Inside the U.N. and C.G.I.

09.24.13

The Clinton Global Initiative Kicks off With Tears, Impressions, and Fighting Words

Bill Clinton opened his annual gathering with an emotional remembrance of a Clinton Foundation employee killed in Kenya, Bono did his best impression of the former president, and corruption fighter Mo Ibrahim blasted the West for neglecting investment in Africa.

President Bill Clinton kicked off his annual meeting on a teary note Tuesday, speaking about a Clinton Foundation employee who was killed at the Nairobi mall massacre on Saturday. Elif Yavuz, a young eight-months-pregnant, Dutch-born Harvard Ph.D., and her partner, architect Ross Langdon, were both stationed in Nairobi. Clinton had met Yavuz just six weeks ago on a visit to the country. “I hope they can be a metaphor for what we're all about," he said emotionally, "and I ask you to remember them and their families and all those people we don't know who were killed in Kenya and the Navy Yard and everywhere else people die senseless deaths.” Her mother, he said, has asked the Clintons to name her daughter's unborn child.

“If the people who killed them are right, we're wasting our time,” Clinton told the audience. “If what we're doing is right, we have to be a rebuke every single day to the people who'd tear it down.”

The mood brightened shortly after, when the panel filtered on and, in a momentary absence of Clinton, U2's Bono took the moderator chair and delivered a few minutes of spot-on impression of our 42nd president.

“I must be real easy to make fun of … anybody can make fun of me,” Clinton said returning to the stage with his notes.

The opening plenary brought a diverse group of leaders together to discuss the theme “Mobilizing for Impact.” Two female power players, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and the International Monetary Fund's Christine Lagarde, were quickly eclipsed by a starstruck 24-year-old Khalida Brohi, founder of Sughar Women Program in Pakistan.

“Twenty days ago I was in the mountains,” she told Clinton. “Today I'm sitting with you, Sheryl Sandberg, and all these amazing leaders around the world. I believe now.”

“You can’t give alms to the poor on one level and have your hands on their throat on another,’ Bono said of corporations like Chevron and Exxon.

Brohi, whose organization aims to mobilize a million women in the next 10 years, managed to sum up the ethos of humanitarian work in a phrase her father would say to encourage the young activist to translate tears into action. “My dear, don't cry, strategize,” he told her.

The panel discussion ranged from an early emphasis on women, to leadership in Africa and efforts to bring connectivity to the 3 billion without Internet access. Sandberg gave a nod to Hillary Clinton, saying few have done as much for women empowerment as she has, stressing the double standard women face in the workplace with a quick poll of how many in the audience have been called “bossy.”

Sandberg mentioned the recent launch of Internet.org, a Facebook-led initiative to bring connectivity to the billions without. And Lagarde encouraged women to get into politics, citing countries like Rwanda, whose Parliament is composed of two thirds women. “In every crisis you see women rising,” she said. “When it's messy you get the women in, but when the mess is sorted out keep the women, they are no threat.”

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Bono of U2, left, imitates Bill Clinton while Christine Lagarde, managing director of International Monetary Fund smiles during a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative. (Ramin Talaie/Getty)

Mo Ibrahim, founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and a corruption fighter, had the harshest words to dole out, calling the U.N. Security Council “a joke,” then putting a hand on Lagarde's shoulder, and saying, “Christine, I love you and you are such a wonderful woman, but please promise us the next president of IMF will not be French man or French woman.”

He also addressed criticism about his home continent, Africa, chiding Google for investing so little there, and rebuked stereotypes about the continent. “For every corrupt leader there is 50 corrupt business people, half of them sitting here,” Ibrahim said.

Ironically, the audience erupted into applause when Bono leveled a critique pointed at many in attendance from large corporations like Exxon and Chevron. “You can't give alms to the poor on one level and have your hands on their throat on another,” he said.

Of course, there was a requisite shout-out to Hillary Clinton, who sat at a front table with Chelsea. “This country is still waiting for its first woman president—are you standing up, madam?” Ibrahim asked pointing toward the former secretary of State, who obliged him with a small smile.