Don’t let the heady brew of all the bold-faced names, locally sourced snacks, gallons of Starbucks, and hundreds of volunteers obscure the important things that came out of the Clinton Global Initiative’s meeting, says Matthew DeLuca.
Having drunk the Clinton Global Initiative to the dregs, a hopey-changey hangover ensues.
Bill Clinton arrives on stage at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City on Sept. 23, 2012. (Allison Joyce / Getty Images)
Cool, exclusive, nerdy, and chock-a-block with enough celebrities to set off a near-Pavlovian reaction in the inveterate namedropper, CGI ultimately is supposed to be about helping people, particularly underrepresented groups in the developing world. But it’s really about ferreting out injustices wherever they may lie and dousing them with a nonpartisan douche of media, money, star power, slideshows, and hard work from truly committed people on the ground. It’s a heady brew.
A registered 501(c)(3), CGI was founded by the 42nd president in 2005, four years after he left the White House. The group’s eighth annual meeting, held in New York, wrapped up on Tuesday after three days that showed the undiminished luster of the Clinton call list, gathering some of the boldest of bold-faced names together for a sort of world leader day camp.
Organizations are invited to become members of the initiative, and pay a membership fee of $20,000 a year, which gets them access to the annual meeting, a “dedicated account representative,” and entrée to smaller events held year ’round, among other perks. Nineteen thousand dollars of the membership fee is tax deductible.
Most people, tax deduction or no tax deduction, are never going to get inside the annual meeting to see the progress reports and other updates President Clinton delivers from the rostrum during lunchtime plenary sessions, during which attendees pick at foods that look so locally sourced there must be a farm on the roof of the conference center somewhere.
The meeting closed boasting “150 new commitments made valued at more than $2 billion, expected to impact nearly 22 million people.” Even for Bill Clinton, this seems like a lot for three days’ work. The United Nations was meeting a couple miles downtown, and nobody expects much to come of that.
But isn’t the Clinton Global Initiative basically a cooler version of the United Nations? A place where one may bump into designer Oscar de la Renta as well as Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi? Doesn’t that have to mean something? Mustn’t some of the sprezzatura of the man who draped Jackie O. in couture rub off on the one-time Muslim Brotherhood leader? In a world where Donna Karan arguably has as much influence on how people live as Aung San Suu Kyi, should cynicism intrude on this marriage of minds?
Bill Clinton’s annual confab confronts daunting global problems, but the former president’s daughter and other panelists argued that there are reasons to be hopeful—from women gaining more equality and power, to advances in technology.
“I think it’s impossible to be cynical at CGI,” Chelsea Clinton began, at her panel discussion Tuesday. “And given there’s such a thing as the optimism gene, it’s impossible for me to be cynical if you heard my parents last night.”
Chelsea Clinton watches an address by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, Sept. 25, 2012. (Mandel Ngan / Getty Images)
And if the big-smiled girl whose mother is at the helm of U.S. foreign policy and whose father leads the global development community says there’s reason for optimism, it must be true. At the Clinton Global Initiative, where the magnitude of the world’s problems is often outlined in excruciatingly painful details, optimism can be hard to find—though inspiration is plentiful. Panel members, however, argued that remaining optimistic while working on global issues is getting easier—and that they had plenty of reasons to keep their heads up.
The star of “The Case for Optimism in the 21st Century” session at the final day of CGI was not the daughter of Bill and Hillary, but a 15-year-old high-school boy at the forefront of cancer research who has been hailed as “our next Edison.” Jack Andraka was only in eighth grade when he started researching early detection of pancreatic cancer, and within seven months had come up with an idea that cost 3 cents, took five minutes and could instantly diagnose the disease.
When a panel including the president of the Ford Foundation and a woman who was a frontrunner for the job of head of the World Bank can’t stop praising another guest, there must be reason to be impressed. Within a few minutes Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, suggested “we should all just leave the stage and listen to Jack,” and Luis A. Ubiñas, president of the Ford Foundation, said he felt intimidated sharing the stage with the young prodigy.
Both Okonjo-Iweala and Ubiñas had encouraging things to say about progress and the future. The world, Ubiñas said, is opening. South America is no longer the dictator-controlled region it was 40 years ago. Women are gaining equality and power. Technological advances are bringing populations from all corners of the globe together. These innovations and the ability to harness collaboration around large ideas, gives power to the individual. In the last few years, incredible technological advances and developmental innovation have progressed so quickly that many of the large-scale global problems, like land control and rural health care, are coming closer to sight. Ubiñas discussed projects he observed that use mobile phones to transfer payments and claim land rights.
