As people continue to leave rural areas and move to cities, how well those urban communities are managed and deliver services to their residents becomes increasingly important. By 2050, analysts believe that 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities.
But too often, the mayors overseeing those cities face a relentless slate of daily responsibilities and crises, as well as the pressures of public expectations, but often lack the tools, resources, or institutional capabilities to make real progress.
To change that dynamic, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charitable foundation of businessman and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, M.B.A. ’66, provided a $32 million gift to Harvard to support the first executive education and professional development program for mayors, called the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative.
A collaboration among Bloomberg Philanthropies, Harvard Business School (HBS), and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), the initiative is a comprehensive, year-long program for city mayors that offers training and support to hone leadership and management skills, share experiences, and collaborate with other mayors to find innovative, data-driven solutions to vexing challenges. On campus, the program is housed at HKS’ Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation.
Because senior administrators, such as chiefs of staff, budget directors, and department heads are so critical to implementing a mayor’s agenda and leading organizational change, the participating mayors also choose two top aides for a parallel program.
Throughout the year, participating mayors receive an array of supports, including 360-degree assessments with executive coaching, advising by former mayors, and faculty-led examinations of such topics as using data and evidence, public narrative, and cross-sector collaboration and innovation.
Graduate students play an important role in helping mayors apply the learning and implement change on the ground. More than 60 students have worked with HBS and HKS faculty and staff on research scans, content development projects, field courses, and summer fellowships in mayors’ offices. As they help the cities analyze budgets, implement management tools, and develop innovative approaches to pressing problems, they gain invaluable experience in government.
Using a curriculum developed and taught by faculty from HBS and HKS, the initiative’s works to strengthen leadership and organizational capabilities in cities by supporting current city leaders and inspiring students, future city leaders, through education, research, and daily practice.
Harvard faculty from HBS and HKS, as well as the Graduate School of Education (HGSE), the T.H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH), the Graduate School of Design (GSD), and the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) are collaborating on research to advance the art and science of city leadership. The initiative is also developing teaching cases using experiences, insights, and data gleaned from the mayoral cohorts. Program materials such as case studies, videos, and assessment tools will be made available to the public free of charge.
The initiative’s goal isn’t simply to create a positive, enriching experience for mayors and senior city leaders, but to see a meaningful change in practice, increased progress, and improved everyday lives for residents.
“It’s great if a mayor loves this program and gives it a 5 on a 5-point scale, but we want to know if that learning then really translates into changes in leadership approach and changes in organizational capability,” said Jorrit de Jong, the initiative’s faculty director and a lecturer at HKS.
The inaugural cohort, which included mayors and aides from 29 U.S. and 11 international cities, will reconvene virtually for a concluding session in October to discuss the experience.
Mayors and aides from 40 cities in the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia kicked off the program’s second year in late July. The initiative intends to enroll leaders from 240 cities worldwide during the four-year effort.