CGI's Global Brainstorm

A double-dip recession and a looming environmental crisis are two of the critical issues the Clinton Global Initiative faces head-on beginning on Tuesday.

09.18.11 2:00 PM ET

For seven years, the Clinton Global Initiative has gathered the world's most innovative minds to brainstorm solutions to the world's most intractable problems. This year, with the world economy on the brink of another crisis and the Arab Spring creating thorny new global-security issues, these great thinkers have their work cut out for them.

The 2011 summit kicks off in New York City on September 20, bringing together more than 1,000 current and former heads of state, Fortune 500 CEOs, national and local government officials, and leaders from the nonprofit sector. Attendees will include political figures such as President Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Tony Blair, as well as business, entertainment, and philanthropic leaders like Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, and actress Geena Davis.

The economy will be front and center, building on work done during the June meeting in Chicago, the first Clinton Global Initiative focusing on creating jobs in the United States. Attendees will discuss effective workforce-training programs, innovative government programs for encouraging job growth, and private-sector strategies for sustainably increasing profits and productivity. They'll also talk about some of the changes being wrought by new technology and rapid development. Rapid migration to urban centers has opened up new opportunities for workers, but it has also concentrated poverty and marginalized workers who lack the skills to compete in the new economy. Attendees will search for solutions to these and other problems affecting the world's workers.

Also squarely in focus will be the environment. The conference smartly ties dangers to the ecosystem, human-rights abuses, and cycles of poverty to current, unsustainable methods of production. Many individuals and organizations have been working on ways to change the system to a more sustainable model, and those in attendance will seek ways to continue and build on these efforts. Government officials, corporate leaders, and heads of NGOs will discuss ways to respond to impending resource constraints while ensuring economic growth.

The third focus of the meeting is women's engagement and empowerment. Past CGI programs have explored strategies for getting girls into school, involving them in formal economies, and helping them exert power over their life decisions. This year's meeting will continue to focus on girls and women, with members looking at what has worked in the past and where more resources could have the greatest impact. The meeting will also promote ideas and innovations from girls and women in the developing world.

Needless to say, the conference will be packed with some of the most innovative minds from around the world. Everyone from former secretary of state Madeleine Albright to renowned author Dave Eggers will share personal stories, research, and approaches relating to some of the problems facing the world today. Designer Donna Karan will be there representing the Urban Zen Foundation, as will Good Morning America's Robin Roberts, and Ben Stiller, whose organization supports children's education. The convergence of diverse brilliance has been a hallmark of CGI since its beginning. And, of course, as in past years, some of the entertainment industry's brightest stars will be in attendance.

There will also be small group discussions, many of which bridge several of the main topics at the meeting, including one on women in technology jobs called “Bridging the Gender Digital Divide,” a discussion on microfinance, and a discussion on addressing the global shortage of health workers. Another panel will find ways to make sustainability a core part of companies' business models, taking the food industry as an example. Among the panelists are Bob Diamond, CEO of Barclays; Indra Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo; and Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever. President Obama will give remarks on the topic.

Special sessions will touch on issues in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as the role of architecture, sports, and the arts in reducing violence and creating positive change. There will be a special session on disaster preparedness and how NGOs, governments, companies, and citizens can minimize the impact of natural disasters, with panelists ranging from United Nations official Valerie Amos to artist K'Naan. Another special session will deal with advanced technological innovation and its power to revolutionize business and improve life, from portable health-care clinics in India to smartphones that track crop prices in sub-Saharan Africa.