Okonjo-Iweala, the progressive Nigerian minister who contended for the top job at the World Bank, encouraged CGI members not to give up on Africa, and outlined the turnaround happening in Nigeria and neighbor states. “If it can happen on that continent, it can happen anywhere in the world,” she said. (Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, echoed those sentiments later in the day, saying that genuine change is coming to Africa as six out of 10 fastest-growing economies are in sub-Saharan Africa.)
The optimism was contagious as the panel discussion continued. The audience regularly broke into applause and panelists clapped for each other. “I just want to ask if anyone else is as inspired at this panel as I am,” Billy Parish, the president of a clean-energy investment marketplace called Mosaic, interjected. “I'm feeling very overwhelmed.”
Speaking to a crowd of high-powered politicians, Hollywood celebrities, and CEOs at the Clinton Global Initiative in the wake of violent protests across the Middle East, the country’s new president asked for understanding—and money.
It certainly wasn’t an apology.
Morsi speaks at CGI Sept. 25. (Mario Tama / Getty Images)
In Mohamed Morsi’s first U.S. appearance since his June election as Egypt’s president, he took the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative to defend his nation’s transition toward democracy and to demand international help.
“We need assistance—investment, technology, international cooperation,” Morsi told former president Bill Clinton and a near-capacity crowd at the closing session of the summit. “The situation in Egypt is stable. We are ready for tourism and investment.”
A former head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Morsi is Egypt’s first democratically elected president. Since taking office, the 61-year-old has consolidated power by firing many of the nation’s most powerful military leaders and claiming broad executive powers. In recent weeks, Morsi faced Western criticism for failing to deal forcefully with violent anti-American protests, including the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
Just days before arriving in New York for the Clinton Global Initiative and to speak at the U.N. General Assembly, Morsi told The New York Times that the onus is on Washington to repair relations with the Arab world and to revitalize the alliance with Egypt.
The interview stunned some observers, among them David Frum, who noted that it seemed audacious for Morsi to announce “preconditions for accepting the $2 billion in annual American aid he needs to save his country from plunging even deeper into crisis.”
At the Clinton summit on Tuesday afternoon, Morsi, who will address the General Assembly on Wednesday morning, said Egypt and the Middle East are at “a critical juncture.” Speaking in English, he called Egyptians the “ultimate guarantors” of his country’s transition, but declared that “we will also turn to our friends and partners beyond our borders.”
An ambitious 30-film project zooms in on women and girls who are changing their fate in far-flung corners of the world. Abigail Pesta reports.
No fewer than 30 films about women and girls around the world will hit screens and social media in the next three years, a star-studded group of women’s advocates announced Monday night in New York City.
A scene from the film "Half the Sky" in Vietnam. (Jenni Morello / PBS)
NBC News correspondent Ann Curry, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, and U.S. ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues Melanne Verveer were among the advocates who gathered at the Ford Foundation headquarters to announce the project—and also to celebrate the PBS debut of the film Half the Sky, based on the book of the same name by Kristof and his wife, Sheryl WuDunn.
Kristof and others said they hope all the films will inspire people to get off the couch and help forgotten women and girls in far-flung corners of the world, where news reports often focus on the negative, making people feel overwhelmed.
“As journalists, we cover planes that crash, not planes that take off. Planes fly all the time,” Kristof said on a panel at the event. In other words, he said, when people think of Africa, they often think of genocide and disease because these are the issues that make the news. But progress is being made too, he said. It’s just less likely to grab headlines.
The 30-film project, called Women and Girls Lead Global, is a partnership between USAID, the Ford Foundation, and the Independent Television Service, a provider of independently produced programs for PBS, working in collaboration with the nonprofit group CARE. The partnership will create an annual 10-episode documentary film series for the next three years, zooming in on women and girls who change their fate, carving out better lives for themselves and others. While details are still being hammered out, the films are expected to be rolled out on social media and other platforms, participants said.
Dr. Rajiv Shah, the administrator for USAID, the U.S. government agency for international development, said after the event that projects like this can spark a “wave of interest” among young people—and can also save lives. He cited a program with MTV in Asia, where ads showed hotlines for victims of human trafficking and sexual slavery. “We’ve seen kids who were trafficked in boats, stuck in brothels—they’ve seen the ads and called the hotlines,” he said. He called the film project a “quest for justice,” noting that boosting stability, health services, and jobs in developing countries is “critical to national security” in America.
Other panelists at the event included actress and activist Gabrielle Union, who appears in the film Half the Sky; Edna Adan, the former foreign minister of the Somaliland region in northwest Somalia; Helene Gayle, the president and CEO of CARE; Sally Jo Fifer, the president and CEO of the Independent Television Service; Luis Ubinas, the president of the Ford Foundation; and Darren Walker, a vice president at the Ford Foundation, among others.
