Bloomberg Philanthropies & Harvard create new Bloomberg Center for Cities

Bloomberg Philanthropies, in collaboration with Harvard University, announced today an expansion of support for city leaders with a new, $150 million investment to establish the University-wide Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University. This center builds upon the success of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School established in 2017, and will strengthen the capabilities of mayors and their teams, advance effective organizational practices in city halls around the world, support a new generation of public servants as they encounter unprecedented challenges in the years to come, and produce new research and instructional materials that will help city leaders.

“This is a major new investment in the people who have enormous and unique powers to attack society’s biggest challenges: mayors. The pandemic has driven home just how important mayors are to the everyday lives of billions of people. They are the most creative and effective problem-solvers in government — and that’s exactly the kind of leadership that the world urgently needs,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, 108th mayor of New York City and founder of Bloomberg L.P. and Bloomberg Philanthropies. “Building on our partnership with Harvard, this new investment will help more city leaders learn from one another and get even more big things done locally.”

“Harvard is honored to partner with Bloomberg Philanthropies to strengthen the ways in which we support local leaders whose cities are facing unprecedented challenges,” said Harvard President Larry Bacow. “The University is home to many people who are committed to serving the public and improving communities through deep expertise, useful knowledge, and wide-ranging research. The prospect of helping to bring about more effective leadership through collaboration and innovation is as exciting as it is inspiring. We look forward to seeing the resources, tools, and support provided by the center put to good use in city halls around the world.”

The investment will deepen and broaden Bloomberg Philanthropies and Harvard University’s commitment to current and future city leaders through the following elements:

  • Expanding the breadth and depth of Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative’s flagship program, including through the addition of a program and resources for newly elected mayors to help them build their teams, custom programming for additional city hall leaders, research on city governance, and new postgraduate City Hall Fellowships.
  • Creating the endowed Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University as a permanent place at Harvard dedicated to strengthening city leadership and governance.
  • Endowing 10 faculty positions named for Emma Bloomberg, a graduate of both Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Business School, for scholars or experts focused on city problem-solving.

Launched in 2017 with an initial $32 million investment, the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative has provided robust training and support to 159 mayors and their 800 top advisers from 153 cities. The initiative’s programs create a deep and powerful impact on the participating mayors and their cities, going beyond executive education classes to provide additional programming, support, and team development over the course of a yearlong engagement for each city.

“Mike Bloomberg has always used his expertise, time and resources to help mayors — and it’s made a huge difference to my peers and me, especially through his collaboration with Harvard University,” said Paterson, N.J., Mayor André  Sayegh. “This expanded effort is great news for America’s local leaders.”

“Mike Bloomberg and Harvard University have made an extraordinary impact on mayoral leadership,” said Steve Benjamin, mayor of Columbia, S.C. “Their work has empowered cities to lead through some of the most challenging circumstances of our time, including a global pandemic. The continuation of their support will be critical to the next generation of local leaders.”

In response to the multiple crises, including the global COVID-19 pandemic, in 2020‒2021 the initiative convened mayors and their teams on a weekly basis to provide up-to-date public health information and guidance, crisis-management tools, and the opportunity to share key learnings and practices that helped them lead their cities through the turbulent times. This initiative has reached 379 mayors and 826 city leaders from 49 countries. The initiative also launched five new programs, facilitating city-to-city networks and relationships among mayors that enabled the flow of public-health guidance, helping mayors gauge potential emergency responses with each other in real time. These new relationships have also served as a foundation for mayors to offer each other advice and learn in real time from one another how to lead response-and-recovery efforts.

“The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative provided a great opportunity for me and my staff to develop new skills and think about confronting challenges in different ways. In a year with no shortage of difficult situations, I could see our team flex and grow these new leadership muscles in real time,” said Dayton, Ohio, Mayor Nan Whaley.

“In our position as mayors it’s easy to feel like you’re working in isolation. Credit goes to Bloomberg Philanthropies and Harvard University for proving that leadership doesn’t have to be an island. They have created camaraderie among dozens of mayors from across the globe, allowing us to collaborate and find synergy as we all address our top priority — meeting the everyday needs of our residents,” said Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Ala.

About the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative

The Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative is a collaboration between Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Business School, and Bloomberg Philanthropies to equip mayors and senior city officials to tackle complex challenges in their cities and improve the quality of life of their citizens. Launched in 2017, the initiative has worked with 400 mayors and 1,300 senior city officials in 478 cities worldwide. The initiative has also advanced research and developed new curricula and teaching tools to help city leaders solve real-world problems. For more information, please visit the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative or visit us on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About Bloomberg Philanthropies

Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 810 cities and 170 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2020, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $1.6 billion. For more information, please visit bloomberg.org or follow us on FacebookInstagramYouTubeTwitter, and TikTok.

