FROM HOUSING TO HEALTH CARE TO EDUCATION, cities confront problems that only effective leadership can solve. The need for innovative leadership became even more urgent during the pandemic, which saw city hospitals overflowing and emergency services stretched to breaking points. Because cities are home to 55 percent of the globe’s population—a figure the United Nations expects to increase to 68 percent by 2050—addressing cities’ issues will have a big impact on the wellbeing of a significant number of people around the world.

Harvard Kennedy School’s teaching and research have long supported good city governance. The Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston, and the Taubman Center for State and Local Government in particular focus on improving the effectiveness of local governments—and the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, established in 2017, has, to date, helped mayors and senior staff from 478 cities in 48 countries develop their ability to lead both before and during the pandemic.

Harvard is now expanding these efforts thanks to a generous new gift from Bloomberg Philanthropies, which was started by Michael Bloomberg MBA 1966. Bloomberg has been a steadfast donor to Harvard for many years. The Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University—a University-wide hub located at HKS—will continue to provide research and teaching to strengthen the capabilities of mayors and their teams, advance effective organizational practices in city halls around the world, support a new generation of public servants, and produce new research and instructional materials that will help city leaders overcome today’s and tomorrow’s challenges.

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“The goal is to enable innovative leadership and to foster lifelong networks that will serve [mayors] and their citizens for decades to come.”

Douglas Elmendorf

 Douglas Elmendorf, dean of Harvard Kennedy School, said, “We hope to enlighten and inspire leaders and to provide them with even greater understanding and capacity to solve the many problems that they face in their cities. The goal is to enable innovative leadership and to foster lifelong networks that will serve them and their citizens for decades to come.”

As part of its gift, Bloomberg Philanthropies has funded 10 professorships named for Emma Bloomberg MPA/MBA 2007. HKS faculty member Jorrit de Jong, who continues to direct the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative with Rawi Abdelal from Harvard Business School, will lead the Bloomberg Center for Cities.

Bloomberg Philanthropies is also supporting a 100 Days Program to train and support new mayors during their first 100 days in office—a period during which mayors make critical decisions. This new program is a partnership with the HKS Institute of Politics, which for many years has offered programs to help mayors assemble strong teams that will perform, learn, and deliver results. The gift also supports faculty research, programming, curriculum development, postgraduate fellowships, a knowledge-sharing community, and evaluation of impact.

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HKS Lecturer in Public Policy Kimberlyn Leary at a recent Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative session.

Kathy Sheehan, the mayor of Albany, New York, was a part of the Bloomberg Initiative’s second cohort, in 2018–2019. The information she gained was invaluable in dealing with the pandemic, including efforts to create an equitable vaccination effort. She noted that to schedule and receive the vaccine, people must have “mobility, broadband access, [and command of the] English language, and it requires that you be able to interact with a computer. And the state was measuring how fast the vaccine was getting into people’s arms, but they weren’t measuring the demographic makeup of whose arms [the vaccine] was getting into. Because of the many things that we talked about through the course of the program, I leaned into that. I was much more effectively able to partner with people at the state level and at the county level to influence accountability measures and to ask for data.” She says the program also helped her center Albany’s communications efforts. “[It] helped me figure out how, as mayor, I can use information to determine where we need to focus more efforts and where we need to more effectively communicate.”

Thanks to the generosity of Bloomberg Philanthropies, more city leaders will be able to convene at Harvard with teachers, scholars, practitioners, and current and future leaders—all to help city residents lead safer, freer, more just, and more sustainably prosperous lives.

Photos courtesy of Bloomberg Philanthropies