The former president’s annual problem-solving confab kicked off with a cast of business and world leaders. From Clinton’s call to action to Special Olympics gold medalist Loretta Claiborne’s touching speech, see highlights of the CGI.
Bill Clinton’s annual Clinton Global Initiative kicked off Sunday morning with a cast of political, celebrity, and nonprofit all-stars, with this year’s theme, “Designing for Impact,” bringing a flood of new commitments to push for real, fast change. The former president himself stressed urgency in finding solutions for the world’s problems.
Here are the best moments from the seventh installment of the initiative, which drew leaders from across the globe, determined to get things done.
Seeing his philanthropy bear fruit isn’t a side note for the former president. He wants results and he wants them now. “I am not getting any younger,” the 42nd president told the audience at the conference’s opening plenary. “I am impatient about this.” Clinton sat with Michael T. Duke, president and CEO of Walmart; Queen Rania al Abdullah of Jordan; Ban Ki-moon, secretary-general of the United Nations; and Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank Group, to discuss how effective solutions to major global issues can be put in place. Duke joked that he knew he’d “hit big-time when a small company from Arkansas can be mentioned on the Jon Stewart show by President Clinton.” At one point, the former president raised the need for jobs in hard-hit areas and challenged Duke to open a store in war-riven Libya.
“I had a mother, and she was told to institutionalize me. To put me in an institution, and that would be the end of it,” Loretta Claiborne, a six-time gold medalist at the Special Olympics, told the audience at CGI’s opening plenary. “Still today, around the globe, people with intellectual disabilities such as I are still being housed in warehouses and institutions.” Claiborne, who was born partially blind and experienced delays in walking and speech development, made a touching speech leading to the announcement of a $12 million donation by philanthropist Tom Golisano to expand the Special Olympics’ health services.
The Republican presidential candidate speaks of a ‘Reagan economic zone’ and makes nice with the New York liberals—for 15 minutes anyway. Allison Yarrow reports.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney mentioned neither his own candidacy nor the name of his opponent in his speech at the annual Clinton Global Initiative summit Tuesday morning. But as he braved a lion’s den of Clinton friends and likely Obama supporters, he did make a few sly asides to the race. Following a warm introduction by former President Bill Clinton, Romney said, "If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this election season ... it is that a few words from Bill Clinton can do a man a lot of good."
Mitt Romney, left, and Bill Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative, Sept. 25, 2012. (Mandel Ngan, AFP / Getty Images)
"All I gotta do now is wait a couple days for that bounce to happen," he said, to laughter.
In his speech, Romney blamed the poverty and unrest in the Middle East on a dearth of entrepreneurship and an absence of free-market capitalism.
Speaking of the "incomparable dignity associated with work," Romney trumpeted it as the "only system that creates a prosperous middle class." Seconding a point made by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her address on Monday, Romney reminded the audience that more than 80 percent of aid to low- and middle-income nations comes from corporations, and that these partnerships are integral to change in those countries. He urged that the aid should not proceed without nations committing to lift themselves through work.
Romney said he was "touched" by the story of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire to protest injustices committed against him by government officials in 2010, and who helped catalyze that country's uprising, which cascaded into the Arab Spring. Romney said Bouazizi's plight was exacerbated by his inability to sell his fruit, and that if he had been allowed to work in peace, things might have turned out differently.
The Romney campaign recently pounced on Barack Obama's reference to Middle East turmoil—like the Sept. 11 assassination of U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens—as “bumps in the road.”
Unlike Ms. Clinton, who took a cue from her husband and spoke for more than double her allotted time, Romney stuck close to the 15 minutes he was given, but the room was significantly fuller, with many attendees standing and many more members of the press not allowed in at all.
Two years after a devastating earthquake, Haiti is still rebuilding. But new Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe has big plans for the poverty-stricken nation—as he told a star-studded Clinton Global Initiative session Monday. Nina Strochlic reports.
“Dear friends of Haiti, we are indeed on the right track,” said newly minted Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe to a standing ovation at Monday’s Clinton Global Initiative session on Haiti’s future. “Slowly but surely we are rising from the ashes.”
Dorange Suze (C) recites stories to Haitian children outside a mobile library set up Sept. 15, 2012, in Port-au-Prince. Inset: Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe (Thony Belizaire / AFP / Getty Images)
Two years after the disastrous earthquake that left thousands dead and millions homeless, the country is slowly building itself back up. The next four years, Lamothe said, will witness massive reconstruction of infrastructure, from roads to schools to government buildings that were destroyed in 2010. Some progress has already been made in Haiti: 1.25 million children are now enrolled in primary school, and 40 percent of Lamothe’s Cabinet is female. (“I’m surrounded by women!” he joked.) But in a country where 50 percent of the population is living on less than $1 a day, Lamothe’s first priority is the eradication of extreme poverty—a sentiment echoed by almost every speaker at “Haiti: Lessons for the Future.”