Sign language for quantum science being developed at Harvard

You are sitting in a Harvard classroom ready for a quantum science lecture to begin. The professor steps behind the podium and begins her presentation:  “The a-n-g-u-l-a-r f-r-e-q-u-e-n-c-y indicates how often a single p-a-r-t-i-c-l-e in the wave oscillates in time.”

Following and understanding a concept presented this way, with the professor spelling out each word, would add a whole level of difficulty to an already complex topic.

This scenario is exactly what deaf people experience on a daily basis. Because signs in American Sign Language (ASL) do not exist for many STEM concepts, interpreters are forced to fingerspell words in an effort to communicate concepts, forcing a deaf person to channel between ASL and English to make sense of topics discussed.

This can be exhausting and makes learning the content far more challenging than for other students.

A collaboration between Harvard’s Center for Integrated Quantum Materials (CIQM) and The Learning Center for the Deaf (TLC) is attacking this challenge, with the aim of increasing STEM opportunities for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.

The project is led by Mandy Houghton, a former science teacher at the Florida School for the Deaf who first got involved during a summer internship at CIQM, part of the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Houghton was so impressed by how well the Harvard interpreters were able to convey the complex science concepts that she asked them where they learned the signs.

That led her to a group at Boston University, which was working to create content and new signs for as many STEM topics as possible.

As a deaf high school teacher, Houghton knew being able to accurately discuss more STEM topics in ASL could go a long way toward supporting deaf and hard-of-hearing students and inspiring them to consider careers in the field. Houghton became so passionate about the issue she left teaching and joined the project as manager.

Houghton and the team of deaf STEM experts began by generating ASL content for middle and high school biology, but National Science Foundation (NSF) funding to CIQM she shifted her focus to developing ASL modules on quantum science topics for undergraduate students.

Team discussion on Zoom.

The team discusses technical quantum science terms during a Zoom meeting.

Photo provided by Mandy Houghton

Contributing to the project is a natural fit for CIQM, which has focused on providing opportunities for students who are under-represented in STEM fields through its summer internship program, said Naomi Brave, CIQM managing director. Gallaudet University, Houghton’s alma mater and the nation’s preeminent postsecondary institution for the education of the deaf and hard of hearing, is one of CIQM’s partner schools. Input from Gallaudet interns has been invaluable to this project, Brave said.

“We realized this was something we could really help with, so we applied for a supplemental funding grant from the NSF, and got some money that we used to interview all of our past Gallaudet interns and all of their mentors and the faculty in the labs they worked in and came up with an extensive glossary of terms that were problematic for them,” Brave said. “One of the things that is very important to us in our education program is to provide equal opportunity for everybody.”

After conducting a needs assessment, interviewing the interns, and generating that glossary of terms, Houghton and her colleagues got to work developing educational modules. The glossary helped them identify terms to discuss and continues to serve as a guide for the work.

To develop educational modules, they begin by determining which quantum science topics to address. Then, the team determines the order in which content should be presented and how different terms are connected.

There are often fundamental topics that are discussed in lieu of highly technical information. If the team wants to discuss that highly technical information in ASL, they must also address many of these more basic related ideas that are not conceptually available in ASL.

They search for existing ASL terms, determine whether they are conceptually accurate for the topic and, if not, get to work crafting new signs.

Developing new signs is a complex process. They must consider a new sign in its specific scientific context, explore different root words that might be included, and make connections based on the meanings of the term.

They then develop scripts for videos that teach those concepts. If there are new signs to be filmed, they document them especially carefully to explain the context and elements of the sign itself.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has slowed their in-person progress, the team is converting the filmed material to video this spring and will be posting on a distinct YouTube Channel.

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“Testing a new sign and collecting feedback within our community is the most critical piece of the process because language is a living thing and it relies on the users adopting and utilizing the sign,” Houghton said. “When the community adopts the new ASL signs, it shows people find these signs natural, intuitive, and useful when engaging in STEM conversations, which is the main aim of this work.”

She is excited to share the team’s work with the world and continue to expand their efforts, focusing on different science content areas and ramping up community engagement so others understand the challenges faced by deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Ultimately, she hopes the work creates more STEM opportunities for students who communicate using ASL.

For more information about the project, contact Mandy Houghton at mhoughton@tlcdeaf.org.

What will green computing look like in the future?

When you think about your carbon footprint, what comes to mind? Driving and flying, probably. Perhaps home energy consumption or those daily Amazon deliveries. But what about watching Netflix or having Zoom meetings? Ever thought about the carbon footprint of the silicon chips inside your phone, smartwatch or the countless other devices inside your home?

