Archive for Barack Obama

At Clinton Confab of Heavy-Hitters, Amplification and Distribution Comes from Below

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Putting the imperative issue of civil rights and justice around the world for women and children front and center at this year’s Clinton Global Initiative required intense coordination between CGI and the Obama Administration – starting of course with the world’s foremost power couple.

But it also relied on some special sauce that was both unpredictable and incredibly effective: the distribution, discussion and amplification of social media.

This year’s CGI, which brought together more than 1,200 movers and shakers in New York in the cause of social change and international development, became a virtual boombox empowering women…and it’s a two part-story that reaches from the motorcades and presidential suites to digital alleyways of Twitter and blogland.

First, the top-down power messaging.

Fighting abuse and human trafficking of women and children is the signature issue for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who declared in her closing address: “we will put women at the heart of our efforts.”

Her husband, former President Clinton put the theme out front on the meeting’s first day: “Women perform 66 percent of the world’s work, and produce 50 percent of the food, yet earn only 10 percent of the income and own 1 percent of the property. Whether the issue is improving education in the developing world, or fighting global climate change, or addressing nearly any other challenge we face, empowering women is a critical part of the equation.”

And President Obama tied the work of his late mother in microfinance to the “spirit of the Clinton Global Initiative” and work empowering women and assisting children. His Administration was omnipresent at CGI, which coincides each year with the opening of the U.N. General Assembly. Besides Secretary Clinton, speakers included Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, economic adviser Larry Summers, and senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

One of the highlights was a peppery panel the first day, hosted by Diane Sawyer of ABC News, featuring Melanne Verveer, the State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues, Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International, and Edna Adan, director and founder of the Edna Adan Maternity and Teaching Hospital in East Africa, along with the head of the World Bank and CEOs of ExxonMobil and Goldman Sachs. And the panel brought about one electrifing moment: when Salbi challenged ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson’s statement that funding isn’t the problem – a fairly typical assertion these days. Retorted Salbi, whose organization provides women survivors of war, civil strife and other conflicts with the tools and resources to move from crisis and poverty to stability and self-sufficiency:

But women still get very small, women and girls, get so very small, minuscule amount of funding…One cent of every development dollar, less than one cent goes to girls. So when you look at the larger scope of development money and how much is being invested in so many other things, women and girls get the least amount of funding. Money is not the problem in terms of if it’s available, but the political decision to say we need to invest much more in girls and women is not fully there yet.

You sensed some “shareholder value” vs. “humanity’s needs” tension on the panel, and indeed throughout this year’s CGI – where perhaps the corporate titans are taken for the infallible gurus of finance they were before the recession. Blogger Emily Davila at beyondprofit captured the panel’s vibe, the classic CGI combination of corporate powerhouses with practitioners:

On one hand, the unprecedented high-level private sector participation means that the women’s agenda has gone mainstream; real change will not happen if only women are talking to each other. On the other hand, the panel would not have succeeded if it hadn’t had two women from the trenches who could keep the discussion grounded in the life and death realities many women face.

Those life and death realities were emphasized in a news conference with Secretary Solis, who vowed that the Labor Department would pursue companies with slave labor in their supply chains, and Ambassador Verveer, who said that “modern-day slavery is a global scourge – no country is immune.”

Verveer and Ambassador Luis CdeBaca, who monitors human trafficking or the Obama Administration, clearly positioned the State Department as a new activist player on the issue. Indeed, Verveer wondered aloud if civil rights for women around the world hadn’t reached a “tipping point.”

If it has, the combination of star power on display at CGI and the bottom-up effect of social networking are playing complementary roles to U.S. government policy – a rare moment when an administration’s policy is in near-total sync with NGO and grassroots activists.