The Clinton Global Initiative has ramped up its efforts in Haiti in recent years, with $352 million in commitments dedicated to the impoverished nation over the past three years. President Clinton took a special interest to Haiti and was appointed the U.N. special envoy to help mitigate disaster relief after the hurricane in 2010. Lamothe thanked Clinton for his “unconditional and unwavering support to the Haitian cause,” calling him a “genuine friend” to the Haitian people. “Nations don’t die when they can count on the solidarity you all have shown,” the prime minister told the audience.
Taking the stage, Cheryl Mills, chief of staff to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was unabashed in her criticism of how Western nations had dealt the vulnerable country in the past. “We were prone to pursue what we deemed good for Haiti,” she acknowledged. But now, said Mills, the American government’s mind-set has evolved to “focus on Haiti’s policies instead of ours.” She said she hopes emerging business ventures and government efforts—they’re working on a new electrical grid, solar farm, and housing settlements—will be able to bring out the best the island nation has to offer. “There’s a gap between what Haiti is and what it has potential to be,” Mills said.
Longtime Haiti investor Anne Hastings, chief executive of Fonkoze Financial Services, made a statement that drew cheers from a crowd used to hearing about government corruption and neglect in the country: “I’ve worked in Haiti for 16 years and this is the first time I’ve seen a well-thought-out attack on extreme poverty by the government,” she said.
Hastings and Mills’s faith was mirrored by all the speakers who discussed projects and investments in the region. “Haiti is able to unite people,” Mills said to a cast of all-star supporters of the Caribbean nation who turned out to talk about the country’s problems. Chelsea Clinton sat in the front, across from Russell Simmons and Petra Nemcova. Behind the two was Paul Farmer, president Clinton’s other half as the U.N. special envoy to Haiti. Hunched in the back of the room, long hair slicked back, was Sean Penn, who was praised for his efforts in Haiti both by Clinton and by Digicel founder Denis O’Brien, who called Penn’s charity the one thing in the past year that has made the most profound difference.
“Haiti is about to become a symbol of the future,” announced president Clinton, who made closing remarks. And, channeling Hillary Clinton, who said in the opening plenary Monday that the goal of Western aid workers and governments should be “putting ourselves out of business,” commitment makers at the Clinton Global Initiative look forward to the day their efforts are no longer necessary. “Our long-term objective is to work ourselves out of a job,” said Sasha Kramer, cofounder of a waste-recycling project in Haiti.
From Jimmy Wales to Paul Farmer, innovators at the Clinton Global Initiative proffer solutions that range from wireless to elbow grease, reports Allison Yarrow.
The intersection of post-dictatorship emerging democracies, global health policy, and information highway Wikipedia informed the Champions of Action panel moderated by former secretary of state Madeleine Albright on the second day of the eighth annual Clinton Global Initiative summit.
Representing the technological frontier that has enabled unprecedented change throughout the Middle East was Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, who Albright introduced as the mind behind what “many of today’s college students consider to be the only form of information they’ll ever need.”
Wales praised the site’s community of “old-fashioned” users who demand and uphold the site’s rigorous sourcing and fact-checking standards, no small feat for the world’s definitive encyclopedia. Wikipedia’s mammoth size and unwieldy nature—user-generated content from nearly 500 million users each month—can create a feedback loop.
"We would follow what The New York Times said, but probably The New York Times looked it up in Wikipedia, so it’s circular,” Wales said. Karman said more and more people now want to know what is going on in the world—as many did during the Arab Spring—and rather than buying a book or visiting the library, they can click and read mere paragraphs and be informed.
“I used to work for Encyclopedia Britannica and that book has gone out of style,” Albright quipped.
Wales said the press misses the point when it focuses only on Facebook or Twitter as harbingers of revolution, and that less visible online coordination preempts and is the engine of successful campaigns. Nations under oppressive regimes can now not only learn how others countries have unchained themselves, but they can access ready blueprints for writing working constitutions and furnishing new people-centric governments, which is very exciting, according to Wales.
This is the fundamental work Yemen is doing now following the ousting of dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh earlier this year. Yemeni Nobel Peace laureate Tawakkol Karman addressed that country’s difficult transition with bold optimism and a nod toward technologies that enabled the country’s organizing and ultimate power restructuring. Because of this, she said, Yemen’s path to a stable future is clear.
Women and their perspective are direly lacking in the worlds of design and urban planning, says a panel at the Clinton Global Initiative. By Nina Strochlic.
