The Rockefeller Foundation marked the centennial of its founding with the announcement this morning of a $100 million global disaster-preparation fund aimed primarily at helping cities handle climate-related or man-made disasters.
The New York nonprofit said the centerpiece of the effort would be the 100 Resilient Cities Centennial Challenge, a grant-based plan to provide money, expertise and technical assistance to selected cities world-wide.
“With the amount of climate change that has already occurred and is already affecting people, we need to be building resilience so that we can rebound more quickly and more effectively,” said Rockefeller Foundation President Judith Rodin by phone. “The prediction is that by 2015, 75 percent of the world’s population will be living in cities. So urbanization and cities is a massive issue.”
The foundation will begin taking grant applications in August from city governments. Applicants must submit a detailed plan for better handling disasters that also serves the needs of the poor or vulnerable.
Cities will be chosen by an organization the foundation will hire to administer the program. A panel of urban-planning experts will advise on the selection of candidates. Three rounds of winners will be announced in the two years ending December 2015.
“Applicants will have to show how they’re going to incorporate a wide range of constituents in both the planning and implementation, from academia to civil society to business,” Rodin said. “Our experience shows us that all sectors of the city need to be engaged.”
The winners will get funding to establish a “chief resilience officer” who would develop and oversee a master recovery plan. The cities selected can decide which sectors of the community need the most assistance.
“This will cover not only climate change and environmental resilience, but also economic and financial resilience,” Rodin said. “We certainly saw in Hurricane Sandy the financial system grinding to a halt for two days. We’re now seeing that the financial and economic sectors need to make resilience plans.”
The program will also fund technical support and resources for the disaster-preparation plan and help cities find additional private- and public-sector support.
In the 100 years since it was chartered in New York on May 14, 1913, the Rockefeller Foundation has funded Nobel Prize-winning researchers, helped stave off pandemics and assisted communities ravaged by natural disasters. It created the Green Revolution in the 1940s that fed millions.
Until World War II, the foundation gave more foreign aid than the U.S. government. Today, it awards about $130 million a year to grantees and ranks 16th in assets among foundations, with about $3.5 billion. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, with more than $33 billion, is the world’s largest charity.
For its second century, Rodin leads an organization that sees climate change as a core issue affecting food production in the developing world. It has given millions to African and Asian communities to help them survive floods, drought and poor harvests.
“In the 21st century, we think that globalization and urbanization and climate change are the significant problems facing people and systems,” Rodin said. “We have two simple goals, to build greater resilience and economic opportunity. We are America’s first global foundation and we continue to take that global perspective.”
Rodin said the foundation’s experience with communities such as New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina will be an asset to those cities selected for the Centennial Challenge. Rockefeller helped bring together New Orleans community leaders, experts and politicians, which led to a recovery plan, she said.
“Rockefeller was among the organizations that founded the field of urban planning about 50 years ago,” Rodin said. “We’ve been hard at work on the research and practice of urban planning and actually working with cities to introduce the thought-leading ideas.”
New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu said in a statement that his city will apply to the Centennial Challenge because the program will better equip it “to manage the challenges coming our way.”
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