Four days. Dozens of panel discussions. Big names, and bigger ideas. The fifth-annual Clinton Global Initiative is like one long brainstorming session, convened by the 42nd president and featuring NGOs and philanthropic organizations doing extraordinary things. The Initiative claims to have raised $46 billion in charitable commitments to date—and that was before this year's gathering. And by bringing together wealthy donors with policy wonks, world leaders, and nonprofits, the CGI estimates that they have managed to improve the lives of more than 200 million people throughout the world. The Daily Beast wandered the halls to bring you the highlights.
President Obama delivered an uncharacteristically low-key speech to kick things off. "We need a new spirit of global partnership and that is exactly the spirit that guides this organization,” he said. “I hope it is the spirit that guides my administration."
Matt Damon announced his organization, Water.org, would commit to helping out 50,000 people in Haiti with clean water and sanitation. He popped up again on the final day of the conference by video, narrating a short film for the Clnton Global Initiative on world hunger.
The day began with an all-star gathering of Diane Sawyer and CEOs including Goldman Sachs' Lloyd Blankfein and ExxonMobil's Rex Tillerson, who looked at ways to reduce gender inequality around the world. “Less than one cent of every development dollar goes to women and girls,” Zainab Salbi, who heads nonprofit Women for Women International, said. “The political decision to say we must invest much more in girls and women is not really there yet.” It was a safer topic for Blankfein than financial regulation, which was also discussed at CGI. He has put his money where his mouth is with Goldman's 10,000 Women initiative, which helps young women get degrees in business and management.
Al Gore told a panel that he would take what he could get in the way of climate-change treaties at the upcoming Copenhagen summit. "It's very important that we get a deal in Copenhagen," Gore said. "It's not necessarily crucial that the deal be perfect in every respect and include absolutely everything."
Ted Turner compared his relationship with the United Nations, which he's supported with more than $1 billion in donations to his foundation, to his tumultuous love life. “In 10 years we never had a serious argument,” he said of his time with the U.N. “Wish I could say that about my wife. My ex-wives, I should say.”
The most surreal moment of the day: At a barely attended press conference, American soccer stars Landon Donovan and Brian McBride, along with Mexican soccer legend Jorge Campos, introduced a new videogame sponsored by Visa that teaches users financial literacy through soccer. “This is something I'm passionate about,” Donovan said, adding that as an athlete the subject was particularly relevant. “In our profession we hear a lot of horror stories,” he said, singling out boxer Mike Tyson and former NBA star Latrell Sprewell as two cautionary tales.
What will the infrastructure of the future look like? The CGI held a panel discussion headlined by Kofi Annan to find out. For Kristina Peterson, president of Gemini Solar Development Co., the answer was solar power, which she said is technologically feasible and only "a matter of doing more of it and showing people that it works." For Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan Alliance, the answer was his company's forthcoming electric car. For John Chambers, CEO of Cisco, the answer was expanding broadband, which "enables productivity and job creation." Annan, meanwhile, said that all of these technologies would need to reach Africa in order to ensure that their industrial development didn't repeat the mistakes of the Western countries in polluting the environment.
Celebrities were a common sight at CGI: Usher held a press conference to announce a $1 million donation to his new charity initiative, Powered by Service, which awards grants to young people in order to fund their own volunteer proposals. “I guess the one thing I wanted to do is make service something that is not handed down as though it's a sentence for you,” he said.
Brad Pitt was the toast of the evening as he delivered a progress report on his efforts to build sustainable housing in New Orleans for returning refugees with his charity, Make It Right. “By this time next year when we put the lid on our 150th house, that house will be built for the same price as any HUD standard house in New Orleans if not cheaper,” Pitt told the audience. The Daily Beast caught up with Make It Right's executive director, Tom Darden, who described Pitt thusly: "He's laid back, he's smart, and really knowledgeable about architecture and design."
Jordan's Queen Rania delivered an impassioned call to fund education programs around the world as part of a panel discussion on "Building Human Capital" that also included Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim and U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis. "Getting people to agree that education is important is the easy part," the queen said. "It's no wonder that politicians all over the world have education as an issue they raise when campaigning. What happens is once they get elected, education tends to fall down their priority list." Slim said that ultimately education had to lead to secure employment for true progress to be made. "Charity is not enough, social programs are not the solution," said Slim, the telecom giant best known in Manhattan for his investment in The New York Times. "They are very important to relieve poverty...but in the end a job is the only way to get out of poverty." He suggested that schools might better prepare their students for the high-tech economy with better technology themselves. "There are many, many tools and many elements to improve education that we have not developed," he said. Rania added that lack of employment was indeed a major problem in her home country as well, where she said that young men received their degrees only to find themselves without work. "Take young people who are opportunity-starved and there is political conflict around them and that makes a very dangerous social mix," she said. "And as you all know, what happens in the Middle East doesn't stay in the Middle East."
Poor Iceland has suffered more than any Western country since the financial crisis began, as bank failures sparked mass protests in the usually sleepy locale. "There were riots, demonstrations, breakdown in the social fabric, and the most profound democratic political crisis we have ever faced," Iceland's president, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, said in a panel on financial markets. He called on the G-20 to tighten regulations in order to prevent his country's fate from befalling others, warning that a crisis “can within days lead to a collapse in the fabric of society and a deep and profound democratic crisis." He added that corporations had “a profound social and democratic responsibility” to prevent such disasters from occurring.
The Clinton Global Initiative wrapped up with a speech on world hunger from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whom husband Bill introduced as “the best public servant our family has produced.” Clinton used her speech to talk up a new initiative by the Obama administration to combat world hunger by providing aid to connect small farmers to urban markets. “People who are starving, who have no incomes, who can't care for their families, are left with feelings of hopelessness and desperation,” Clinton said. “We know that desperation of that magnitude sows seeds of its own, of tension, conflict, and even [violence].”
Benjamin Sarlin is a reporter for The Daily Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.