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2024 Q&A with Bloomberg Philanthropies CEO Patti Harris

Announcing the Ocean Resilience Climate Alliance, ORCA, at COP28

Our CEO Patti Harris recently asked her LinkedIn followers to send in questions about how Bloomberg Philanthropies is tackling today’s biggest problems facing the world through innovation and collaboration. 

She chose a few of the questions to answer, touching on topics like protecting the planet from the effects of climate change, how Bloomberg Philanthropies decides which challenges to take on, and what motivates her to go to work every day. 

As Patti writes, with the right partners and determination to innovate, we can continue making a big impact in the years ahead.

Q: Are there any lessons learned from past experiences that have shaped Bloomberg Philanthropies’ approach? Natalie Giammanco

Our approach is rooted in Mike Bloomberg‘s experiences as an entrepreneur and mayor. Whether at his company or in city hall, he’s prioritized building and supporting great teams, relying on data, and leading from the front. If you’re always successful, you need to aim higher – and take more risks. When I started working for him, we had a team t-shirt with a motto that summed up our approach: “Never Afraid to Fail.” The shirt’s tie-dye has faded, but the message still resonates – and the lessons continue to shape our approach and day-to-day work.

Q: How does the organization decide which challenges and issues to take on? Ellen Brait

Our work is focused on key areas that come out of Mike’s experiences and passions: education, the environment, public health, the arts, and government innovation, as well as our work to promote women’s economic independence in Africa, reduce racial wealth disparities in the U.S., and support common-sense reforms to prevent gun violence. We always look for issues where we think we can make the biggest impact – and issues that others have often overlooked.

To give just one example: Last month we launched a major new U.S. education program that brings together public education systems and hospitals in 10 communities to create specialized high schools. Students will be able to learn skills to prepare them for careers in health care – and qualify them for jobs with family-sustaining wages immediately out of high school if they choose not to go to college. We looked at the data and saw there are about two million job openings that healthcare providers can’t fill, and that the number is expected to double over the next decade. Those jobs offer opportunities for career growth, and many don’t require college diplomas – but they do require specialized skills, and that’s what these new high schools will provide. Too many students who don’t go to college are left with few good career options, and we think this kind of partnership can be a model for other industries, too. We’re excited to get it started.

Q: Bloomberg Philanthropies does a lot of work in the environment and sustainability. What gives you hope that we can still save our planet from the damaging effects of climate change? Sami Lopez

We don’t shy away from the data on climate change, which really is alarming, but we’re also an optimistic group because we’ve seen how much progress can be made. Our team works hard every day to tackle the challenge, from accelerating the clean energy transition, to cleaning our air and protecting our ocean, to working with local leaders and the private sector to reach net-zero emissions.

The results we’ve achieved with our partners really are inspiring. Since 2011, we’ve helped retire more than 70% of U.S. coal plants, which accounts for more than 80% of all U.S. emissions reductions over the last decade. We’ve spread that work to more than 30 countries globally, including across Europe, where we’ve retired more than half of the continent’s coal plants. We’ve helped to pass more than 30 clean air policies and protect more than 11 million square miles of ocean (nearly three times the size of the United States). And through the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), we’ve helped firms representing more than 40% of all private financial assets, and counting, commit to creating credible, science-based plans to reach net zero.

There’s far more to do, and the world must make progress faster than ever – but our team, our incredible partners, and the progress we’ve made together give me hope for the future.

Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge: A New View Camden, New Jersey

Q: How does Bloomberg Philanthropies engage with the communities it serves, and how does it ensure that local voices are heard and respected? Kristen Joerger

We’re always focused on partnerships. In everything we do, we believe in identifying and engaging strong partners – especially local leaders, who we work closely with to drive progress. And along with listening to them, we’re also empowering them to take bold action.

For example: Our Public Art Challenge competition invites U.S. mayors to come together with local artists and residents to design a series of public art installations focused on an urgent civic issue, like food insecurity, gun violence, or illegal dumping. We’ve supported nine winners to date, and recently announced a new round of eight winning cities currently getting started. These partnerships are a chance to bring city leaders even closer to the constituents they serve and highlight local perspectives on important city issues. Through another city competition, called the Mayors Challenge, we encourage cities around the world to come up with bold ideas to solve challenges they face, work with them to bring it to life, and then spread the most successful ideas to other cities globally. We’ve now replicated these winning ideas in more than 300 cities.

Q: What motivates you to go to work every day? Christine Lorica

Mike has a chapter in his autobiography titled “I Love Mondays.” Just like Mike, I also think I have the best job in the world: Getting to wake up every morning and think about how we can help save and improve more lives through our work. That’s exciting – and we’ve got incredible teams at Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg that inspire me every day.

Every day, we are looking for new ways to approach issues affecting lives around the world. With the right partners and determination to innovate, we can continue making a big impact in the years ahead.

You can read this post on LinkedIn here

And follow Patti Harris throughout the year here.