Star power also played a role. Film star Julia Ormond, who founded the Alliance to Stop Slavery and End Trafficking at CGI two years ago, said that “meeting with victims and hearing their story just seals the deal.” And singer Ricky Martin made it personal – and advanced the storyline – during a shutter-clcking appearance in a special session, well-captured by Ari Melber in his Nation blog:

When Ricky Martin took the stage at the Clinton Global Initiative on Thursday, he did not sing, or dance, or even flash his trademark grin. Following the same stage directions as dozens of other celebrities who dropped by Clinton’s 5th annual global summit, from Brad Pitt to Bono to Jessica Alba, Martin struck a somber note while discussing the fight against human trafficking.

“I feel that my heart is going to come out of my mouth,” he said, recounting his sadness for the “millions of children that didn’t make it.” Martin was followed by testimony from a woman who, along with her two children, was kidnapped and held for four years of forced labor.

Martin made his remarks in what an interesting venue for Twitter reach. His own tweets – “on the CGI it’ll b my honor 2 present heroes tht r doing gr8 thinx agnst human trffckng.will xchange ideas n learn what else needs 2 b done!” – reached more than 338,000 followers.

But the Twitter king – actor Ashton Kutcher (@aplusk) – was also making the CGI scene with his wife, Demi Moore (@mrskutcher); he has a Twitter-leading 3.6 million followers, whilst she pitches short messages to 2.1 million more. The couple tweeted their commitment:

Hubby & I have started The Demi and Ashton Foundation or The DNA Foundation as we like 2 call it. We’re ready 2 help bring an end 2 slavery

And Kutcher sent his followers to the live CGI video stream for the plenary on human trafficking. He also found time to tweak a more senior delegate to the meeting:

Listening to John Glenn mock the social web because he doesn’t understand it. I wonder if people mocked his space program.

Meanwhile, Moore introduced her followers to the nation’s leading journalistic voice on the issue:

Sitting in listening 2 a panel speak on investing in Women & Girls at CGI. In Nick Kristoff’s words Women are the solution not the problem!

Celebrity tweets clearly go to a rather broad audience, but I think they help to reinforce a potential cultural shift in how we view sex trafficking and women’s civil rights. Repetition from the likes of an A-list TMZ-type couple can puncture the social permafrost around a difficult issue like this, and deliver it to the mainstream.

Besides, there’s a core audience for information from CGI that is not celebrity-obsessed: writers, analysts and bloggers who work in and around the “social sector” year-round. To a large degree, they carry a lot of the heavy baggage for CGI in terms of disseminating and discussing ideas and innovation with a wider audience.

It’s this group that sent a couple of dozen correspondents (including me and my CauseWired partner Susan Carey Dempsey) into the chaotic and tightly-controlled CGI press pool – a large-scale operation that is understandably focused primarily on the video and still cameras, there to capture the bigshots and stars. And it’s this group that now uses blogs, Facebook, and Twitter to spread some of the bigger thoughts and developments to an activist group beyond the (occasionally oppressive) Sheraton press room. And you could see a the big theme of women and girls sprouting everywhere you looked.

For instance, tweets with both the #cgi09 hashtag and “girls” appeared more than 200 times over the last week, #cgi09 and “women” was tweeted more than 450 times, and #cg09i and trafficking more than150 times. This doesn’t include the celebrities, who tend to use Twitter more as a broadcast medium and don’t tend to use the hashtags to organize the conversation.

Relatively small numbers – #cgi09 never “trended” into the top ten of Twitter tags – yet the audience for international development and human rights was paying attention around the virtual network. And that’s important for an issue that’s just arriving at its moment, getting its wider organizing chops together under a new Administration with an activist State Department.

That’s important to an undertaking like CGI, I think. Despite its success and the billions committed to helping people around the world, building a network to carry its causes onward – even at smaller scale – is crucial to getting beyond the limitations of one organization, however large and high-powered. Upwards of 30,000 people watched the proceedings via the live stream, which CGI made available this year as a widget anyone could use on their own sites to carry the proceedings.

It isn’t about making the power brokers haul out their iPhones and tweet from the inner circle. As Bill Clinton said in his summation: “Twitter. That’s a funny word.” But he still got the importance of distributing the discussion; he said CGI generated 80 tweets per hour, and that the social network – inside and outside the hall – is heling to power the bottom of the innovation pyramid.

