It is United Nations General Assembly week in New York, and that means anti-Ahmadinejad protests, nightmare traffic jams, and more than Manhattan’s usual share of tinted-windowed Town Cars ferrying the world’s power brokers to and fro.
Yet much of the influence, glitter, and fun have migrated across town to the Sheraton New York on Seventh Avenue, home to the three-day Clinton Global Initiative, a confab of players from the business, political, philanthropic, and entertainment worlds. (President Obama will be there! So will Lance Armstrong! Jim Carrey! Supermodel Petra Nemcova! Bill and Melinda Gates! Kevin Spacey! Barbra Streisand! The president of Finland!)
They’ve all gathered to meet, greet, gossip, and eat—and also to pledge tens of millions of dollars to solving the world’s most intractable social problems, from sexism to climate change to education inequality.
U.N. Dispatch blogger Mark Goldberg has a good primer on the issues at stake this week at both CGI and the U.N. At the top of the agenda is the 10th anniversary of the Millennium Development Goals, an international pledge to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015. Progress has been slow, leading some development luminaries, including “bottom billion” guru Jeffrey Sachs, to call on Western nations to contribute much more to foreign aid, and for Obama to make global poverty a bigger part of his foreign-policy agenda. Expect President Clinton to avoid this politically polarizing debate, and instead focus on the private sector’s role in supporting innovative nonprofits working on the ground.
Here are some highlights of today and the rest of the week. Claire Howorth and I will post reporting and commentary throughout, and don’t forget to watch The Daily Beast’s live-stream of the event.
• Kick off: At 10 a.m. today, President Clinton will sit down with mega-philanthropist Melinda Gates, Google CEO Eric Schmidt, and Finnish President Tarja Halonen to announce the conference’s four “ action areas”—empowering women and girls, developing market-based solutions to poverty, bringing modern technology to the developing world, and creating jobs in emerging sectors of the economy
• Hillary’s moment: At 1:30 p.m. today, the secretary of State will announce an international private-public partnership to provide poor women with clean cooking stoves. Toxic cooking fumes lead to 2 million developing-world deaths annually.
• Peace in the Mideast? At 3 p.m. today, President Clinton will sit down with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to tackle one of Clinton’s long-term obsessions: brokering a peace deal between the two peoples.
• Is microfinance for real? This afternoon at 4:30, President Clinton will moderate a discussion on the private sector’s favorite philanthropic tool, microfinance—investing small amounts of money in grassroots business owners, with the goal of empowering families and building the developing world’s middle class. Expect Grameen Bank Founder Muhammad Yunus, the hero of microfinance, to defend the movement from recent criticisms that it neglects the poorest of the poor.
• Can the private sector solve the world’s problems? That’ll be the contention on the table Wednesday morning, in a discussion featuring New York Times columnist Tom Friedman and White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.
• Cancer in the developing world: Everyone knows the poor are disproportionately affected by HIV, malaria, and tuberculosis, but what about cancer? Lance Armstrong and Sanjay Gupta will discuss the hidden crisis.
• How to create jobs? Maria Bartiromo of CNBC will discuss the question of the moment with President Clinton, FDIC Chairwoman Sheila Bair (a favorite of the left), and the CEOs of Dow Chemical and the Standard Chartered Bank.
• Remembering Haiti: On Thursday afternoon, President Clinton, Haitian President Rene Preval, and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive will lead a roundtable discussion on what post-earthquake recovery will look like, and what philanthropists and governments can do now to help.
• The Obamas: Barack and Michelle are the featured speakers at Thursday’s closing plenary, which will be followed by a cocktail reception and the Global Citizen Awards ceremony, honoring world leaders and CGI donors. Don Henley will provide the entertainment.
Dana Goldstein is a Spencer Education Journalism Fellow at Columbia University, and a former associate editor at The Daily Beast. Her writing on politics, women's issues, and education has also appeared in The American Prospect, The Nation, The New Republic, BusinessWeek, and Slate. You can follow her work at www.danagoldstein.net.