Private Citizen Bloomberg on Philanthropy

Friday, April 25, 2014

When it comes to giving away his fortune, Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg Philanthropies, says he seeks causes others may have overlooked and ways to test new ideas.

Michael R. Bloomberg has given billions of dollars to charity and plans to give tens of billions more. His foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, has been ranked among the most innovative organizations in the country. And he has been willing to finance programs that could be controversial if they failed — like teaching high school graduates in Tanzania to perform appendectomies and cesarean sections.

Yet in his first wide-ranging interview on philanthropy since ending his third term as New York City’s mayor, Mr. Bloomberg said he and his fellow billionaire philanthropists had to be more realistic about what they could do to tackle large problems around the world.

“All the billionaires added together are, as they’d say, bupkis compared to the amount of money that government spends,” he said.

“It’s trillions of dollars. Private philanthropy can’t do that.”

Mr. Bloomberg, 72, said philanthropists should focus on areas where they can test an idea and then, armed with results, get government money to turn the idea into a program. The belief that better government was crucial to improving people’s lives was a hallmark of Mr. Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor — so much so that his critics often accused him of running a “nanny state.”...