Every aspect of modern computing, from the smallest chip to the largest data center comes with a carbon price tag. For the better part of a century, the tech industry and the field of computation as a whole have focused on building smaller, faster, more powerful devices — but few have considered their overall environmental impact.

Researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) are trying to change that.

“Over the next decade, the demand, number and types of devices is only going to grow,” said Udit Gupta, a Ph.D. candidate in Computer Science at SEAS. “We want to know what impact that will have on the environment and how we, as a field, should be thinking about how we adopt more sustainable practices.”

Gupta, along with Gu-Yeon Wei, the Robert and Suzanne Case Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, and David Brooks, the Haley Family Professor of Computer Science, will present a paper on the environmental footprint of computing at the IEEE International Symposium on High-Performance Computer Architecture on March 3, 2021.

The SEAS research is part of a collaboration with Facebook, where Gupta is an intern, and Arizona State University.

The team not only explored every aspect of computing, from chip architecture to data center design, but also mapped the entire lifetime of a device, from manufacturing to recycling, to identify the stages where the most emissions occur.

They found that most emissions related to modern mobile and data-center equipment come from hardware manufacturing and infrastructure.

“A lot of the focus has been on how we reduce the amount of energy used by computers, but we found that it’s also really important to think about the emissions from just building these processors,” said Brooks.  “If manufacturing is really important to emissions, can we design better processors? Can we reduce the complexity of our devices so that manufacturing emissions are lower?”

Take chip design, for example.

Today’s chips are optimized for size, performance and battery life. The typical chip is about 100 square millimeters of silicon and houses billions of transistors. But at any given time, only a portion of that silicon is being used. In fact, if all the transistors were fired up at the same time, the device would exhaust its battery life and overheat. This so-called dark silicon improves a device’s performance and battery life but it’s wildly inefficient if you consider the carbon footprint that goes into manufacturing the chip.

“You have to ask yourself, what is the carbon impact of that added performance,” said Wei. “Dark silicon offers a boost in energy efficiency but what’s the cost in terms of manufacturing? Is there a way to design a smaller and smarter chip that uses all of the silicon available? That is a really intricate, interesting, and exciting problem.”

The same issues face data centers. Today, data centers, some of which span many millions of square feet, account for 1 percent of global energy consumption, a number that is expected to grow.

As cloud computing continues to grow, decisions about where to run applications — on a device or in a data center — are being made based on performance and battery life, not carbon footprint.

We need to be asking what’s greener, running applications on the device or in a data center,” said Gupta. “These decisions must optimize for global carbon emissions by taking into account application characteristics, efficiency of each hardware device, and varying power grids over the day.”

The researchers are also challenging industry to look at the chemicals used in manufacturing. 

Adding environmental impact to the parameters of computational design requires a massive cultural shift in every level of the field, from undergraduate CS students to CEOs.

To that end, Brooks has partnered with Embedded EthiCS, a Harvard program that embeds philosophers directly into computer science courses to teach students how to think through the ethical and social implications of their work. Brooks is including an Embedded EthiCS module on computational sustainability in “COMPSCI 146: Computer Architecture” this spring.

The researchers also hope to partner with faculty from Environmental Science and Engineering at SEAS and the Harvard University Center for the Environment to explore how to enact change at the policy level.

“The goal of this paper is to raise awareness of the carbon footprint associated with computing and to challenge the field to add carbon footprint to the list of metrics we consider when designing new processes, new computing systems, new hardware, and new ways to use devices. We need this to be a primary objective in the development of computing overall,” said Wei.

The paper was co-authored by Sylvia Lee, Jordan Tse, Hsien-Hsin S. Lee and Carole-Jean Wu from Facebook and Young Geun Kim from Arizona State University.

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A.R.T. conjures up some online magic with ‘The Conjurors’ Club’

In today’s online world, so-called “magic” is easy. Technological tricks can make anything disappear or transform with a few clicks of the mouse. But when a small band of magicians present “The Conjurors’ Club” with the American Repertory Theater (A.R.T.), they will be sticking to the basics, keeping their online presentation as intimate — and as real — as possible.

This intimacy, say the conjurors behind “The Conjurors’ Club,” which begins March 12, is fundamental to what they do. “Without an audience, magic cannot happen. It’s just a person alone in a room doing fancy choreography,” said performer and magician Geoff Kanick, one of the show’s two co-creators, during a Zoom interview.

