“Despite the pandemic’s disruptions, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ work has continued forward. It’s a real tribute to the expertise and experience of the entire Bloomberg team both at our foundation and the company, Bloomberg L.P.”
Patricia E. Harris
Early morning on Tuesday, March 10th, after our Public Health and Government Innovation teams had spent days working around the clock with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, Mike went to Washington, D.C., to address the National League of Cities. He was set to announce a new program to help mayors deal with what would soon become every city’s number one challenge: the deadly and devastating spread of COVID-19.
It was just the first of many efforts we would launch in 2020 to fight the virus and help people in need. Later that week, before any U.S. city had issued a lockdown order, Mike and I talked through ways the Bloomberg Philanthropies team could make the biggest impact possible. It was a discussion that we continued throughout the course of the year, and every team at Bloomberg Philanthropies was deeply involved in it.
Across all our work all year long, we continually looked for ways to address the crisis. We supported local government leaders on the front lines, researchers working to develop treatments, health care workers risking their lives to save others, international organizations containing the spread of the disease, and nonprofits suffering from the fallout — and, as 2021 began, our work on the pandemic was still growing in new ways, including a partnership with the United States Conference of Mayors to help cities navigate the challenges of vaccine distribution.
The pandemic tested what we have always believed to be one of our core strengths: our flexibility and ability to move quickly as needs arise. Every one of our teams adapted their work in the span of days. Without walking away from all the vitally important work we had been doing before the virus struck, we expanded our ambitions — and, with them, we extended our partnerships, formed new ones, and doubled down on existing financial commitments.
“I have never been more certain of the urgency of our mission — saving and improving lives — and of our team’s commitment to fulfilling it.”
In our 2020 Annual Report, you will read about the many efforts we undertook to confront the most devastating public health crisis of our lifetime — including an immediate focus on helping critical nonprofits right in our backyard, in New York City. Early in the pandemic, with the virus dramatically increasing demand for social services, decreasing revenues for arts and cultural institutions, and posing an existential threat to organizations in both fields, we brainstormed about how we could make the most immediate impact. The result was a plan for a fund that would rapidly distribute much-needed grants and loans to struggling organizations — and we knew that support from other foundations and donors would be key to its success. We reached out to two long-standing partners: Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, and Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Both were eager to help and both contacted other potential funders to expand our reach. We brought in The New York Community Trust to manage the grant program and the Nonprofit Finance Fund to administer loans.
Convening these and other partners — trusted organizations with the ability to move quickly in response to the growing crisis — allowed us to deliver critical support rapidly and at scale. The NYC COVID-19 Response & Impact Fund launched just a week later, on March 20th, with an initial $75 million from 18 major funders. Over the next five months, the fund grew and ultimately distributed more than $110 million in grants and loans, providing a lifeline to nearly 800 New York City-based nonprofits, which provide vital services like food, housing, and child care, as well as enriching, remote cultural programming.
This impact only reaffirmed our belief in strong partnerships and cross-sector collaboration, and we quickly helped to set up a similar fund in London. These funds were just the first steps in rallying our incredible partners and the Bloomberg team to meet the growing, unprecedented need. Here are just a few more examples:
In the early days of the pandemic, deaths and hospitalizations were especially concentrated in New York City. We teamed up with Chef José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen to provide more than one million meals to 30,000 health care workers on the front lines of the pandemic in New York City. And working with Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State, we enlisted several of our long-standing public health partners — including Vital Strategies and the Bloomberg School of Public Health — to launch the nation’s first statewide contact tracing program, along with a contact tracing curriculum free to the entire world.
As we launched these programs, we also looked to address needs globally, especially in areas that could be most vulnerable to the disease. We provided $40 million to support Vital Strategies’ work in Africa, led by former CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden. We offered guidance and support for mayors around the world as they led their cities through the public health crisis and its socioeconomic fallout. We also adapted existing programs to tackle the virus. For instance, Data for Health, which we designed to help governments target their resources by improving birth and death records, refocused its efforts to help countries track and analyze deaths from COVID-19. And we helped provide more than 2.4 million meals to communities in need around the world through Bloomberg L.P.
We also determined that our COVID-19 response would not be complete without addressing an inequity thrown into stark relief by the pandemic: Black people in the United States suffer far worse health outcomes than white people and are dying from COVID-19 at a rate nearly three times greater. As Mike described in his letter, our $100 million gift to help increase the number of Black doctors is the first part of our larger commitment to closing health and wealth gaps across the United States.
Making the Biggest Impact Possible During the Pandemic
Despite the pandemic’s disruptions, the work across our five key program areas — The Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health — as well as our pro bono consulting arm for cities, Bloomberg Associates, has continued to grow and expand. It’s a real tribute to the expertise and experience of the entire Bloomberg team, both at our foundation and at Bloomberg L.P. For example, our Bloomberg Connects app, designed by Bloomberg L.P. engineers, is helping cultural organizations keep audiences engaged with virtual exhibitions and other digital content at a time when so many are operating at reduced capacity and hours. And as Bloomberg Philanthropies expanded support for remote advising programs to help high school seniors around the United States transition to college, the company increased virtual mentoring for students by Bloomberg L.P. employees. Meanwhile, as Bloomberg Philanthropies has helped cities around the world continue cutting carbon emissions even as they battle the pandemic, Bloomberg L.P. has helped lead a global effort to improve how companies measure and report climate risks, an essential step that will help ensure the economic recovery from the pandemic also speeds up our progress in fighting climate change.
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 810 cities and 170 countries around the world.
We are enormously grateful to all our partners for their efforts and support in the face of the incredible challenges this year presented. Most of all, we are grateful for the support and engagement of our colleagues at Bloomberg L.P. With the vast majority of the company’s profits going to Bloomberg Philanthropies, their hard work and success are what make all our efforts possible.
There is still so much uncertainty that lies ahead, but I have never been more certain of the urgency of our mission — saving and improving lives — and of our team’s commitment to fulfilling it.