Did You Know Child Drowning Was a "Global Killer?" We Didn't Either, But Bloomberg Did

One day it's a new $53 million initiative on oceans, yesterday it was a $10 million project to save toddlers from drowning in South Asia. There's definitely no shortage of action over there at Bloomberg Philanthropies. Which is just what I predicted in my December article on the "coming Bloomberg juggernaut," where I wrote: "Get ready for one of the biggest giving sprees in U.S. history, starting the moment Michael Bloomberg turns over City Hall to Bill de Blasio." And further predicted:

Bloomberg will roughly triple his annual giving in 2014, to nearly $1 billion a year, and then keep escalating from there until he gets to $1.5 billion, where he will hold. That will make him the second biggest philanthropist in the world, after Bill Gates. 

I wrote these words before getting the final total of Bloomberg's 2013 spending, which was $452 million. Which means he only needs to double his spending this year to hit the $1 billion mark. That sounds like a lot of money to get out the door, and maybe it won't happen. But he's off to a pretty good start. 

Now, about the new "Drowning Prevention Project." Sure, it seems like an odd one-off thing. Why Bangladesh and why drowning toddlers? It kind of sounds like Mike sat next to somebody at dinner the other night who sold him on this rather obscure niche and he pulled out his checkbook the next morning. 

In fact, though, this new initiative is quite in line with BP's other public health work. Bloomberg has long taken a very different approach to global health than most other funders, who think nonstop about dread diseases, vaccinations, and the like. Instead, Bloomberg has zeroed in on rather mundane but pervasive forms of preventable death, investing huge amounts of money in reducing traffic fatalities and smoking-related deaths. It's not sexy stuff compared to eradicating malaria or polio, or tackling something horrific like guinea worm, but if you can bend the curve on either smoking or traffic deaths, the numbers really add up. We're talking millions of lives potentially. 

Drowning deaths in Bangladesh, a problem which claims 12,000 lives a year, seems like a small-bore issue. But maybe not if much bigger plans lie ahead, which appears to be the case. 

Remember, BP rarely just writes a big feel-good check and moves on. There's always a plan, a methodology, and a quest for bigger solutions. And that's the case here. As the press release on the Drowning Prevention Project states:

Bloomberg Philanthropies is partnering with the World Health Organization and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health to identify scalable solutions to help prevent drowning deaths, and to build strong networks between public health officials and advocates who may participate in future efforts. Bloomberg Philanthropies is also supporting the World Health Organization to publish an evidence-based global report on drowning prevention later this year and to provide expert guidance on effective strategies to battle this global killer.

Sounds like they may be in for the long haul on this one, and will eventually go wide, assuming -- in trademark fashion—they can find solutions that produce measurable results and can scale.

Very cool, especially to those of us who have small kids and can think of nothing worse than losing them— something that happens 32 times a day in Bangladesh because of drowning, and who knows how many times worldwide. 

But it does make you wonder what the folks at BP will cook up next to move Mike's money out the door. Maybe the Global Project to Reduce Bathtub Accidents?