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At CGI: President Obama Hails Partnership, Collaboration and Vision

President Barack Obama brought a strong message to the audience of a thousand heads of state, diplomates, CEOs, major philanthropists, and movie stars at the Clinton Global Initiative this evening:  “Real progress doesn’t just come from the top down – not just from govt – it comes from the bottom up, from real people.”

Kicking off this fifth annual gathering with a speech that publicly cemented his growing partnership with Bill Clinton – the husband of his former political rival – the President stressed his community organizing experience and the non-governmental work of his late mother.

“My mother understood that whether you live in the foothills of Java or the skyscrapers of Manhattan, we all share common principles:  justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings,” said the President. “And we all share common aspirations, for ourselves and our children:  to get an education, to work with dignity, and to live in peace and security.”

That meshed well with Clinton’s remarks while waiting the Obama motorcade to wind its way through a gridlocked midtown: the President was the first to come into office with experience nonprofit experience “and that’s a very good thing.”

President Obama praised the CGI attendees and took note of the gathering’s five-year record of achievement, including its 1,400 commitments affecting the lives of 200 million people around the world.

“That’s how we’ll confront the challenges of our time,” he said. “Standing together, working together, building together… That’s the spirit that I see here tonight — the spirit that says we can rise above the barriers that too often divide us.”

The President began his remarks on a light note, razzing President Clinton on his golf score an about monopolizing his wife’s schedule. “I’ve always appreciated President Clinton’s valuable advice and the ideas he’s offered my administration.  I do understand that the President has been having trouble getting a hold of my Secretary of State lately.  (Laughter.)   But I hope he doesn’t mind, because Hillary Clinton is doing an outstanding job for this nation and we are so proud of her.”

Then he praised the former President choice to found CGI. After leaving office, said Obama, Clinton asked, “What can I do to keep making a difference?”And what an extraordinary difference he, working with all of you, have made.  For the victims of disaster, from the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, he’s made a difference.  For those in need, from parents and children battling HIV/AIDS to your efforts today on behalf of the people of Haiti, he’s made a difference. It’s no exaggeration:  Around the world, Bill Clinton has helped to improve — and save — the lives of millions.  That is no exaggeration.”

And CGI, said the President, is increasingly important in an interconnected world. “We need a new spirit of global partnership,” the president said. “That is the spirit that guides this organization. I hope that is the spirit that guides my administration.”


Zazengo and the Social Resume

Last month around the inauguration of President Obama – and the day of the service centered on the celebration of Dr. King’s life  –  there was a ton of focus on creating a lasting online movement for citizen-powered change. As the economic crisis deepens and the new Administration deals with that challenge on a day-to-day basis, some of that January enthusiasm has been tempered by the reality of February – but during a recent conversation with the CEO of online social venture Zazengo.com brought back a bit of last month’s spark.

“This concept of challenging others, of making people do something, of a very focused call to action – that’s a big part of this call for national community service,” said Vicki Saunders, a serial entrepreneur and chief of the two-year-old online social change platform.

I think Vicki is exactly right, and that there’s an opportunity – even in the downturn – to create that “focused call to action” on the Web. And Zazengo is a very interesting platform: its motto is “What happens after the call to action?” and the emphasis is very much on impact. In Zazengo’s case, impact of members – in volunteering, raising money, taking actions and the like – is measured through a handsome user interface that favors graphs over pure numbers. This recognizes, I think, the idea that activism isn’t always about pure metrics (dollars raised, for example) but about impact over the longer term. Zazengo’s cool graphics offer a kind of friendly and light feedback loop that emphasizes encouragement over spreadsheets.

But Zazengo is also highly cognizant that the world may not need another destination website, with actions focused on a single URL. “People looking at destination sites, but that’s old thinking,” says Saunders. “It’s really all about getting your unique value proposition out to other sites, to where people live. We really want to be about tracking the impact.”