Women and girls used to be on a separate track at the Clinton Global Initiative, noted Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times columnist, at the start of his panel discussion on Monday. But now, he said, Clinton’s annual meeting has wisely integrated society’s better half into almost every aspect of the meeting, and the world is benefiting greatly from it.
Women thatch the roof of a hut in Abyei, Sudan. (Ashraf Shazly, AFP / Getty Images)
As the moderator of a panel entitled “Women and the Built Environment: Designing for Opportunity,” Kristof said that women and girls are crucial additions in such male-dominated fields as building and construction.
Earlier in the conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton observed that when women enter the workforce, it transforms society. In that same spirit, panelists discussed how and why it’s necessary to transfer land control and urban design to women.
Joan Clos, director of U.N. Habitat, began the discussion with a shocking statistic: only 1 percent of the titled land in the world is registered to women. This lack of ownership and participation in the industry not only hinders the ability of women and girls to build independence within their own lives but affects everything from education to health.
In a world with a rapidly rising population, effective urban planning is “not a luxury, it’s a basic need,” said Yemen-based architect Salma Samar Damluji. “A better quality of life can only be achieved if you have a better urban culture.”
Design directly affects health and safety for girls and women, said Jonathan Reckford, executive director of Habitat for Humanity International. He pointed out that even the lack of such basic needs as a lock on a front door leaves women physically vulnerable. Improperly designed houses have made indoor air pollution a widespread problem, especially in poorer countries. In enclosed kitchens without proper ventilation, women cooking over stoves are more likely to develop breathing problems and lung cancer. By taking women into perspective, urban planning campaigns can be designed to eliminate this problem.
Kristof noted that impractical design also hinders education in the developing world, where 76 million girls aren’t attending primary school simply because that might mean creating separate buildings, adding more school buses, and building more bathrooms. Families won’t send their daughters to schools without proper facilities. In conservative areas that require gender division, girls are kept from school if there aren’t separate buildings. The problem, Kristof pointed out, is that developers in these areas are often smart men—but men who don’t fully understand the issues that prevent girls from getting an education.
Proper nutrition and early education can jump-start a poor nation’s economy—and it’s a lot cheaper than bailing out banks. Matthew DeLuca reports from CGI.
The first 1,000 days of a child’s life are a sprint toward the future, said public- and private-sector leaders at the Clinton Global Initiative on Monday, and malnutrition and lack of access to an education are the most common stumbling blocks.
Children pose for the cameras at the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls in Lilongwe, Malawi, April 6, 2010. (Michelly Rall / Getty Images)
President Joyce Banda of the Republic of Malawi joined Discovery Education CEO Bill Goodwyn, Save the Children chief Carolyn S. Miles, and Jay Naidoo, chairman of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, in a plenary session panel moderated by Unicef Deputy Executive Director Geeta Rao Gupta.
“We don’t want children just to survive, we want them to thrive,” said Gupta in introducing the panel, which was titled “The Early Years: An Irresistible Investment Opportunity.” Chronic malnutrition within the first three years of a child’s development can take years of mental development off children’s lives that, coupled with physical stunting, can lead to irreparable damage to a country’s economic potential, she said.
There are ways to combat these twin evils, however, the panelists said, and Naidoo added that the costs involved are almost never prohibitive. “If you want to make an investment that impacts development most, you invest in your children,” Naidoo said.
“There is really an economic argument,” Miles said, citing statistics that show that proper nutrition in the early stages of a child’s development can have the long-term effect of adding 2 to 3 percentage points to a country’s gross domestic product.
Keeping children healthy is just the first part of the equation, however, according to Miles. Then you have to get them into classrooms. “It is really about survival, then it is about kids learning,” she said.
Developing nations around the world have realized the value of preschool and other early education programs, Miles said. A single year of pre-elementary education can increase primary school enrollment by as much as 24 percent in the long run in countries like Mozambique, she said.
Amid bipartisan scaremongering, CEOs say American politicians need to make it clear to the world that American businesses make good sense for foreign investment. Matt DeLuca reports.
Uncertainty in American politics is hampering a more robust economic recovery in the United States, three CEOs said Monday during a panel at the annual Clinton Global Initiative conference—and partisan politics are largely to blame. No matter who wins the election, the hope among the business executives—Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Cisco chief John Chambers, and Dow Chemical’s CEO Andrew Liveris—is that politicians manage to get over their partisan differences and compromise on measures to help stimulate American business.
(L-R) Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs, speaks during a panel discussion with Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, and John Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems, at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, Sept. 24, 2012. (Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images )
Amid scaremongering from both extremes of the political spectrum, American politicians need to make it clear to the world that ideological differences can be bridged, that the dollar’s status as a reserve currency is strong, and that American businesses make good sense for foreign investment.