Originally presented as an in-person show in New York in 2017, “The Conjurors’ Club” was conceived as a melding of magic and immersive theater. “We wanted to combine those worlds and have a place where you can see magic from 360 degrees,” Vinny DePonto, the show’s other co-creator and a mentalist (or mind reader), explained from his home library. The result was a site-specific entertainment where magicians performed in elevators and even underneath the stage. The point, DePonto said, was “access to magicians that you don’t typically get in a perfectly constructed proscenium,” making the magic feel fresh and unexpected.

Adapting that kind of access for an online performance took some rejiggering. (“I had to figure out how to read minds through a screen,” said DePonto.) It also fit well with the A.R.T.’s ongoing efforts to reach — and even build — audiences in this socially isolated time, such as the ongoing “Behind the Scenes” series, which continues on March 16 with “The Weeping Camel,” the weekly Lunch Room talks, the new series A.R.T. Travels, and ongoing streaming performances through Virtually Oberon, including “Hype Man” beginning April 8.

Jeanette-Andrews with mirrors

Jeanette Andrews is one of the magicians performing in “The Conjurors’ Club.”

Photo by Saverio Truglia

“A.R.T. has embraced this year of disruption as an opportunity for digital experimentation, innovation, and learning about how we can continue to be creative, collaborate with artists, and engage our audiences,” said Diane Paulus, the A.R.T.’s Terrie and Bradley Bloom Artistic Director. “Digital experiences will never replace in-person theater, but I strongly believe they are not going away. The digital corollary to our in-person theater work is a vital opportunity to reach new audiences around the world, and, most significantly, to provide greater access to theater.”

Key to “The Conjurors’ Club,” say its creators, is that the show, though online, happens in real time. During each performance the audience will witness live magic, performed by magicians in different virtual rooms — the online equivalent of that elevator or the space beneath the stage. Seated before a home screen, the audience will watch, and participate in, each performer’s act, viewing the same card tricks and sleight-of-hand they would see at an in-person theater. As the night progresses, the audience will move onto another online room” and another performer. “Every night you’ll experience three different magicians,” explained Kanick. “It’s like speed dating, so you get a chance to see that there are many flavors of magic.”

To best replicate that feeling of a “real” in-person show, each magician will work in front of a single camera. That fixed point of view, explain the conjurors, best approximates the experience of being in the audience of a live magic show. “We wanted to make this the most analog digital experience possible,” said Kanick. “We don’t use any camera tricks. It is as if you were sitting across the table from these magicians.”

“Magic works so well in person because you’re in the same room, where you know the rules,” added DePonto. “We want to recreate that. We want to build the trust, the rapport with our audience that says that you can be in the room with us.”

Magician Geoff Kanick.

Magician randy shine

Geoff Kanick is one of the creators of “The Conjurors’ Club,” which includes magician Ran’D Shine.

Credits: The Emma Experience and courtesy photo

“We are very excited about giving audience agency,” Kanick continued. “Like, when you’re watching the show, you are talking to the magicians. You’re interacting. You are doing things. You’re making choices.”

That interaction will aided by the “secret package” that comes with each ticket, the contents of which the magicians are unwilling to divulge. “Mystery is an important element of magic, and I think that this is a good mystery,” said Kanick. “But I would add that we hope that people get to do stuff during the show, but also that it inspires them to dig deeper on their own after the show as well.

“Magic reaches through the screen in a really beautiful way, and if we can enhance that by having some objects or magic happening in your home, that’s also really exciting,” he added.

“This idea that magic happens all around you is what we’re aiming for,” said DePonto. Making that magic possible in this difficult time has been a challenge, both admit. It has also been, in some ways, enlightening, noted DePonto. “When we get back into a space where we can gather, we’re going to have taken away so much from this virtual space that we can apply,” he said. “I’m actually really excited to figure out what the next version of this show is.”

Already, these new possibilities have begun to weave their spell. “During one of the developmental shows we had someone in L.A., we had a magician in Chicago, someone tuned in from Ireland, and we all got to, like, share in these moments together from all over,” said Kanick. “That was real magic for me.”

For more information about the “The Conjurors’ Club,” “Behind the Scenes” series, A.R.T. TravelsVirtually Oberon, and the weekly Lunch Room talks visit the A.R.T. website.

COVID-19’s long-term impact on our emotional landscape

With more than 500,000 dead, the COVID-19 pandemic has created a nation touched by grief, compounded by the trauma of job loss, financial trouble, and everyday confusion, a mix that a Harvard psychologist said creates a complex and troubling picture of the country’s emotional landscape.

