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Remarks by Dr. Rajiv Shah from the 100 Resilient Cities 2017 Urban Resilience Summit

As delivered at Jazz at Lincoln Center, New York City on Monday, July 24, 2017.

Thank you, Michael [Berkowitz], and welcome everybody – good morning!

On behalf of Rockefeller and 100 Resilient Cities and the Lincoln Center and the 2017 Urban Resilience Summit, we just want to welcome you to New York.

It’s a very exciting time to be here with all of you. And it’s a little overwhelming that a group that has gathered; there are mayors, city managers, Chief Resilience Officers, platform partners, 100 Resilient Cities staff – can you, if you’re 100 Resilient Cities staff, can you put your hands up and we’ll give you a round of applause? – and just over a little bit of coffee in the lobby there I got a chance to reconnect with Henk Ovink, the Special Envoy for International Water Affairs from the Netherlands; I know we have representatives from Cape Town, and Mexico City, and all over the world. So it is very exciting that you’re all here, and it’s exciting to think about what you’re going to get to do together this week.

Now, I started at the Rockefeller Foundation just a few months ago. And I’ve really been undertaking an effort to understand the incredible legacy of this institution; it’s 104 years old this year, and I wanted to learn about what have we learned in that century-plus of being around. And, through this, I have come to realize how 100 Resilient Cities embodies many of the vital concepts that our foundation has stood for throughout that long history, and that we’ll be working hard to carry forward into our future.

The first is how we’ve brought people together from different walks of life to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems at different points in history.

I see that here in this room this morning, just as I saw it this spring at the 100 Resilient Cities CityXChange Summit – who was at the summit? A good showing? Oh good – a small group was at the summit; hopefully next time more folks get to participate. That one was at Bellagio, at our Bellagio Center in Italy. But there we had mayors and tech companies, venture capitalists and others, really coming together, going into breakout groups, identifying specific challenges and problems that cities were facing, and learning and designing solutions together in real time. And it was fantastic to see and be a part of.

One thing I’ve observed and admired over this period of learning is how so many of my predecessors, starting with John D. Rockefeller, understood that bringing people together from these different sectors of the economy and of society – whether scientists or politicians, private-sector business leaders or community activists – it’s bringing people together across those boundaries that helps us solve some of the world’s biggest challenges and seize some of the opportunities that has helped us create results for literally hundreds of millions of people over time. When we’ve done this successfully, we’ve really helped ignite new possibilities: activities like sparking the field of artificial intelligence, or setting the stage for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, [and] Malaria. And that same spirit does feel like it is in this room today, and evident in the partnerships you all have engaged in over the past four years.

The second concept I’ve learned is how my predecessors have had an extraordinarily high hit rate, over more than a century, of looking into the future and deciding what’s going to be a big challenge and set of solutions that represent real efforts to move humanity forward – and how they’ve done that successfully time and again. In generations past, this has given the world groundbreaking new innovations to fight disease and solve hunger: the yellow fever vaccine; the fields of molecular biology and modern public health; the efforts to invest in and propagate the Green Revolution; the giant cyclotrons and telescopes that advanced the frontiers of human knowledge, from sub-atomic to astronomical scale.

This gathering feels like it is about the intersection of two ideas that are similarly big and bold.

The first is resilience – and a credit to my immediate predecessor, Dr. Judith Rodin, who will be with us this afternoon, and the time and effort put in by her and so many others in this room and at the Rockefeller Foundation and 100 Resilient Cities. Over the last decade the Rockefeller Foundation has invested more than half a billion dollars in resilience – among other things, helping the cities of New Orleans and New York rebuild in a more resilient manner after Katrina and Sandy, working with a network of cities in Asia to build resilience against climate change, and helping train resilience practitioners through the Global Resilience Academies.

And the second big idea is the central importance of cities in defining the well-being of humanity in the coming decades. Today half of almost 8 billion people on Earth live in cities, and by 2050, that will increase to 75 percent of a global population of [nearly] 10 billion people. The growth in urban environments of more than 3 billion people represented by these statistics will largely take place in lower-income and middle-income and fast-growing countries, particularly in Africa and Asia. And so it’s true that the way we design food systems, community health systems, economies that create opportunities across the socioeconomic spectrum, and public infrastructure that allows for mobility and opportunity in these communities, will very much define how the world performs in the fight against poverty, hunger, disease, inequality, and against climate change.