“America is not in terminal decline,” Liveris said, and companies need to take a new tack when it comes to talking to the American public. “Business needs to elevate to where the debate has gone and not complain that it’s just politics,” he said.
The panel of executives was moderated by CNN host Fareed Zakaria.
The difference between a President Romney or Obama will not matter as much as whether or not moderates from both sides of the aisle are able to strike compromises that benefit the economy, Liveris said. Many of America’s problems are “self-inflicted,” Blankfein said, and coming to an agreement on one of them, such as a deal to cut the national debt, could solve a large number of smaller problems.
Blankfein added that the time for the kind of gamesmanship that brought America to the brink of default as partisans squabbled over the debt ceiling in the summer of 2011 has passed.
“People who have been pouting and holding their breath aren’t going to want to do that for four more years,” Blankfein said.
In a rousing speech at the Clinton Global Initiative, the secretary of state weighed in on the deadly attack in Libya, global development, taxing the rich, and human dignity. Abigail Pesta reports.
The Arab world did not set out to trade “the tyranny of a dictator” for the “tyranny of a mob,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday in New York at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the organization launched by her husband to tackle world problems such as poverty and disease.
Hillary Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative meeting in New York City. (John Moore / Getty Images)
Marking the start of the second day of the three-day summit, Clinton began her address to cheers and a standing ovation. “It’s good to be among so many friends,” she said.
In a broad speech about global development, Clinton mentioned the recent deadly attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, Libya, and said countries that focus on “fostering growth” as opposed to “fomenting grievance” are the nations that are racing forward.
"Dignity does not come from avenging insults, especially with violence,” she said, clearly in reference to the anti-Muslim video that has sparked heated riots around the world, including the one that preceded the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and his colleagues Glen Doherty, Tyrone Woods, and Sean Smith. Clinton noted that in the wake of the attack, residents of Benghazi had “forcefully rejected” militia groups, pushing to shut down their compounds. “All of us need to stand together,” she said, so extremists don’t “drive us apart.”
Clinton called on countries to stand up for “democracies that unlock people’s potential” and to champion “the universal human rights of all people.” She cited the importance of human dignity, noting that an Egyptian revolutionary had once said, “Freedom and dignity are more important than food and water. When you eat in humiliation, you can’t taste the food.”
Arguing that the Obama administration had made global development “an essential pillar of our national security,” Clinton cited three overall objectives of the administration’s approach to development around the world, starting with the goal of America’s transitioning “from aid to investment.” For example, she cited a recent shipment of sewing machines to Haiti that is creating thousands of jobs in a new garment business.
The second objective, Clinton said, is “country ownership,” meaning that individual countries should work toward taking responsibility for developing their own programs to improve health care and the economy. She cited a program in Sierra Leone in which more than 1,700 women serve as health monitors, checking up on clinics and reporting any problems to the government so that the issues can be resolved. In Botswana, she said, the government manages and pays for its national HIV program. “Country ownership means ownership by the whole country—men and women,” she stressed. “When more women enter the workforce, it spurs innovation, increases productivity, and grows the economy.”
A Clinton Global Initiative dinner got an early look at the new documentary ‘Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,’ a follow-up to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestseller. Allison Yarrow on a film that may become a movement all its own.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, the new documentary companion to Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s bestseller, illuminates the most insidious hardships committed against women globally, from sex trafficking and prostitution to rape and genital mutilation. But it also constructs an uplifting narrative about the women who climb out of dire circumstances and find a path to self-sufficiency by learning to read, participating in microsavings programs, or securing financing for a business for the first time.
Women celebrate in Somaliland in “Half the Sky.” (Josh Bennett / PBS)
The two-part series, which airs Oct. 1 and 2 on PBS, features a cadre of celebrity women—Meg Ryan, Eva Mendes, America Ferrera, Diane Lane, Gabrielle Union, and Olivia Wilde—globe-trotting to engage with underserved women and to showcase the humanitarian work these celebrities already perform. At a dinner kicking off the Clinton Global Initiative’s eighth annual meeting Sunday night, supporters previewed scenes from the film. Half the Sky Movement executive director, Maro Chermayeff, told the Daily Beast that the diversity of star power would draw new eyes to these issues, which is particularly important in an age when “everybody wants to watch the Kardashians.”
The famous women also serve as a proxy for the viewer. In one scene, actress Ferrara is brought to tears after she meets a girl in a shelter who passes up a rare opportunity to pursue an education when her mother demands that she return to prostitution to earn income for the family. She is only 10 years old. Stories like this are all too common, said Chermayeff, who traveled for a year making the film and spent more than a month in Sierra Leone, where she said she did not meet one woman who had not been raped.
