May 27, 2024

As its Racial Equity Program Expands, Bloomberg Takes a Data-Driven Approach to the Wealth Gap – Inside Philanthropy

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Think “Bloomberg Philanthropies” and thoughts naturally turn to public health or climate giving — areas where it’s staked a leadership position. But Bloomberg also has a growing racial equity portfolio called the Greenwood Initiative that recently launched a unique project called the Black Wealth Data Center (BWDC). Among other goals, the center will host a new Racial Wealth Equity Database designed to provide the kinds of data decision-makers need to lift economic opportunities for Black families and communities.
In many ways, this is a logical move from a donor who has built both his wealth and funding strategies around the power of facts and statistics. Bloomberg has used heavily data-driven approaches to tackle everything from climate change to tobacco-related deaths. That focus is one of the things that makes him such a formidable donor, but as IP’s David Callahan has pointed out in the past, it can also be one of his limitations, leading him to underestimate the political and social dimensions of these challenges. That makes the Greenwood Initiative one of Bloomberg’s more intriguing in recent memory as it applies this number-crunching approach to racial inequality.
IP recently connected with Garnesha Ezediaro, who leads BP’s Greenwood Initiative, to get a better sense of this growing effort to accelerate Black generational wealth-building and address systemic underinvestment in Black communities. Here are four things to know about the growing portfolio:
The genesis
Ezediaro said that the initiative’s origin traces back to Mike Bloomberg’s 2020 presidential campaign, when he made racial wealth disparity part of his policy agenda. “He asked what could be possible if Black neighborhoods had the right investment, like Tulsa had so many days ago,” she said. When the election was over, Bloomberg “decided not to just leave the idea on the table as a campaign initiative,” opting instead to “bring it back to the foundation.”
The Greenwood Initiative falls under the heading of “Founder’s Projects,” along with investments in areas like women’s economic development, the 9/11 memorial and performing arts center, and gun safety.
Ezediaro said that its wealth-building investments are directed nationally, while investments in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, once known as “Black Wall Street,” occur locally.
The new data center is the fourth major investment made through the portfolio.
The first three moves
Bloomberg’s first move came in September 2020, during the height of COVID, when a scarcity of practicing Black doctors was named as a contributing factor behind devastating outcomes for Black communities. Black Americans were three times more likely to contract the disease than white Americans, and were suffering the highest death rates.
The initial $100 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies developed partnerships with the country’s four historically Black medical schools: Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C., Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, and Charles R. Drew School of Medicine and Science in Los Angeles. Support was aimed at increasing the number of Black doctors by reducing the debt burden of approximately 800 Black students.
A second commitment, of $6 million, was made to the same four schools in April of 2021, this time to ensure the equitable delivery of vaccines to Black communities and address vaccine hesitancy.
The third gift, a month later, created a $150 million Vivien Thomas Scholars Initiative at Bloomberg’s alma mater, Johns Hopkins University. This continued a staggering, and often criticized, run of giving from a single donor to a single university; in all, Bloomberg has given more than $3 billion to the elite school.
Funding backs the representation of diverse doctoral candidates in STEM fields, creating new pathways to Ph.D.s for a cohort of students from historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), and minority serving institutions (MSIs) like Prairie View A&M and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Named for a renowned researcher whose contributions were long silenced due to his race, the donation provided permanent funding for close to 100 new opportunities in more than 30 STEM disciplines from engineering to neuroscience.
Betting big on data
The fourth big Greenwood Initiative commitment is all about data. Funding launched a Black Wealth Data Center (BWDC) that will host a new Racial Wealth Equity Database. Ezediaro said that it comes at a particularly pivotal time: “What’s important is that we had this moment several years back, an influx of people who wanted to invest in Black communities across the country.” Bloomberg Philanthropies noted that people were pausing to consider “where and how to invest,” and responded by building trusted tools to help them respond over time.
BWDC is incubated by Prosperity Now, a leading D.C.-based nonprofit that focuses on advancing racial and ethnic economic justice. It is expected to arm a full range of decision-makers, including practitioners, elected officials, philanthropists and journalists, with the data they need to identify and analyze the factors that lead to economic opportunity, wellbeing and progress by race.
Ezediaro said that the data center “is an investment in all of the organizations and leaders working every day to achieve equity, and need data to find assets and opportunities, and legitimize what they do.” It’s also expected to help like-minded leaders and groups build networks to create sustainable economic progress.
Looking ahead
Moving forward, Ezediaro said, “our intention is to invest in three categories that boost Black communities: programs that increase assets or reduce debt, programs that help local leaders accelerate a local equity agenda, and those that help Black families transfer wealth from one generation to the next.”
Now standing at two years and more than $250 million pledged, BP expects to be nimble in its work, based on what the data shows. “We will continue to develop partnerships and to develop and scale what’s working.” Tactics may “look completely different as we go along, based on metrics: How many are using this? Where do we see opportunities to create more insights, or to work with transformational organizations?”
“The hope,” she said, is to “have a foundational role on racial wealth equity.”

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