Read the rest of this entry »

President Obama’s Social Network

obamaThe accepted storyline on President Obama’s souped-up hot rod of a super-secure executive branch Blackberry runs like this: Presidents too often exist in a bubble, insulated from real people and the world outside the sturdy White House gates. There’s some truth to that, of course, but much of that isolation has tended to be self-inflicted rather than mandated by statute.

While it will undoubtedly help him keep his connection with non-governmental friends and ideas, the Obama Blackberry also has another important function that I’m pretty sure our new President is well aware of: it’s an important symbol of access and permission.

Yes, I know the new PDA will be limited to email addresses of those pre-cleared by the Secret Service – and that President Obama’s emails will legally fall under Federal record-keeping regulations. Those email conversations aren’t likely to have any references to predator drone attacks inside Pakistan or Congressional strategies around the stimulus bill. They will be limited.

But that misses the point. The President will still be carrying a portable web browser where ever he goes. And while he might only use it to check Chisox boxscores, the potential exists for a more direct link to the daily swirl of information outside of his daily briefing books. Read the rest of this entry »

The CauseWired Roundup: Inauguration Edition

Craig on Obama’s ‘Craigslist for Service’

As Craig Newmark notes in an article on Huffington Post, President-elect Barack Obama ran on a platform that included a call for a national “craigslist for service.” But as Newmark writes, he’d like craigslist itself used “only a metaphorical reference to the need for greater service to others, with the spirit and culture of trust of craigslist.”

Besides, notes Newmark, there are already many outlets for service and involvement, including some of the organizations and sites profiled in CauseWired. He lists five ways for Americans to get involved with a “craigslist for service,” and notes the value of the public pledge in encouraging others:

To make this really happen, people need to declare themselves publicly, to commitment to some form of service, and follow through. This is like the pledge system of the Clinton Global Initiative, or pledgebank.com, or thepoint.com. We’ll need something which scales to the tens of millions, which also plugs into the social networking tools people actually use.

He’s got a point: the best in social networking involves the abandonment of anonymity and the embrace of the self in a very public fashion. Clearly, Obama’s campaign tapped that next-stage, public Internet over the past two years – and there’s real value to leveraging what has been a political campaign into more of a national movement. As Newmark says: “I feel that we’re entering a new time of civic engagement, where people can help others out in small or big ways.”

Post-Obama Organizing? It’s Already in the Streets

Understandably, there’s been a lot of discussion in the last two weeks about the future of the powerful Obama Internet operation. Does the vast, empowered constituency serve as a virtual public advocacy campaign for Obama policy initiatives? Does it work toward the mid-terms in 2010? Re-election in 2012?

Or does it inspire a “flash cause” that puts tens of thousands of people into the streets in outraged protest less than two weeks after the election in what is a clear sign that what the Obama campaign unleashed in online organizing is just the start.

Based on the incredible success of JointheImpact.com, which channeled anger over California’s passage of the anti-gay Proposition 8 into an instant same-sex marriage advocacy organization that put the old line gay rights groups to shame, we’re voting for the latter.

Built on the WetPaint platform, using Twitter and other social networks, and boasting local organizing groups in every state, JointheImpact generated massive media attention and built itself into an action-oriented campaign that brought tens of thousands of people to mass rallies. The group combined a strong political message at the top with the tools other participants needed to organize themselves.

Here’s how Reuters covered the story:

Amy Balliett, 26, used her lunch break last Friday to start a website — http://www.jointheimpact.com — to call for coordinated action across the United States this weekend.

In a few days, more than 1 million people have visited her site and dozens of marches and meetings are now planned for 1:30 p.m. EST (1830 GMT) on Saturday.

By the evening jointheimpact.com was created, it was visited 10,000 times. By Sunday, there were 50,000 visits per hour and the computer running the site crashed. It has moved computers twice since in an effort to keep up.

“Why do we have to wait for someone to step up and say let’s do a protest?” Balliett remembered thinking after her friend, Willow Witte, posted a blog about California. “Over email we decided to do it.”

Now that’s online organizing. Genie. Bottle. Not gonna happen.