Christy Denckla, a research fellow at the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Research at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard and a postdoctoral fellow in the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology, said that with so many having died from the pandemic, few Americans at this point haven’t either lost a loved one to COVID-19 or at least know someone who has. Those losses amid an infectious disease mean the practices that society has developed over centuries — vigils for the dying, wakes, funerals, and other end-of-life rituals — that bring people together to mourn and support those closest to the deceased, are disrupted or suspended entirely.

Such rituals, she said, were created to help those involved acknowledge and process their loss, while giving and gaining support from loved ones. The rituals provide a language through which to talk about pain and sadness and provide strength and hope when needed most. Those facing pandemic-enforced isolation instead may have trouble processing what has happened, particularly if it occurs together with job loss or other displacements.

“In the mental health community, there is concern — there is a lot of concern — about the impact this is having,” Denckla said. “We are forced now to grieve alone and oftentimes in isolation. Parts of grieving happen alone, but parts of grieving happen in community, and, in the absence of that community, I am concerned with how people are coping with this loss right now.”

Denckla, whose work focuses on resilience following exposure to trauma, spoke Tuesday at a Facebook Live event, “The Coronavirus Pandemic: Grieving and Mental Health,” sponsored by The Forum at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and PRX’s The World.

Denckla said the long-term impact of the current situation may be something called prolonged grief disorder, in which people who are isolated and cut off from the normal grieving process find their lives impaired over time by unresolved grief.

“We’re sort of in a perfect storm, we worry, for long-term, clinically impairing conditions,” Denckla said.

The situation may be exacerbated in communities of color which have suffered even more from the pandemic. Denckla said she’s particularly concerned about the long-term impact on children who’ve lost parents, and those who are vulnerable who lost providers who supported them.

Denckla pointed out that the COVID-19 deaths have occurred on top of those that would normally occur, yet mourning has become complicated for everyone. This is also happening at a time when the U.S. mental health system is operating at capacity, Denckla said. Though the pandemic era’s rise of telehealth is seen as improving access to mental health services, Denckla said that her colleagues report being inundated by the demand for services.

“There has been so much loss during this time. People have lost jobs, lost livelihoods, lost celebrations — I’ve been to a few Zoom weddings — birthdays, holidays,” Denckla said.

Denckla said that compounded stressors increase risk for an array of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, hopelessness, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, and interpersonal conflict.

“The [increased] burden on couples, on parents, on children and families has been quite remarkable; relationships are stressed,” Denckla said. “These compounded stressors are troubling.”

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On the plus side, Denckla acknowledged that technology combined with creativity has provided an alternate outlet for many. Facebook posts about lost loved ones give friends and relatives a chance to express grief and support, while Zoom gatherings provide a way to be with each other, even if not in the same room.

Denckla said hospital clergy in some cases have donned protective gear and allowed loved ones to connect via video with dying loved ones when pandemic rules prohibit in-person visits. What is unknown, Denckla said, is how effective a substitute these digital practices are and whether they can help mitigate potential problems in the future.

Another hopeful development, she said, is the attention the pandemic has brought to the issue of mourning. With loss on such a scale, an issue that is often skirted in public discourse has been brought more centrally into the spotlight, with one organization proposing a White House office on bereavement care, another a bereavement bill of rights that allows relatives to see a body and details that the body be treated with respect. And yet all is not dour.

“What we’ve learned is that we are surprisingly resilient,” Denckla. “What I’m inspired by now is the collective conversation about the importance of grief, about the rights of the bereaved, about transforming social policy around loss and support, which can go a long way to reducing inequity.”

Two mayors share lessons learned through Bloomberg initiative

In the past year, the spotlight has been trained on the nation’s mayors. American towns and cities faced unprecedented challenges brought by the medical, financial, and educational fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, a national reckoning on equity and race, political unrest, and natural disasters connected to climate change.

To offer additional support to municipal leaders,  Harvard and Bloomberg Philanthropies have announced a new Bloomberg Center for Cities at Harvard University, made possible by a $150 million investment from Bloomberg Philanthropies, led by former New York City Mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg, M.B.A. ’66. The new effort builds on the work of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, a collaboration between Bloomberg Philanthropies, Harvard Kennedy School, and Harvard Business School, which has been bringing together mayors from across the nation and the world to learn, strengthen skills, share ideas, and create a community of city leaders since 2017.

The new center will be a hub that will draw on expertise and scholarship from across disciplines and all of Harvard’s Schools. It will be led by Director Jorrit de Jong of the Harvard Kennedy School (HKS). De Jong and Rawi Abdelal of Harvard Business School (HBS) will continue as the faculty co-chairs of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative, which will be part of the new center.

Plans include the creation of resources to help newly elected mayors build teams, custom programming for additional city hall leaders, research on city governance, and City Hall Fellowships for Harvard graduate students. In addition, 10 endowed faculty positions focused on municipal problem-solving will be named for Emma Bloomberg (M.B.A. ’07, M.P.A. ’07), a graduate of both HKS and HBS.

