Monday, September 24, 2012


Bill Clinton's eighth annual, star-studded thinkfest on philanthropy, technology, social enterprise and cause advocacy — the Clinton Global Initiative 2012 — kicked off Sunday in Manhattan with a call to delegates to step up their impact on a global scale, to "design your actions in advance to make it more likely they will succeed."

In opening remarks decidedly less optimistic than in previous years, Clinton signaled impatience. "I want to say my standard broken record," he told attendeees, "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." [At one point during an opening panel with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Queen Rania of Jordan and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Clinton challenged Wal-Mart President and CEO Michael Duke to open a store in Libya and create jobs in some of the world's crisis hotspots. Duke responded that his company already operates in "high-risk areas" but not yet in Tripoli, the Libyan capital.]

"How come we can never seem to take solutions to problems to scale?" Clinton asked delegates and panelists, alike, alluding to the theme of this year's conference, Design for Impact. Since the first CGI conference in 2005, delegates have pledged millions to create new projects to ease hunger, stem environmental damage, and lift thousands of people out of poverty. But Clinton urged delegates to now act more collaboratively, and quickly, to translate what works in their individual projects into larger, cross-border deployments. "There are all of these places, all over the world, and they're all so different. How can we take what we know to work, and scale it quicker?" Clinton asked. "...How can countries come together amid all these cuts in foreign assistance? How can we plan and execute our way out of the current economic crisis (globally) without backsliding on all of these humanitarian goals?"

"If we do not deeply understand the communities we are trying to serve, we cannot design causes for impact." -- IDEA CEO Tim Brown

This is the fifth consecutive CGI that Cause Global has attended; the crowd at the New York Sheraton Hotel in the heart of midtown Manhattan is, once again, a testament to Clinton's continuing clout on the world stage, with appearances scheduled for Tuesday by both Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama, the new leaders of Egypt and Libya (attending amid the opening of this year's United Nations' General Assembly across town], and a blue-chip roster of bold-faced names from the worlds of media, business, policy think tanks and entertainment, including wellbeing guru Deepak Chopra, Actors Michael Douglas, Forrest Whitaker and Geena Davis, Newsweek/Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown, fashion designer Donna Karan, Council on Foreign Relations Co-chair and former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, Barbra Streisand, Loew's Hotels CEO Jonathan Tisch, and philanthropist Eli Broad.

Much of the program will be unfolding during simultaneous break-out sessions and delegate design-for-impact workshops taking place on Monday and Tuesday. Some of the sessions will be livestreamed over the Web. Cause Global will be tweeting from the floor and during some of the breakout sessions. You can follow our CGI tweets @CauseGlobal throughout.

[The 2012 Social Good Summit, a separate conference occuring simultaneously across town, also is exploring impact, but mostly through the use of social media for cross-community action. Cause Global also is covering that conference, sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, Mashable, the 92Y, Ericcson and the Gates Foundation. Watch this space for separate posts.]

To view Sunday's opening plenary session of CGI, a conversation between Bill Clinton and global heads of state, click HERE. In that conversation, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon , alluding indirectly to the civil war in Syria, issued a "call for alarm" by world leaders and, alluding indirectly to Syria's civil war, urged more collaborative political leadership across the world. His remarks are excerpted, below:

"I'm going to sound the alarm to all leaders for more leadership. We are living in an era of insecurity, injustice, inequality, and intolerance. I want to emphasize that political leadership is needed. This is a collective responsibility of all of our leaders at this time in our history.  I was just in Srebrenica, a place that may be the most difficult place to visit for any Secretary General of the United Nations. It was most humbling, sad, and troubling to realize the international community failed to protect the lives of many in the civilian popultion. We could have done that. We could have done it if there was a very clear, strong political will. More than 8,000 boys and men were murdered in just three days (in July 1995). Why and for what? In Rwanda, hundreds of thousands were killed in the span of a year. Why? Because we lacked the political will to protect the civilian population. We must respect human dignity ... and we have to set this world right, put this world on the right track for humanity. That is what the UN will continue to try to do but we need all of you to get engaged, as we can't do it alone." 

Among other first-day highlights:

* World Bank President Jim Yong Kim acknowledged that multilateral institutions, including his own, "are not very good nor effective at capturing knowledge of what works and spreading it to others."  Within the multilateral system, he said, "there are so many good examples of what works, yet we don't capture them, codify them, or duplicate them." He also said that global institutions have been "very bad at pulling fragile states out of instability. We do know that one way to do that is to create jobs. What do we know about creating jobs in fragile environments? Well, the folks in Mozambique and Rwanda have done pretty well at it. What are the lessons? The World Bank is filled with master practioners but we haven't been systematic about capturing that knowledge and spreading it effectively." He said his precedessor, James Wolfensohn, often talked about transforming the World Bank into a 'knowledge bank.' "But what does that mean?" Kim asked. "Does it mean that we send everyone our studies and our reports? Instead, we need to turn the World Bank into a solutions bank, and develop a science of delivery and execution around social goals. Solutions in one place may not work in another, but if you have a commitment to continously learn from what people are doing, there is a possibility we can contribute to stability everywhere."

* IDEO CEO Tim Brown spoke with Fast Company editor Linda Tischler, telling her that global changemakers need to learn about local culture and local markets before they can be effective scaling their designs for change, whether for new products or new social problem-solving. "If we do not deeply understand the communities we are trying to serve, we cannot design causes for impact," he said. "You need to be on the ground and to understand the local cultures. You have to be able to connect to the people for whom your designs are meant to serve."

* During a private dinner panel hosted by 10,000 Women, the Goldman Sachs-backed women's empowerment initiative, Liberian business owner Kabeh Sumbo told invitees that "if you train one woman like the 10,000 Women trained me, you train a nation." The panel, moderated by Newsweek and The Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown, was joined by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large Melanne Verveer, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee and New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. Kristof said there is mounting evidence that small businesses run by women can dramatically influence local communities and "lift nations" over time. But Sirleaf acknowledged that not every woman who wants to start a company will be a success. "Kabeh is an exception," Sirleaf acknowledged. Her administration has given Sumbo 100 acres of farmland to help her grow her palm-oil business, which Sumbo began with one container of olive oil and a microfinance loan. Sirleaf told Sumbo Sunday night, "Kabeh, your 100 acres of land awaits you. I have chosen to put it in my own county so I will be able to monitor you first-hand."

The conference continues through Tuesday. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to address CGI Monday morning.

Watch this space for continuing highlights.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photographs courtesy CGI and CauseGlobal staff]

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