The delicate mixture of heartbreak and inspiration is sure to move those who watch Half the Sky. Liberian businesswoman Kabeh Sumbo’s becoming a successful palm-oil entrepreneur falls into the latter category. “I am Kabeh Sumbo, and I am a businesswoman,” she boomed from the podium to a standing ovation. Sumbo graduated from 10,000 Women, a $100 million, five-year initiative funded by Goldman Sachs and aimed at creating 10,000 women entrepreneurs, according to its website. The Liberian government gave Sumbo 100 acres of land so she could produce the oil, which is used for cooking and soap making. She supports her nieces and nephews and foster children with her earnings.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, said Sumbo is a prime example of the hopeful, motivated nation Liberia has become. “We can now see them wanting to be what they want to be,” she said, nodding to the 10 years of peace her country will soon celebrate, after years of blood and hardship under dictator Charles Taylor. The continent’s first female president reminded the audience that while Liberia is quite rich in natural resources, its human capital is the most valuable resource of all.
In a panel hosted by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown that included Johnson Sirleaf and Sumbo, Kristof said he is heartened that people are far more aware of atrocities committed against women now than they were when he first began to cover them in China. He said he hopes the Half the Sky Movement will reach even more people than his columns and books. The film launch will be coupled with interactive efforts—a Facebook game, teaching guides, and plenty of social media to propel not just a television show but a movement. As Desmond Tutu put it in an interview from the film, “The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world.”
Kabeh Sumbo, trained by the global female-empowerment initiative 10,000 Women, has a thriving business. How many women in Liberia and other developing countries can reproduce her success was the subject of a Clinton Global Initiative panel moderated by Tina Brown and featuring Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Nicholas Kristof.
Resplendent in turquoise-hued traditional dress, Kabeh Sumbo stood before attendees of the Clinton Global Initiative on Sunday evening and declared herself a proud Liberian woman and business owner. She cited 10,000 Women, a global female-empowerment initiative backed by Goldman Sachs, as a prime cause of her success.
Kabeh Sumbo. (www.goldmansachs.com)
“I believe that if you train one woman like the 10,000 Women trained me, you train a nation,” Sumbo said.
Whether Sumbo’s success is reproducible was one of the subjects of a panel moderated by Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor in chief Tina Brown on Sunday night. Joined by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, columnist Nicholas Kristof, and Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, the panelists dissected some of the challenges facing women in the developing world today.
Yet Sumbo, the star of the evening, may remain the exception and not the rule in Liberia for years to come.
Mounting evidence shows that small and medium-size businesses run by women can have a dramatic positive impact on local communities, Kristof said, in what he called a “virtuous spiral” that can lift a nation over time. Asked by Brown what else the Liberian government was doing to encourage more female entrepreneurs in the country, Sirleaf acknowledged that not every woman who wants to start a company will be a success story like Kabeh.
“There’s not going to be 1,000 Kabehs. She’s an exception,” Sirleaf said. “Even if we don’t have 1,000 Kabehs, we’re going to have hundreds of them at cross-sectors,” the Liberian president said.
Sirleaf’s administration has given Sumbo 100 acres of farmland to help grow her palm-oil business, which Sumbo started with a single tank of palm olive oil and a microfinance loan.
The former president opened the eighth installment of his Clinton Global Initiative by reminding those attending of the need to get cracking on solving the world’s problems, writes David Freedlander.
Former President Bill Clinton welcomed a thousand journalists from around the world and even more visitors on Sunday for the seventh installment of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), his think tank turned nongovernmental organization (NGO) that is dedicated to no less a goal than solving the world’s problems.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton waves to the audience as he opens the Clinton Global Initiative, Sunday, Sept. 23, 2012, in New York. (Mark Lennihan / AP Photo)
The program began with a look back, as Clinton called recipients of previous CGI grants to the stage to give progress reports on their work, while the president looked on like a proud father.
The theme of this year’s session was “Designing for Impact,” and was dedicated to creating and tracking programs that alleviate hunger, disease, or violence and figuring out how to then replicate successful programs on a massive, global scale.
“Today we want to talk about how you can design your actions in advance to make it more likely they will succeed,” Mr. Clinton said.
The program will run through Tuesday, and the list of speakers is a testament to Clinton’s continued draw—and his Rolodex. Slated to attend are people from the political world, including President Barack Obama, members of his administration and his opponent, Governor Mitt Romney; the new leaders of Egypt and Libya; boldfaced names from the media world including Piers Morgan and Fareed Zakaria; the business world, including Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein; and the Clinton world, including his daughter, Chelsea, and his wife, secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“I want to say my standard broken record,” Clinton said at the outset. “That cooperation works better than conflict. I say that not for the purpose of avoiding disagreement—there will be a lot of those here—but the point is to act.”
The opening session was a conversation between Linda Tischler, senior editor at Fast Company magazine, and Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm.