The Gazette recently spoke to Kathy Sheehan, mayor of Albany, N.Y., and Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Ala., and asked them to share how their experience at Harvard as part of the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative — the connections they made and the continued support from the program — prepared them to face the toughest year of their careers.

Q&A

Kathy Sheehan and Randall Woodfin

GAZETTE:  How are things going back home?

SHEEHAN:  It certainly is challenging on many fronts, from the personal — people who’ve lost their jobs or are struggling to keep their businesses open — to health concerns, to the desire to move forward with much-needed changes to address structural racism. This is hard work, and I think it’s made harder by the fact that we can’t be in a room together looking at one another, that we can’t be creating those connections and cues that that happen when you’re in a room together as opposed to on Zoom.

WOODFIN:  We’ve been in crisis mode for a year from March. And we’ve tried to manage as best we can. I had a pretty bad bout of COVID myself and actually ended up hospitalized. But overall, my team is better [for it]. We’ve learned a lot. I’m glad it’s the fourth quarter of COVID.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan

Kathy Sheehan, mayor of Albany, N.Y., had to combat conflicting news and misinformation about COVID-19 among residents. She relied on concepts taught at the Bloomberg Harvard City Leadership Initiative to bring faith leaders and public officials together to determine the best ways to communicate about the seriousness of COVID-19.

Courtesy of the Office Mayor Kathy Sheehan

GAZETTE: You were both in the BHCLI second cohort alongside mayors from cities with populations ranging from 100,000 to 12 million. What was it like to work alongside mayors from across the country and world, with different populations, facing different issues?

WOODFIN:  The best way to learn is through difference. I come from a city that has high poverty, that has a 74 percent Black population. It’s the fourth-Blackest city in America. Twenty-two percent of my city are elderly. My city is an outlier. And so I was definitely able to learn from other mayors whose cities are more diverse in race, more diverse in age, who have more diverse industries, a more diverse tax structure. Definitely various mayors and cities’ tax structures are very different.

SHEEHAN:  I remember one amazing moment with the mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, who was in my class. We were talking about how you build legitimacy around [the vaccine]. She told the story about how they were dealing with an Ebola outbreak, how the doctors were trying to get people to follow these guidelines, to not do what they normally would do in situations when they’re caring for the sick. Eventually, one of the leaders of a nearby town said, “You know, it gets really hot here, and so in the afternoon, in the height of the sun, many people gather under the trees, and they have conversations as they gather to cool off. You need to meet with people under the trees and talk to them about why they need to do this.” And she explained that when they started to have those conversations under the trees, that was when people within the community started to change their behaviors; it was building legitimacy with those elders, those trusted voices in the community. It was those quiet conversations that really helped to change people’s hearts and minds and started to turn the tide on the epidemic. It doesn’t always have to be a big public meeting. It doesn’t have to be us blaring information at people. It’s meeting people where they are, under the trees and building trust — and then having those individuals take that message and spread it through the community. I think about that all the time.

GAZETTE: You referenced some of the ways you needed to be able to respond to the pandemic. Are there elements of the program that suddenly became particularly relevant over the course of the last year?

SHEEHAN:  We’ve been through this unprecedented experience, and there was really no playbook to follow. But the [BHCLI experience] really helped provide a center of gravity and keep us tethered, even if that tethering was just helping us to effectively communicate in a world of a lot of unknowns. I found that incredibly helpful. I was able to say, “OK, with all of the issues that are swirling around us, how do I break it down into digestible pieces of information that will be helpful to my residents and businesses in the city of Albany as they try to navigate these uncharted waters?”

We are somewhat “a tale of two cities.” We have affluent areas, and then we have areas with really significant challenges. For example, [COVID] testing wasn’t getting to certain communities in the city of Albany, and it became really important for us to advocate to make that happen. It also become important to reach out to the community partners who could help us to get that message back to those in power to say, “You’re doing thousands of tests every day in the city of Albany, but guess who’s not getting tested? Our residents.” People were driving here from the surrounding suburbs and taking advantage of this mass testing site, and so the vaccines were not getting to people who are really the most vulnerable to this disease. As mayor I didn’t have the power to set up a testing facility [the health department resides in the county], so I had to figure out the more informal channels to help make that happen. The [BHCLI program] helped me think about where I did have a role and really helped me to figure out how, as a mayor, I can use information to determine where we need to focus more efforts and where we need to more effectively communicate.

