat candidates who share his views on gun control and education reform, and has leveraged his bully pulpit as New York City mayor with large philanthropic gifts — and vice versa. He has, for instance, introduced and enforced tough anti-smoking regulations in New York City while committing more than $600 million since 2007 to reducing tobacco use worldwide. And he hopes to contribute to efforts to extend human life expectancy, an effort that would include "greenhouse gas reduction, some education, and support of medical [causes]."
Indeed, for some, the mayor's willingness to be a lightning rod on difficult issues cuts both ways. "When he's using money to pick on people his own size or bigger like the National Rifle Association or Big Tobacco, that's good," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, which has not received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies. "But there's a consistent pattern of rewarding friends and punishing enemies."