As Obama and Romney head to the Clinton Global Initiative this week, both candidates should have the same agenda: keep America the leader of international development.
Both President Obama and Mitt Romney will head to New York this week to speak at the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual summit where global leaders and other change makers convene to address the world’s most pressing development challenges. Though global poverty is far from a hot-button campaign issue, the candidates’ appearances at the CGI summit affirm a simple, bipartisan, yet easily ignored truth: the United States has a clear stake in maintaining its leadership position as a champion of global prosperity and stability. Indeed, with decreasing access to jobs, increasing food prices, and accelerating political volatility around the globe, the stakes have never been higher.
President Obama, top, and Mitt Romney in Iowa and California, respectively, earlier this year. (Jewel Samad / AFP-Getty Images; Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
How will President Obama—or President Romney—lead the world to a more prosperous, peaceful future starting on day one? Unlike the candidates’ plans for health care, education, and the federal budget, their global development agendas can—and should—look the same.
Here are five nonpartisan ways either Obama or Romney can maintain—and even strengthen—America’s position as a global development leader.
1) Embrace technological innovation. The cutting edge is a position the U.S. aches to maintain globally, and with innovation comes both savings and impact. The State Department and USAID have been working to leverage technology to combat corruption and streamline aid. But we can do more. Biometric, broadband, and mobile tools can change the way our organizations work, enhancing internal systems and allowing leaders to more effectively and efficiently reach people in need. Precious resources are often wasted “in transit”; an estimated 17 to 32 cents of each aid dollar actually makes it to its intended recipient. But now in Haiti, transferring emergency relief aid via mobile phones has allowed governments and NGOs to track their aid flows. In Afghanistan, biometric identification is helping NATO forces ensure wages and payments reach the right people, and thwarting systemic corruption and collusion that's prevalent when large amounts of cash are involved. The next administration should double down on efforts to spur technological advances, taking a venture-capitalist approach to creating innovation spaces.
2) Focus on ownership. Handouts are unpopular in U.S. politics, so it’s no surprise that the topic of aid is largely avoided during campaign seasons. To many Americans, pouring aid dollars into a developing country may seem like siphoning cash into a black hole. What we need is a shift in rhetoric: Politicians should characterize and describe global development as an effort to provide poor people with the tools to pull themselves out of poverty. This includes access to financial services, property rights, information, and communication technology, and a formal identity, for example. Aid isn’t a handout, it’s an investment. The idea of an “ownership society”—where personal responsibility, economic liberty, and asset ownership are routes to prosperity—is universally popular. While it was born out of the “compassionate conservative” ideals of President George W. Bush, it resonates with both sides of the aisle.
3) Build alliances. Sharing the burden of development costs among all stakeholders—or creating a global social contract committed to prosperity—is a politically and fiscally expedient way of moving forward on most any cause. Traditionally, alliances have equated to binary public-private partnerships. But this is too narrow of a view. The future of alliances rests in multi-stakeholder communities of practice, which share information, ideas, and, of course, costs. Take the mHealth Alliance, a global coalition that includes several dozen members from governments, nonprofits, researchers, multinational corporations, and donors, among others, to develop new technological solutions to advance global health. The mHealth Alliance works because of the power in numbers. And such alliances offer the added benefit of mitigating concerns surrounding U.S. dominance (from abroad) or wasteful government spending (from within).
4) Go big (ideas). High-leverage ideas—ones that create multiple impacts through a single intervention—are the future of development work. Big ideas that can, say, simultaneously spur the private sector, reduce corruption, and improve government spending, while providing economic opportunity and social inclusion, may seem like an impossible dream. Yet they certainly exist. Take the idea of linking cash transfers to opportunities to save, or using digital technology to transfer aid or other cash-based payments into a bank or mobile money account. This seemingly simple idea can actually become a win-win-win for governments, business, and people. It allows the poor to save both time and money, as they now can receive and manage their resources automatically and safely. And the streamlined aid delivery is also more efficient, improving government transparency and reducing leakage—two factors that contribute to development work’s bad rap. Finally, business gets to profit from both lucrative government contracts and access to a large and increasingly empowered market base. Big ideas should be attractive to any administration looking to brand itself as committed to out-of-the-box solutions to global problems.
Five ways either Romney or Obama can lead the world in meaningful development. By Jamie M. Zimmerman.
From Bill Clinton’s climate-change "joke" to Desmond Tutu’s "I love you," watch video from the summit.
Speaking with NBC's Brian Williams on the eve of his big speech, Bill Clinton discussed his relationship with the sitting president, and shared his reaction to this week's Newsweek cover.
The former president fused folksiness and wonkiness in boosting his successor.
The best moments from Bill Clinton’s speech.