WOODFIN:  I will call it the art of storytelling. The program showed me that we have to frame things so people can connect. Oftentimes as leaders, we only want to talk about facts, about numbers. But it doesn’t work like that. You want to connect with the everyday people you serve. Unfortunately, I’m in a position to tell people that my great-grandmother died from the coronavirus at age 87. I tell people, “I know many of you all in the community have lost a loved one, or you’ve had a loved one hospitalized. I know this is real.” And we can talk about how we still have to hunker down, to socially distance. We still need to get tested and to get the vaccine, because it’s the best way to save lives and to get back to our way of life. Bloomberg-Harvard really homed in on showing how to be a better communicator through storytelling, through connecting with the people. I think it would have been easier to stand in front of our citizens and just give stats and numbers. But that’s not it. It’s about connecting with the people.

Mayor Woodfin

Randall Woodfin, mayor of Birmingham, Ala., said he and his team are applying lessons on using data and evidence in governance to address blighted properties.

Credit: Bloomberg Philanthropies

Twenty-twenty was a year like no other. It is one thing to have a global pandemic in isolation. It’s another thing to add on the economic crisis. It is another thing to add on to that civil unrest. There’s no playbook on how to solve one, let alone three at one time. So we were fortunate in two spaces: in my left hand, a continuation of Bloomberg Harvard in engaging us and offering some best practices and tool kits. But nothing was better than that right hand, of being able to text fellow mayors who were going through the same thing. We literally just started bouncing best practices and ideas off each other. Remember, the leadership of the federal government called this a hoax. We didn’t know when help was going to come. It was the mayors who I leaned on from this program. We talked about how to better communicate with citizens about taking this virus seriously, [the need for] face masks, and other ordinances we needed to have in place as mayors because we couldn’t get the help we needed from our governors. We talked about how to come up with our own local funds to support small businesses who only had 10 to 21 days of cash on hand. With the economic crisis, we were left to fend for ourselves. Everybody’s local economy was the same. Remember, the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loans didn’t come right away, federal aid and assistance didn’t come right away. We talked to each about civil unrest and how to engage our police and more accountability and responsibility. We didn’t get that from governors, we didn’t get that from the federal government, we got that from each other. Without this program, let’s say there’s a high probability I would have never had that.

GAZETTE: Mayor Sheehan, can you say more about how the program helped with your work in Albany?

SHEEHAN:  One of the areas where social justice issues and COVID intersected was around vaccinations. For example, there were lots of concerns about the speed with which the vaccine was being developed, and through the [COVID sessions] we came to realize that there was a lot of rigor around the development of the vaccine — and that we really needed to focus on building trust in the vaccine.

As the rollout of the vaccine started to come into sharper focus, it became very clear to me that I didn’t need to reach back to redlining or the segregation of our schools to talk about structural racism. I was watching before my eyes a vaccine distribution program being set up that was — and still is — structurally racist. [To get the vaccine] requires mobility, broadband access, [command of the] English language, and it requires that you be able to interact with a computer. And the state was measuring how fast the vaccine was getting into people’s arms. But they weren’t measuring the demographic makeup of whose arms [the vaccine] was getting into. Because of the many things that we talked about through the course of the program, I leaned into that. I was much more effectively able to partner with people at the state level and at the county level to influence accountability measures and to ask for data. I kept asking, “When am I going to see vaccinations by ZIP code, not by where the vaccine is happening but by the ZIP codes of the people who are receiving the vaccine?”

[I was also much more effectively able] to work with my community partners. I reached out to a partner in health care, an entity called the Alliance for Better Health. They developed a platform for us so we could preregister people for the vaccine. Then I worked to advocate to get the vaccine to the providers who would use this list. This allowed us to be very focused on public housing, low-income senior housing, and on working with community partners who were signing people up — and are continuing to sign people up — at food pantries libraries, and other places, so that we can ensure that we’re getting the vaccine to people who need it.

Mayor Kathy Sheehan

“We’ve been through this unprecedented experience, and there was really no playbook to follow,” said Albany, N.Y., Mayor Kathy Sheehan, who helped distribute food.

Courtesy Office of Mayor Kathy Sheehan

GAZETTE: What do you think you’ll take forward with you — lessons, collaborators, networks, partnerships, or outcomes you think will be meaningful moving forward?

SHEEHAN:  I’m sure most of the mayors would say that the most valuable [aspect of the program] is the relationships that you develop with your fellow mayors. It helped us to get through what was a very challenging time and is still a very challenging time. I didn’t feel like I was on an island, especially during the social unrest. It helped me understand that that was going on everywhere.

