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Harvard, Bloomberg unite for $32 million initiative for mayors

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Harvard University announced a $32 million gift Thursday from former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, cementing a partnership between one of the world's richest universities and the nation's most generous living donor to educational institutions.

The purpose of the donation: a new program called the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, which seeks to provide no-cost education and training to municipal leaders across the world.

Bloomberg, a Harvard alumnus whose current net worth is more than $40 billion, has made the support of mayors and city leaders across the world a hallmark of his life after elected office, which he left in 2013.


"With more and more of the world living in cities, mayors are increasingly responsible for solving major challenges we face, from climate change to poverty to public health," said Bloomberg in a statement on his website. "By giving mayors tools and resources — and by connecting them with peers facing many of the same challenges — this program will go a long way toward helping them run cities more effectively."

The initiative will be a collaboration between Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School's Executive Education program, with input from Bloomberg's consortium of philanthropic efforts.

According to a joint press release and interviews with officials, the new City Leadership Initiative seeks to serve up to 300 mayors and 400 mayoral aides in the next four years. The "curriculum" will consist of training and research programs, mentorship, and best-practice sharing among participants, though specifics are yet to be determined.

The program, tentatively set to open in 2017, will also support student internships within mayoral offices across the world.

In that first cohort in 2017, officials hope to accept 40 to 60 American mayors and mayoral aides to descend on Cambridge, according to Harvard Kennedy School spokesman Daniel Harsha. The program will expand its applications to a global audience the following term.


"We've been working on this for about eight months, and about 100 people have been involved," said Jorrit de Jong, a Harvard lecturer in public policy and management who will serve as faculty director of the program.

"At universities, we often do what we do best — teach. And this is a huge opportunity to get us out of our comfort zone,'' de Jong said. "We would not just deliver stuff that we know in ways that we know, but we're committing to making real changes in cities."

This is not Bloomberg's only program to support mayors, nor his first large donation to an institution of higher learning. In 2013, Bloomberg donated $350 million to his undergraduate alma mater, Johns Hopkins University — the largest in the school's history.

Over the past 40 years, Bloomberg has given $1.1 billion to the school, where he graduated in 1964. Bloomberg attended Harvard Business School after obtaining his undergraduate degree.

"Ultimately this program will better enable mayors and their senior leaders to improve the lives of residents," said Nitin Nohria, dean of Harvard Business School.

Every year, Bloomberg conducts a "Mayor's Challenge," in which hundreds of cities in a rotating region compete for funding to solve local problems.

In the 2016 "Mayor's Challenge," 290 cities from across Latin America and the Caribbean submitted applications, according to the Bloomberg Philanthropies website. In July, teams from each of the 20 finalist cities attended a two-day gathering in Bogotá.


Boston University also has an urban leadership initiative focused on improving city infrastructure and innovation. The program was cofounded by Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, who died in 2014, and is operated by Graham Wilson, the former chairman of the school's political science department.

De Jong, the Harvard program's faculty director, said their new program will focus less on specific policies, and more on improving "organizational structures that can make any policy better."

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.