Bloomberg Philanthropies, the foundation launched by businessman and former New York City mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, is one of the world’s largest charitable organizations. According to the Foundation Center, the foundation’s $7.15 billion in assets in 2015 made it the 10th largest foundation in the United States that year. Bloomberg says it distributed $3.3 billion in 2019 alone.
One of Bloomberg’s priority focal areas is the environment: specifically combating climate change by accelerating the transition to clean energy, greening the world’s cities, and protecting the health and productivity of oceans. Heading up the foundation’s environment program is Antha N. Williams, who got her start as a campaigner and organizer before taking up leadership roles in the world of philanthropy.
Williams says Bloomberg’s strategy is to develop programs that offer the highest leverage in terms of impact.
“We look for measurable, data-driven solutions we can drive to help solve a problem,” Williams told Mongabay. “And in tandem we ask, how can we craft our solutions to benefit the greatest number of people?”
From an environmental perspective, this means targeting opportunities that drive change at scale, like advancing climate leadership, supporting national policies to combat destructive fishing practices and bolster marine protected areas, and empowering bottom-up approaches to natural resources management.
“In recent years, we’re feeling a lot of urgency in our work because of where the science says we need to be and the areas where we see the most opportunity – especially when our elected leaders walk away from climate commitments and progress,” Williams said. “For example, when President Trump announced his intention to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, Mike Bloomberg quickly launched an effort in partnership with then California Governor Jerry Brown called America’s Pledge to measure and report the actions of the over 4,000 cities, states, and businesses still committed to addressing climate change and clean energy in the United States.
“This year, America’s Pledge found that even with Trump, a global pandemic, and economic downturn, bottom-up climate leadership has kept the U.S. on a path of climate progress – and with re-engaged federal leadership in 2021, can be back in alignment with the Paris Agreement.”
On the oceans front, Bloomberg has been scaling up its work via the Vibrant Oceans Initiative since 2014, employing several strategies. Vibrant Oceans is now active in 10 countries, where it is engaging a range of stakeholders.
Williams says that the COVID-19 pandemic has helped emphasize the importance of engaging local communities and governments, which in many places have provided critical resilience amid lockdowns and the disappearance of traditional top-down support systems.
“The underlying hypothesis of many of our programs is that bottom-up action is often far more impactful than top-down legislation,” she said. “COVID really adds credibility to this theory because containment of the virus has been all about communities working together to look out for one another. Mayors have been on the frontlines of COVID, and that rings true for climate, as well.”
Williams spoke about this issue and more during an October 2020 conversation with Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler.