Bloomberg Philanthropies is poised to help Kyiv.

On Feb. 16 the organization announced an investment in the city of Kyiv that will accelerate the digitization of public services to strengthen government delivery during wartime and address residents’ acute mental health needs.

The investment of several millions dollars will also connect Kyiv with other cities in a well-established network of mutual assistance.

“Amid the most trying and tragic conditions, the city of Kyiv continues to invest in cutting-edge urban innovation,” said, founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies and Bloomberg L.P. and 108th mayor of New York City.

“At Bloomberg Philanthropies, we’re glad to support Kyiv as it strengthens its digital services and works to meet residents’ most urgent needs. We look forward to more cities everywhere taking inspiration from Kyiv’s resourcefulness and resolve.”

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Kyiv Post spoke to James Anderson, who leads the Government Innovation program at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

Could you give us a little background about what Bloomberg Philanthropies does?

We have been working for the last 12 years to build a set of global programs focused on helping mayors innovate and solve problems in new and ambitious ways. This focus comes from Mike Bloomberg. I believe he is the only major philanthropist who was himself a mayor. He understands the unique challenges that city halls have and the extraordinary opportunities that they present. And so, he’s tasked us with helping mayors innovate, respond to crises, and find new ways to solve big problems with the belief that if cities win, then the world wins. We can solve so many global challenges by being far more impactful at the local level. And if you do that at scale, if you think of cities as part of a global network of innovative organizations that are sharing ideas and that are pushing the world forward, you can realize that mission, from the bottom up. That’s really what our work at Bloomberg Philanthropies is all about.

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This works takes on a number of different forms. We do leadership development for mayors. We do data capacity and support for cities – one of the more quiet things that we do. But something we think is fundamentally critical: helping local governments better leverage the extraordinary amounts of administrative and performance data they have to make better decisions.

And then we help cities significantly strengthen digitization and innovation. That usually takes the form of investments in staff and world-class technical assistance that helps bolster city halls and mayors with the skillsets, processes, and capacities to do things in more impactful ways, leveraging the tools and techniques to solve problems more powerfully.

We’ve been tasked with helping mayors innovate, respond to crisis, and find new ways to solve big problems with the belief that if cities win, then the world wins.

When did you when did you decide to focus on Kyiv among other cities?

A good data point is in 2023. There were 735 cities in the Bloomberg Cities Network, meaning these cities from around the world were receiving innovation teams, grants, technical assistance or leadership development from our team, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Government Innovation program.

So the footprint is significant, and of course, we’ve been watching cities closely for some time. One of the new truths of modern life is that some city somewhere is always in crisis and that crisis takes many different forms. We have been both inspired and incredibly impressed with the work that Kyiv has done in the face of this terrible war and their use of digital to try and retain the continuity of services, communications with the public, and when some of the regular means of engagement were less available.

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Last year, we began talking with them about ways that we could turbocharge their digitization efforts. And last week [Feb. 16], we announced a significant investment that will both beef up their internal capacity and bring world-class technical assistance in to help them meet urgent needs in new and impactful ways.

One of the issues the City has really zeroed in on in our conversations is the extraordinary mental health challenges faced by a population that has been really traumatized by the war. And we know from COVID and past crises that if that trauma is not treated, if the mental health needs are not addressed in the near term, they become long-term challenges.

So this team and the mayor [Vitali Klitschko] will focus in on that. And we think digital innovation is actually an extraordinarily interesting way to begin to address those mental health crises.

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Obviously, mental health is a big issue, as 80 percent of Kyiv residents 18 years or older surveyed by the Kyiv City Council are reporting symptoms consistent with PTSD. Do you have a sense of how exactly that would work? Would there be some sort of digital app?

One of the things that we really believe is that innovation is a process – a verb, not a noun. So the work that we do here at the Bloomberg Philanthropies is to support cities in undertaking a best-in-class innovation process. And if you’ve covered the private sector, you know that in the private companies with a future typically have R&D [research and development] shops, they have innovation lines.

The purpose is not to be focused on today’s services, but to look around the corner for new markets and new opportunities to exploit and expand into, we typically haven’t had that in the public sector. Most of the people who work in City Hall are focused on the delivery of day-to-day services.

We believe that if you invest in innovation skills, people and processes within City Hall, and give them the support, they go through a process – not unlike the private sector, but obviously different in that [it involves] understanding what the residents’ needs are, where existing services are falling short, spending a lot of time with the very people who are hurting and in pain, to understand what the opportunities for intervention are. Essentially, start with those challenges in people’s real lives and build solutions backward from that point.

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Are there any other cities that have faced similar challenges that would be prime candidates for Kyiv to liaise with?

I was most recently updated on the really important work our team supports in Mexico City, also through our innovation team program. This is a city that isn’t facing a war, but they are very focused on making sure that the most vulnerable residents within their city are able to access city services in a way that is equitable, predictable and reliable. They want to make sure that every resident is able to continue to get good information to avail themselves of all of the public services and local government offerings in a way that works for them.

So, I think such opportunities exist across our global cities network. Many of the rapid response protocols, the need to flatten your information flows to get out into the community, to understand needs with your own eyes because you can’t necessarily trust the information that's coming in: those things are happening all over the cities we work within, and we’ll be working to help keep Kyiv connected with cities that are going through similar things.

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Do you have a specific blueprint? Are you working with anyone specific in the Kyiv city administration overseeing the process? Or is it more of a hands-off approach?

Kyiv is now a part of this network, and our Bloomberg Philanthropies Government Innovation program, and one of the things most cities really appreciate about our organization is that we make it really easy for them to connect with world class expertise, no matter where it is.

So when they come up with questions that they can’t answer and need evidence that they can’t find, when they want to talk with cities that have had analogous situations, we ensure it gets to them and that they can access it. And Kyiv will also feed back into other cities part of our work, who will be fortunate to learn from their example.

Our support for Kyiv comes in two forms: We’re building up their team, with people highly skilled in user design, data science, project, management, and more to strengthen their intern capacity. Meaning, they’ll have more really talented people working on these critical issues. And in addition to our team, we’ll also be making one of the world’s best technical assistance partners on digitization, Public Digital, available to support their work, soup to nuts. And Bloomberg Philanthropies is proud to deepen and accelerate the City’s digital efforts, which will not only improve lives locally but serve as a beacon for cities struggling with crisis elsewhere.

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Comments ( 1)

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John
This comment contains spoilers. Click here if you want to read.

To fill gaps in allied national support the Ukrainian government has run a brilliant campaign on its United24 platform to support that nations defence and related humanitarian needs. Anyone with a credit card or fund transfer capability can securely contribute to that registered charity and see their dollars make a difference within days. Weekly updates show exactly what has been raised and exactly on what it was spent. ITs hard to get that level of transparency form most western charities claiming to be active in Ukraine.

As much as I empathize with humanitarian causes, I always contribute towards the air and sea drone related campaigns, as during a war I feel defence comes first in saving lives and preventing loss. Other causes though are indeed heart wrenching and also so important. United24 has raised over $661 Million USD in international donations to fill gaps in allied support.

To their credit, many international celebrities actively offer their valuable time to be spokes people for various United 24 campaigns. The list is long with many well known names across the world.

The UK's Richard Branson is one of them. I hope the other billionaires are making their time on earth count for a purpose greater than their own comfort. They could do so much good if also contributing to Ukraine like Bloomberg and Branson.

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