In New York, an Explosion of Partnerships Between Philanthropy and Government

Mayoral funds represent an interesting development in local philanthropy, and not one without controversy. In the recent past, we’ve written about the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles and the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, which are both public-private efforts aimed at mobilizing extra resources—from foundations, corporations, and major individual donors—to address challenges in those cities. 

But in New York City, there’s another entity that’s linked to the mayor connected with philanthropy and is all about strengthening new types of partnerships for the good of the city. It's called the NYC Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships, and it's at the nexus of a rapidly expanding set of initiatives bringing together philanthropic funders and city agencies, touching on multiple areas of life in the city. 

Before saying more about this effort, it's worth noting that partnerships between government and philanthropy have really blossomed at the national level under the Obama administration. The White House Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation has been at the center of this action. The administration's best-known effort to work with philanthropy, My Brother's Keeper, boosts boys and young men of color. But there have been other initiatives, too, including one focused on young women of color, as we've reported. 

So what's happening along these lines in New York?

Well, a few weeks ago, Mayor de Blasio announced the success of Computer Science for All, or CS4All, one of the top initiatives of his Office of Strategic Partnerships. The aim of this effort is to bring computer science education to 1.1 million public school kids. Right now, 95 percent of students in New York—who are mostly low-income kids of color—don’t have access to CS education.

A key to CS4All has been rallying private funders to pitch in, and over the past year, many have stepped up, donating an impressive $20 million. As you would hope, the tech community has gotten behind CS4All, and founding partners including the venture capitalist Fred Wilson, the AOL Charitable Foundation and AT&T. Also, as you'd expect, the Robin Hood Foundation has been involved from the start. Meanwhile, new commitments have come in from the Paulson Family Foundation, Math for America, the Rudin Family Foundation and several other funders.

This strong philanthropic support in New York for computer science education comes amid a flurry of funder-backed initiatives around the U.S. to teach kids to code and bolster tech skills overall. Quite a bit of this work is focused on bringing more diversity to the STEM field by engaging girls and young people of color.

These efforts draw in a diverse array of funders and stakeholders because they advance several goals at once, including promoting equity, meeting future employer needs, and strengthening local economies. 

“The city’s tech industry is growing, yet before Computer Science for All, fewer than 5 percent of our public school students had even the most basic skills necessary to apply for these jobs,” Mayor de Blasio said. “Through this program, we’re laying the groundwork today so that our kids can apply for these jobs tomorrow.” 

CS4ALL has already reached 246 schools and trained more than 450 teachers, and interestingly, the City of New York and the private sector are bearing costs of the program equally. 

But there’s much more to NYC’s Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) than just this one relevant and timely program. It’s a new division that Mayor de Blasio created to mobilize philanthropic support behind a range of efforts to address inequities in the city. It was also designed to oversee the various funds set up to support city programs, namely the Mayor’s FundFund for Public Health, and Fund for Public Schools.

Gabrielle Fialkoff has been the woman in charge of this ambitious effort since March 2014. As senior advisor to the Mayor of New York City and the director of OSP, she oversees the activities of these and other city-affiliated nonprofits. The Fund for Public Housing and the Gracie Mansion Conservancy are also on this list.

As well, the Office of Strategic Partnerships recently launched a brand new initiative called Building Healthy Communities (BHC), so this is another effort to keep an eye on around town. The goal is to improve health outcomes in 12 underserved neighborhoods, and this public-private partnership encompasses things like physical activity, access to healthy food, and public safety in communities notorious for poverty.

The leaders at work on BHC are OSP and the Fund for Public Health, which is doing the grants management and ongoing fundraising. Current funding is coming from the following sources, several of which we cover regularly here at IP: Unilever North America, the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund, New York State Health Foundation, Target, Aetna Foundation, Astoria Energy, Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield HealthPlus, the New York Community Trust, the Durst Organization, Merck Family Fund, Pure Edge, Inc. Success Through Focus, KaBOOM!, New York City FC, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, and Adidas. So far, this effort has at least $12 million to work with.

The neighborhoods of East Harlem, Brownsville, Canarsie, Mott Haven, Hunts Point, Morrisania, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Central Harlem, Corona, Flushing, Mariners Harbor, and Stapleton were chosen to be part of BHC because of their lack of parks and access to safe public spaces and healthy foods.

There’s so much inter-agency collaboration involved in this effort that it can be difficult to wrap your head around it all at times. For example, BHC funds are paying for five urban farms at developments of the New York City Housing Authority, the building of 50 new soccer fields is underway with the US Soccer Foundation, and BHC is working with the Department of Transportation to improve public walking paths and signage. Check out this press release for full details.

Although it’s not what we think of as a traditional philanthropic funder, OSP is definitely an entity to watch and get involved with, given its connectedness and impressive influence. NYN Media’s interview with Fialkoff is worth a read to get a sense of her perspective, and the Office of the Mayor’s news page is a good way to keep up with what these partnerships are doing.