And this brings me to the final concept that I have learned in this period of time, which is that we’re determined in this next era of the Rockefeller Foundation to again deliver and seriously focus on real human results at scale – to improve people’s lives, particularly those who are vulnerable, in measureable and meaningful ways.

I strongly believe we at the Rockefeller Foundation exist for that purpose; that’s what our foundation’s mission of improving the state of humanity around the world is all about. In fact, John D. Rockefeller was very precise in not only defining that as our mission, but also being clear that no successor would be allowed to change it – that it should always be our North Star.

When we’ve convened the right partners and made the right big, bold bets, it’s allowed us to eradicate hookworm [in the American South], and fight hunger and starvation at scale. Those are real and significant human results. And today I’m confident that the concept of resilient cities, and the work that you all will do this coming week, are poised to live up to that promise.

That’ll be the focus of our continued partnership with 100 Resilient Cities, and our strong and continued commitment to this initiative for many, many years to come.

That’s why – of course Michael would cheer; you know what he’s thinking.

But that is why my ask of each of you – and everyone in this room, and everyone who’s helped put this summit together, particularly in the back there – is that, for this 100 Resilient Cities movement to go forward boldly with an absolute focus on delivering real, large-scale results for the more than 500 million men, women, and children who live in the cities you represent today.

More than 80 cities now have their CROs on board, and more than 30 have released resilience strategies. And that’s awesome progress. I know these strategies require tireless work, a lot of collaboration, a lot of listening, and a lot of high-quality analysis and planning. And I also know that they are the basis for then implementing real projects that touch the lives of large-scale communities.

I know Michael’s going to speak later this morning about the next era of work for this project and this initiative, and I very much hope – and I know he’ll discuss this – that it’s about turning those strategies into concrete action and real results. So far cities have leveraged more than $535 million from public, private, and philanthropic sources to implement the initiatives already defined in the resilience strategies. And we at the RF and 100 Resilient Cities are eager to support this new phase of implementation and action.

We live in a moment when – certainly in the United States, but I think around the world – when anxiety about economic opportunity has led to real populist retrenchment in many countries’ politics; when automation and globalization are further separating the haves and have nots; and when global trends – from fighting poverty, famine, disease, and bringing people together to address climate change – are under tremendous pressure. People in cities and communities around the world want leaders who can deliver real results, and now is your chance to be those leaders. Our goal is to have your back as you go forward to do that.

Throughout this week, you’re going to have the opportunity to do the living laboratories and be spread out across New York City – looking at practical, implementable solutions, and sharing your ideas on issues ranging from food systems design to waste management to water systems and protection against climate threats. These laboratories, which I was very excited to read about and hope to participate in, are only part of the vast potential for results I see coming out of this summit this week.

I see it in the city leaders who came here committed to find answers to the very real problems they have to tackle every day back home – whether it’s Athens focusing on improving waste management and handling refugee inflows, or Oakland focusing on maintaining affordable housing so their city’s diverse residents aren’t priced out of a rapidly accelerating market. Your passion for delivering these results for your constituents is inspiring.

And I see that same potential in the 105 platform partners across the 100RC network. Many of you are here today representing those partners. We’re excited that you’ve already pledged hundreds of millions of dollars to these efforts in these cities. And we certainly hope, coming out of this week, you’re willing to do and pledge even more.

And I see the potential in building on what has already been accomplished because of 100 Resilient Cities – from Atlanta’s effort to turn their huge and busy passenger airport into a hub that can bring green power to the American South, to Medellin’s retrofitting the homes of its poorest citizens to withstand earthquakes and landslides, giving people who live in those homes the dignity and security they need, even when disaster strikes.

Those are the types of real results we hope you will talk about and accelerate this week. Those are the types of real results we’re eager to invest in going forward. And those are the types of real results that I believe can stand as a shining example that when you do bring people together across different sectors, different communities, different continents, we can still be progressive and excited about solving tough problems, even when our politics look a little bit hairy.

So thank you for being here. Thanks for your participation. And I look forward to just learning from and meeting as many of you as I can over the course of this week.

Thanks very much.