Archive for Bill Clinton

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

bill clinton

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.

Chat Catcher


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.”

The Clinton Global Initiative Loosens Its Digital Tie

Midtown Manhattan is in virtual lock-down, as motorcades shut streets and security agents create instant frozen zones to protect the heads of state here in New York for the United Nations General Assembly. Cabs are worthless hulks of immobile yellow metal. Buses are very nearly short-stay hotel rooms. And the commuter trains and subways run under extra vigilance, under reputed threat from terrorist explosions.

Here at the Sheraton, security is as tight as the bedsheets in the presidential suite upstairs – President Barack Obama is due this afternoon to help kick off the 5th annual Clinton Global Initiative, the massive who’s who gathering of heads of state, movie stars, philanthropists and corporate titans (if any can be said to exist in 2009).

Yet the word here in the blogger and media bunker a couple of floors below the CEOs and Nobel types is that Bill Clinton’s dizzying annual confab of development and do-gooderism is more “open” than before.

Oh, not in the most obvious ways: you generally still have to be somebody of serious accomplishment or pony up for a large-scale commitment to the developing world or domestic poverty to get a delegate’s badge. At CGI, Brad Pitt’s the leading voice on New Orleans. And that’s no accident – star power drives this show, which is all about bringing attention to the world’s problems. That is succeeds wildly nearly nine years after President Clinton left office is testament to both his contacts and continued energy – and to the people who make this thing run. Super Bowls have fewer moving parts.

So yes, it’s very much a top-down affair from a messaging standpoint. What President Obama says, what Bill Clinton highlights, what Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and Ashton Kutcher promote, what Al Gore,  Queen Rania and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton comment upon – those items will drive the headlines and the video spots on cable TV.

Yet that summation would ignore a trend that’s as plain as the code on the CGI webcast of the sessions: a Twitter app that allows anyone to ask questions of the participants. It’s a small foot in the door, I think, for a conference that ranks with Davos in high octane policy-making and is unsurpassed in attendance by heads of state from around the world.

This year, you also sense that the Tweetstream – and its ubiquitous #cgi09 tag – isn’t limited to a handful of symbolic tweets from the movie stars and the constant updates from bloggers; many of the delegates are posting as well from their iPhones and Blackberries. Then too, bloggers are now allowed access to some of the smaller speciality sessions – like ‘The Infrastructure of Human Dignity: Protecting the Most Vulnerable’ on Thursday – that we used to have to watch closed-circuit television to listen in on. And last night, President Clinton hosted another late-night roundtable with bloggers; I couldn’t make it this year, but was at last year’s and it’s generally a free-wheeling session on an incredible variety of serious policy topics. This year’s CGI is also streaming video outside the Sheraton more completely than in year’s past – an overt attempt to carry the conversation beyond the hotel walls.

This will never be Bar Camp or Netroots Nation. It’s not exactly the barbarian’s storming the gates, either. Yet despite the wall of hard-nosed security on the way in, CGI is opening up. And given the importance of this gathering to social entrepreneurship and international development, that opening may encourage more bottom-up involvement.

Bill Clinton and the Economic Crisis: A Blogger’s Chat

The question for philanthropy says former President Bill Clinton, is whether “people give more or less” during the unfolding American financial crisis.

“I think there’s at least a 50-percent chance they’ll give more,” he told a small group of bloggers Monday night during a meeting in his suite at the Sheraton New York, site this week of the fourth annual Clinton Global Initiative conference.

President Clinton covered a wide range of topics – from economics and banking to environmental technology and politics in the hemisphere – during an informal and freewheeling discussion that featured few questions but expansive answers on the world situation. Overall, Clinton maintained an optimistic view on the eve of his annual CGI confab, which is timed to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly and brings together heads of state, top business leaders, philanthropic executives and a slew of celebrities.
The ideas is to create an environment for philanthropic deal-making on a broad scale, and CGI has been responsible for leveraging billions in private funds and investments for global causes over its first four years through “commitments,” essentially term sheets for doing good, that are signed by governments, companies, NGOs, individuals, and foundations at the gathering.

There are, of course, political notes to CGI – some subtle, and others right out on the awning in block letters. For example, both candidates for president, Senators Barack Obama and John McCain, will speak about energy at CGI – McCain in person, Obama via satellite. And Senator Hillary Clinton, the runner-up in the race for the Democratic nomination, will be a presence just as she was last year as her campaign got underway. Yet CGI is also relentlessly non-partisan: Laura Bush opened the conference two years ago, Al Gore is a regular, and conservative oilman T. Boone Pickens is in the spotlight this year for his energy proposals. Throw in British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Queen Rania of Jordan, and UN Secretary-General Ban ki Moon, along with business titans and philanthropists like Bill Gates and Muhammad Yunus, and household names like Bono, Barbra Streisand and Muhammad Ali, and it’s quite a mix.

The impact on philanthropy was very much on Bill Clinton’s mind Monday night. “The current economic crisis will make the work of putting philanthropists and organizations together more significant over the next couple of years.”

He talked about humanitarian assistance for Haiti in the wake of devastating storms. “I’m very interested in the response here at CGI to the situation in Haiti because of what we do here, which is get business, wealthy individuals and foundations to five more money to the developing nations of the world.”
But his thoughts were also on the domestic crisis, the economic disaster that threatens the U.S. financial system. “Two-thirds of the American people cannot pay their bills any more,” he said. “They do not believe they will be able to stabilize their lives any longer.” The massive bail-out plans aimed at protecting wide swaths of the insurance, credit and banking sectors should not just protect business, said Clinton.
“It will only work if there’s a mainstream component as well as a Wall Street component…“I’m for the idea that the taxpayers ought to be paid back.”

Predicting that foreclosures on American homes would reach two million this year, Clinton called for a moratorium on home mortgage foreclosures, along with a Federally-run homeowners loan fund similar to Depression-Era programs to allow homeowners to stay in their homes while reducing payments to affordable levels and blocking foreclosures.

President Clinton said that the economic crisis was playing differently in other parts of the United States. “Hillary called [from the campaign trail in Kentucky] and said it’s really interesting how this is going .You know as a New Yorker, she sees Lehman Brothers as tens of thousands of people who worked there and may not have jobs any more, not as a few powerful people. But out here, they don’t see it yet as a big crisis requiring an urgent response, because they’ve been in trouble for years.”

And the world is also paying close attention, he said. Speaking to heads to state at CGI, President Clinton said there was good deal of worry around world about the state of the U.S. economy. “They’re more or less in shock too.”

Note: the team at onPhilanthropy will be covering the Clinton Global Initiative all week. Check back for future updates. I’ll also be Twittering away as the spirit moves me.

Update: Some of the other bloggers who graced the Clinton suite: Lance Mannion, Dana Goldstein, Deanna Zandt, Josh Orton, Josh Levy, and Jack Aponte.