The Clinton Global Initiative: Inspiring Change

By Deborah L. Bassett

Nobel laureates, world leaders, scientists, and business moguls meet in New York to save the world

The second annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting took place at the New York City Sheraton from September 20-22, 2006. The non-partisan project, the brainchild of the Bill Clinton Foundation, brought together dignitaries, heads of state, corporate moguls, scientists, academics, and other visionaries from around the globe to address some of the world's most formative problems.

Broken down into four subsequent focus areas -- energy and climate change, global health, poverty alleviation, and mitigating religious and ethnic conflict -- the members set forth plans of action to create viable and sustainable solutions to these urgent issues.

Attendees, who donated a minimum of $5000 to participate in the event, were offered a glimpse of what a functional, cooperative, and progressive government looks like in action.

Praising the 1,000-plus participants, to whom he referred as "agents of change," former President Clinton affirmed each individual's role, "to reach across the political, economic, cultural, philosophical, and religious divides to build a better common future and to lead by example."

Tycoons commit to change

Among the elite list of notable invitees, guest speakers, and honorees were Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, First Lady Laura Bush, former Vice-President Al Gore, former President Jimmy Carter, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Rev. Jesse Jackson, General Colin Powell, His Majesty King Abdullah II of Jordan, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohammad Yunus, Bill Gates, Rupert Murdoch, Tom Brokaw, former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the presidents of Afghanistan, Liberia,Pakistan, Rwanda, Tanzania, and several former leaders including Canada's Jean Chrétien. Pledges in the form of "commitments" were made by attendees throughout the course of the day and highlighted by President Clinton in the closing evening sessions.

Perhaps most memorable of such announcements was Sir Richard Branson's investment of 100% of the profits from Virgin's transportation businesses over 10 years. At an estimated sum of $3 billion, this effort will fund research for cleaner renewable resources for the transportation industry. Although critics were quick to point to obvious self-interest incentives, when asked by the BBC of his motivations, a humble and dignified Branson paused for a moment and simply replied, " I have children."

While corporate motivation for these charitable donations may very well be influenced by self-promotion and even potential monetary gain, at the end of the day CEOs across the board were stepping up to the plate to play their part in what has since been dubbed by many as "the country club of philanthropy." Certainly no complaints were made when Wal-Mart CEO, H. Lee Scott, Jr. pledged to create a "zero waste" policy in all Wal-Mart stores, as well as a 100 percent renewable energy standard for the corporate giant.

Eric Pulier, founder and CEO of the software company SOA, was on hand to announce his $10 million dollar allocation of funds for the provision of low cost network-based computing to improve education and health care in developing nations. "The tools exist today to empower every person in every country to access to the world's libraries and teachers, doctors and scholars," pointed out Pulier, who further considers the widespread connectivity to the outside world as an effective measure to "impact and prevent the conditions of isolation that allow totalitarianism and genocide to occur."

In many cases, he added, "multi-national corporations are even more influential than governments in guiding the destinies of millions of people around the world. By supporting CGI, corporations can make a statement that the company is inherently committed to conducting business in a manner that contributes to positive change."

nukes not on the agenda

Perhaps the only crucial topic missing from this year's agenda was the necessary discourse on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Jonathan Granoff, head of the Global Security Institute in Washington DC, was keen to acknowledge President Clinton's ability to bring people together to create innovative solutions and credited him as a "fabulous coalition builder." However, according to Granoff, " Issues related to militarism, nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament, state-sanctioned violence, use of weapons of mass destruction, and role of law will ultimately have to be discussed to effectively achieve the levels of cooperation needed to succeed in addressing the four main areas of focus." A leading authority on spiritual dimensions of human development and security affairs, Granoff also emphasized the need for cooperation in redirecting the focus on the human family and our collective fate, "Our destiny is collective or else we have no destiny. If people come to this conclusion by looking carefully at the four categories of CGI, then the mission is all the more valuable."

The closing address was offered by President Clinton's close friend and colleague, Nelson Mandela, via satellite from his home in South Africa. Mandela spoke briefly, yet poignantly, about Clinton's triumphs and praised his vision and determination in mobilizing a new force to address the greatest challenges facing the world at the start of the 21st century. "The Initiative is a global movement where every word spoken, every partnership discovered, and every promise made can have a direct impact on the lives of millions of people across our planet for generations to come," offered Mandela.

A humbled Clinton conveyed the story of the prison shirt that was recently given to him at Mandela's 88th birthday party. With few dry eyes in the house Clinton ended the conference by quoting his friend: "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others."

In his own words he continued, "Today, three billion people are trapped behind the bars of poverty, lack of health care, war, terror, environmental devastation, and the imminent specter of global warming. To live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others requires that we break through those bars and cast off each other's chains. That's what CGI is all about."

Deborah Bassett works for Channel G, producing programming for social change.
Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2007

Peace Magazine Jan-Mar 2007, page 22. Some rights reserved.

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