Opinion

Opinion | Michael R. Bloomberg and Drew Faust

Helping mayors do their job

Stuart Bradford for The Boston Globe

Issues that people care deeply about — their safety, their job prospects, their health, their schools, and their pocketbooks — are often shaped largely by local policies. As more and more people around the world live in cities — nearly two in three Americans already do — how well cities are run will affect the future of the planet in profound ways. Helping mayors accomplish their goals and enhancing the performance of local governments would contribute to significant improvements in people’s lives. A new partnership between Harvard University and Bloomberg Philanthropies aims to do exactly that.

Running a city is one of the most complex jobs on the planet. A mayor is responsible for overseeing unwieldy bureaucracies, managing budgets, making policy, implementing programs, bringing legislators together, harnessing technology, building infrastructure, delivering essential services, preparing for and responding to crises, and investing in the future.

Citizens expect mayors to perform at the highest level, but being a public executive — like any other job — is a learning experience. Yet once mayors are sworn onto office, they have few opportunities to learn from one another and from experts in the field about best practices and effective management tools so they can expand their knowledge and sharpen their leadership skills. And there is no opportunity to do so as part of a sustained and structured educational program. That’s especially unfortunate because there is a wealth of experience and expertise that would benefit mayors, if only they could access it. The new Bloomberg-Harvard partnership, launched Thursday, seeks to bridge that gap.

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Over the past several years, Bloomberg Philanthropies has created a number of programs that are designed to spur and support innovation by local governments, while Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and Business School have long set the standard for integrating real-world lessons into their curriculum. Now, we aim to use our collective experience, expertise, and resources to create the most ambitious executive education program ever designed for mayors and city leaders.

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Over the next four years, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative will bring over 300 mayors from around the world, and up to 400 of their senior aides, through a curriculum that sharpens the skills they need to run a 21st-century city. The program will allow mayors and their staffs to remain local while they learn, with occasional sessions in one of the world’s great urban laboratories, New York City.

We are both committed to using research and data to tackle public policy issues, from raising student achievement levels to improving health outcomes to reducing crime and incarceration. And by involving both the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and the Harvard Business School, the program will offer mayors and their staffs the broad perspectives of both management expertise and policy insight.

The new initiative will also support original research that will assist mayors and their staffs in tackling the real world challenges they face. Scholars will analyze and catalogue case studies, creating the world’s largest collection of instructional materials on innovative city governance, which will be open and free to all. The program will also place Harvard students in summer internships designed to support mayors as they put into practice the lessons they have learned through the program.

As cities grow, the job of mayor grows more important and influential. Last year, as part of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, more than 1,000 mayors and city officials from around the world gathered for the Climate Summit for Local Leaders at Paris’s City Hall. It was the first time cities assembled on the world stage in concert to push a diplomatic outcome, and it helped produce an ambitious agreement.

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More and more, cities sit on the front lines of our most pressing issues, from climate change to public health to terrorism. As we look to cities to take on those challenges, we believe this initiative will help drive needed change from the bottom up.

Michael R. Bloomberg is the former mayor of New York. Drew Faust is the president of Harvard University.