This week President Bill Clinton is hosting the Fifth Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an event that brings together global leaders from business, government, academia, science, religion, and NGO’s, including numerous heads of state, former heads of state, CEO’s of multinational corporations, and prominent philanthropists. The Meeting is meant to be a venue where business, government, and civil-sector leaders work together to plan and launch specific projects- which CGI calls Commitments to Action- to address global economic, environmental, and social challenges.
I was lucky enough to be in attendance at yesterday’s opening plenary session, which featured appearances and speeches from a host of impressive actors who framed the agenda for the three days to follow at CGI, identifying critical areas for action and collaboration on a multitude of issues and across all sectors. Among those actors were former United States President Bill Clinton, Matt Damon (actor/activist), Michelle Bachelet (President of Chile), Kevin Rudd (Prime Minister of Australia), Mike Duke (President and CEO of Wal-Mart), Muhtar Kent (Chairman of the Board and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company) and United States President Barack Obama. And they were all in the same room for one purpose: to create change. It was pretty powerful. I offer some highlights below:
First, President Clinton delivered a passionate and inspired welcome speech, in which he discussed, among other things, bridging the gap between good intentions and real change. This is a theme I expect many people to address throughout this week, and which several different people addressed in the opening session in different ways. President Clinton also talked about the need for concrete strategic action, noting that many times people address the “what” and “how much” of change, but rarely the “how”, which he pointed out needed to be addressed in order to maximize positive impact. “This whole initiative [CGI] is in the how business,” President Clinton said.
Clinton then welcomed several speakers to the stage to discuss the status of their committments from the year before. These included Matt Damon and Gary White, who were there to promote their organization Water.org and who both spoke about access to water and sanitation while Clinton looked on proudly (see picture below), as well as Linda Lockhart, founder of Global Give Back Circle, a mentorship program for young schoolgirls in Kenya.
The session then featured a panel with President Bachelet of Chile, Prime Minister Rudd, Mike Duke, and Muhtar Kent. All the panelists had interesting things to say, but in particular I was fascinated by President Bachelet’s comments on healthcare and equality. “We must resume an attempt to equalize the world,” she said. Clinton followed up on her message and said, “The world is more unstable because it is more unequal. I really believe that.” I think it’s really fascinating that socioeconomic inequality is being almost universally condemned at this conference, and I think this bodes well for the health and rights of women and girls.
Another highlight of the panel was finding out an interesting tidbit about the Coca Cola Company- they were one of the first major companies to to encourage HIV testing among their workers in South Africa and to forbid discrimination against their HIV positive employees. And they’re developing an exciting new “plant bottle” that will be made of sugar cane molasses and be 100% recyclable.
Lastly, President Obama anchored the opening session with a speech on the meaning of the CGI and social change. “The U.S. is embarking on a new phase of global engagement,” Obama said. “The U.S. will not work by lecturing and imposing our ideas, but by listening and working together; by seeking more exchanges between students and experts; new collaborations among scientists to promote technological development; partnerships between businesses, entrepreneurs to advance prosperity and opportunity for people everywhere”.
The Fifth Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative continues until Friday. Be sure to check back later in the week for more coverage and analysis. You can also visit the CGI website to view a live webcast of the meeting, as well as to submit questions to be included in the Plenary Sessions.