Member Spotlight, February 2021

Member’s Name: Michael Berkowitz
Member’s Position: Founding Principal
Organization: Resilient Cities Catalyst
Organization Type: Non-profit organization
Michael Berkowitz is a founding principal of Resilient Cities Catalyst a new global non-profit helping cities and their partners tackle their toughest challenges.
Tell us about your organization and its goals.

Resilient Cities Catalyst (RCC) is a nonprofit founded in January 2020 whose work is anchored by knowledge gained in the development of the urban resilience movement at 100 Resilient Cities. We bring together a diverse set of skills across government, civil society and the private sector.

RCC helps cities realize the change required to address their toughest challenges (including climate) by working in three important ways:

  1. Partnering across and through Urban Ecosystem

Catalytic change in cities requires collective vision and alignment of effort among the wide range of actors required to address urban challenges systemically and to maintain long-term momentum for change. RCC’s work with cities begins with the facilitation of these partnerships, creating common work platforms for government (at all levels), NGOs and community organizations, the business community, anchor service institutions, the philanthropic community, and universities.

  1. Overcoming the innate obstacles within cities that prevent impactful action

RCC works with cities in two main ways to help them overcome obstacles that so often result in ambitions and critical investments falling by the wayside. First, we help cities create institutional capacity to work across organizational silos and to manage change across political cycles. Second, we advise city governments on how to better use their own resources, such as their budgets, procurement powers, and physical assets, to support their change objectives.

  1. Directly addressing the risks and chronic stresses that can impede achievement of each city’s priorities and promise

Cities and urban communities too often avoid their long-term risk exposures and underlying stresses. Doing so often results in fundamental disruption to their work for change. Committing to address chronic stresses and potentially catastrophic exposures can be politically risky, because they are so complex. For most actors in the urban ecosystem, issues like seismic risk or chronic exclusion are beyond the scope of their responsibilities. RCC helps cities learn how to integrate risk reduction, mitigation, and transfer into everyday operations. We work with each city’s managers, urbanists and technicians to design de-risking measures and build greater co-benefits into near-term investments.

 

What activities/initiatives related to cities climate finance are you currently engaged in or planning?

Resilience capacities are built upon three pillars: integrated planning and action, inclusive governance, and a forward-looking risk-based approach. We are currently exploring these approaches in our variety of projects across the US and the world in three main program areas :

  1. Project Preparation:

Building on our experience with Rebuild by Design and the National Disaster Resilience Competition, Resilient Cities Catalyst is planning a project preparation facility to improve project design for impact and successful implementation. The facility will provide support across a range of project phases, from early concept through pre-feasibility and then facilitate links with other facilities and finance entities for feasibility study completion support and investment. By overseeing the entire process, we aim to mitigate the risk of the resilience project concept not aligning with downstream preparation and finance.

We are currently raising funds for an initial cohort of 10 projects. These projects will receive project concept development support to enhance their resilience value. Reflecting funds availability, we will then invite at least five of these projects for further enabling environment advice, technical design, structuring, and pre-feasibility study support. The proponents of the five projects would then be invited to a convening to match their projects with funders and other implementers. All ten projects would be front runners for the newly announced Global Urban Resilience Fund and other financing and preparation instruments.

  1. San Diego Future Fund:

The San Diego Future Fund is an effort led by the San Diego Foundation, and conceived in consultation with RCC, to focus a variety of funding streams from numerous philanthropic, public, and private partners to address some of the critical challenges that hinder financing of innovative coastal resilience projects across the greater San Diego region. The specific design of the fund is still in development, but the fund will ultimately build a new regional capacity to leverage multiple funding sources, both existing and new, across jurisdictions and partners to pilot and scale higher impact projects more quickly. It will also enhance the capacity of local institutions to rapidly test solutions and scale resilience projects as appropriate.

 

How can other Alliance members learn about your work and collaborate with you?

At Resilience Cities Catalyst, our approach towards building resilience entails fostering and building strong partnerships across silos in the public and private sectors. We are excited to be a part of the Climate Cities Finance Leadership Alliance. We regularly showcase our work on various news portals, TED talks and our website. Our partner organizations can also follow us on our social media accounts on Twitter and LinkedIn, where we regularly post updates and events.

We are always looking to collaborate with organizations with similar goals toward our cities, environment and climate change. We can be reached through our Work with RCC page or directly at contact@rcc.city.

 

How do you stay informed about city-level climate finance and related topics?

We are deeply invested in continuing our engagement with our Chief Resilience Officers (CROs) and city network built at the 100 Resilient Cities network. This 100RC community of practitioners achieved ground-breaking impact which we hope to build upon and amplify through our work at RCC. Since the founding of our organization we have built multi-sectoral relationships with various departments in the city, state and federal governments, the private sector, philanthropies and educational institutes; the city of Tampa, San Diego, Hilton Foundation, The Centre for Resilient Cities and Landscapes at the Columbia University, to name a few.

To keep our work constantly informed and up to date to the contemporary times, we engage with our partners through projects, conferences, workshops and online events. While working on our projects we also do our best to learn from extensive research on secondary literature, reports and articles published by reputed and partner organizations such as the World Bank, C40 and ICLEI.

 

What does your organization hope to gain from being a part of the Alliance?

We know there exists a significant gap between cities’ climate needs and financing and funding of projects to address those needs.  And we know that only through collective action of policy makers, funders, and technical experts we will be able to bring innovative projects to completion. We hope that through CCFLA we can leverage our expertise, knowledge and opportunities with others to help cities continue to make progress addressing climate change, urban resilience, systemic inequities and governance.

 

What does RCC expect to bring to the Alliance?

We have spent nearly a decade working to build an urban resilience movement. That work has put us at the nexus of a community of technical experts, funders and financiers and city mayors and bureaucrats. We hope we can leverage that experience to help the Alliance and its members with their important work. We specialize in three specific areas which will benefit the larger network:

  1. We are urban practitioners with deep experience in municipal government service design and delivery; public and private funding and financing; and philanthropic partnership development. Our professional experiences cover a breadth of technical domains from economic development to affordable housing to climate change adaptation to urban mobility and beyond. We know the way cities budget, the way cities plan and procure, and how cities operate.
  2. We are resilience experts who are pioneers in the urban resilience movement. We have collectively partnered with more than 100 cities around the world to catalyze and support their resilience-building journeys to deliver impact for their communities. We have delivered 20,000+ hours of resilience capacity-building to cities using bespoke tools and curricula.
  3. We are strategic conveners who understand the importance of bringing    together uncommon partners and practitioners.  We have built action-oriented communities of practice and networks of diverse actors centered on complex resilience challenges like urban migration, natural infrastructure, seismic resilience, and more.

Michael Berkowitz is a founding principal of Resilient Cities Catalyst a new global non-profit helping cities and their partners tackle their toughest challenges. Previously he joined the Rockefeller Foundation in August 2013 to shape and oversee the creation of 100 Resilient Cities. He served as the 100RC President from 2013 to 2019. From 2005 to 2013 he worked at Deutsche Bank, lastly as the global head of Operational Risk Management (ORM). In that capacity he oversaw the firm’s OR capital planning efforts, served as a primary regulatory contact and connected the myriad operational risk management efforts group-wide.

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