I truly know and believe that the other mayors are just a phone call away, literally. When there were concerns about violence around Election Day, there were some special sessions that took place, and then when we saw the violence on Jan. 6 — and the threat to capital cities — I was able to reach out to fellow capital city mayors to say, “What are you doing? What’s happening there? How are you preparing?” Actually, that led to us to having the U.S. Conference of Mayors convene the capital city mayors. It started with reaching out to classmates.

Related

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Bloomberg program has worked with officials to help them govern more effectively, creatively

WOODFIN:  In this position, you can sometimes feel alone, and that can feel burdensome. There’s always something to solve, some fire to put out. You can have a plan all day, but something happens, and you have to veer from that plan. Then, you become part of a Bloomberg-Harvard class, and you participate with mayors across the globe for an entire year. You realize it doesn’t matter if the city’s 100,000 people or 12 million people. It doesn’t matter if your city is majority Black, majority white, or international. We’re all dealing with the same things. And that made me realize three things: I’m not alone, best practices really do exist among us, and there’s always a solution.

Even though all of our local economies are different, all of us had to find a way to not only support the small business owner, [but] to support the hourly worker too, because most of our economies were shut down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. We literally started benchmarking and creating tailor-made solutions for our city, from what somebody else was doing. That was literally through either picking up the phone or through texting.

These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.

An update on allegations about a TED speaker

(Photo: Courtesy of TED)

It has come to TED’s attention that the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office is investigating sexual assault allegations against TED2016 speaker Adam Foss. Foss denies the allegations. [Details at WBUR]

Sexual assault is a criminal matter, and we know that it is hard for survivors to speak out and to be believed. That said, TED is not equipped to review these allegations in any authoritative capacity. Some have suggested that we remove the talk, and we understand and respect that perspective. We nonetheless believe that while the investigation is ongoing, the correct action is to leave the talk online but alert potential viewers that there are disputed allegations against the speaker. You can see that treatment on the talk page here. We will revisit our decision once the judicial process is completed.

TED launches season 3 of “The Way We Work”

Almost overnight, 2020 changed the way we work. Businesses and governments moved online, parents everywhere worked from kitchen tables alongside their kids, and essential frontline workers showed true heroism in the course of their everyday jobs. In TED’s third season of The Way We Work, business leaders and thinkers advise on how to navigate the shifting sands of work these days — whether brought on by the pandemic or not.

This eight-episode series offers practical wisdom on how to bring your best self to work, online or in-person. Each brief episode gets straight to the point, whether you’re feeling burnt out from remote work, trying to support your busy partner, hoping to nail your next interview or find the best candidate, or planning to grow your freelance business and better manage your team during a crisis. This series is made possible with the support of Dropbox.

Feeling burnout from working remotely? Here’s what you can do:

 

Tips to up your freelance game:

 

A cheat sheet on being a leader right now:

 

What interviewers really care about: 

 

The hiring process needs a makeover. Here’s how:

 

It’s possible to have a great career and a great relationship:

 

Inclusive leadership means really listening to junior staff:

 

Need to have a personal conversation at work? Here’s how:

Check out the full The Way We Work playlist on TED.com.

Want to give a TED Talk? Apply to our Global Idea Search

Have a great idea? Apply for the chance to give a TED Talk, either virtually or in person, and join past TED speakers like environmental activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, pictured above at TEDWomen 2019. (Photo: Marla Aufmuth / TED)

Do you have a TED Talk to share with the world? TED is hosting two global idea searches in 2021 with a mission: to hear big, bold ideas from every corner of the globe! We’re looking for people who can offer new, unique insights and fresh ways of thinking to a very large audience.

Applications for the first 2021 Global Idea Search are now open. You’ll be required to create a two-minute video as a part of your submission, and the deadline for this round is January 31, 2021 (11:59pm ET).

Applicants who are selected for round two will be invited to a virtual event where they’ll talk more about their idea and participate in a Q&A with members of the TED community.

Winners will be invited to give a TED Talk, either virtually or in person.

Learn more and submit your application!

Not ready to apply yet? That’s OK — the second global idea search of 2021 will open in June.

In the meantime, check out just a selection of speakers who were discovered during past idea searches:

Adie Delaney: An aerialist on listening to your body’s signals (444k views)

Adeola Fayehun: Africa is a sleeping giant — I’m trying to wake it up (1.5 million views)

Ariel Waldman: The invisible life hidden beneath Antarctica’s ice (1.1m views)

Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle: What Saturn’s most mysterious moon could teach us about the origins of life (1.3m views)

Tamekia MizLadi Smith: How to train employees to have difficult conversations (2m views)

Zak Ebrahim: I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace (6.4m views and a TED Book)

Richard Turere: My invention that made peace with the lions (2.6m views)