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A Word from the President
October 15, 2008
Returning to the Clinton Global Initiative
Last week I was honored to attend the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. Keystone was invited to become a member of CGI in 2007, and it seems hard to believe that already a year has passed since my official introduction to this admirable global project – but the wealth of new ideas, projects and collaborations that were presented at this year's meeting confirm the immensity of this initiative's growth with every passing year.
The Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting is the central opportunity for members to work together identifying, discussing and analyzing significant global issues in the areas of education, poverty, health care and climate change. This year's participants included Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, philanthropists Peter and Jennifer Buffett, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, President Bush, Senator John McCain, Senator Barack Obama (via satellite), actress and social activist Ashley Judd, celebrity philanthropist Bono, business leader T. Boon Pickens, and President of World Bank Robert Zoellick, as well as many other prominent social advocates.
A multitude of themes emerged in this year's discussions. One central emphasis was the importance of the United States' leadership in worldwide endeavors, and in light of the current economic crisis, the confidence of global leaders in America's power to overcome these challenges was greatly encouraging. Israeli President Shimon Peres was quoted as observing, “America's wealth is not based on what it has or what it produces, but what it holds in its creative capacity and continued ability to innovate.” To this effect, a common point of discussion was the United States becoming more effective in utilization of soft power – the social and cultural influence of positive, constructive and ideological projects – rather than hard power – military action or economic incentives – to promote global change. A key concept for Keystone, this idea builds upon the capacity of America's nonprofit sector to carry out a strategy of NGO and medical diplomacy.
A primary responsibility of CGI membership is the Commitment to Action, a new, specific and measurable plan of action to address a world issue, transforming ideas and proposed solutions into proactive projects and collaborations. Among the diverse array of commitments announced at the Annual Meeting were a project to promote health in the world's most economically destitute children (addressing the parasites and poor health that inflict the majority of children without access to comprehensive health care), and an innovative entrepreneurial endeavor to distribute solar-charged LED lanterns to one billion individuals who lack consistent access to electricity.
Highlighting successful Commitments to Action, President Clinton presented the annual Clinton Global Citizen Awards, recognizing individuals and organizations whose outstanding leadership and innovation embodies the CGI mission. This year's recipients included Jennifer and Peter Buffett, whose NoVo Foundation, among other pursuits, promotes sustainable educational opportunities for women and girls in post-conflict West Africa and underscores the powerful role young women can play in enacting change worldwide. Of special emphasis was the Girl Effect project, through which NoVo has partnered with the Nike foundation to help adolescent girls in developing countries bring social and economic change to their families, communities, and countries.
Neville Isdell, chairman of the board for the Coca-Cola Company, was another 2008 Global Citizen Award recipient. Isdell has been one of the most prominent voices promoting the role of the major business world in strengthening and improving the communities it serves. Under his leadership, Coca-Cola has supported community water projects in over 50 countries and has played a major role in HIV/AIDS awareness projects in Africa. Along with former Global Citizen Award recipient John Chambers, chairman of Cisco Systems, Isdell presented a powerful model for a capitalist change of perspective: major corporations must be deeply invested in the welfare and development of the communities they impact, assuring access to clean water, education and health care for individuals that make their production and distribution possible.
The impact of poverty, climate change, failed states, population growth, radical ideology, and the absence of health care and education in large segments of the world is growing – and the implications of these great global issues can be overwhelming. However, as the Clinton Global Initiative reveals, talented individuals in every realm are fully engaged in confronting these great issues – and they are doing so with hope, energy, courage and optimism. One emphasis of CGI that I find most invigorating is the critical role of nonprofit organizations, which have a unique capacity to operate in areas where the market and political systems cannot function effectively and sustain comprehensive strategies for the long term.
The Clinton Global Initiative provides a powerful model for soft power, which promotes the ability of all people – wherever their talents and passions may be vested – to work towards significant global change. Uniting diverse expertise with the leadership and resources of government, business and nonprofit sectors, CGI forges innovative, comprehensive, long-term strategies and solutions to the challenges of our world. Though the ambitions of CGI members are on a great scale, the work they are doing and the ideas they are dreaming can encourage every individual to think bigger: to discover the ways we can all, individually and united together, become agents of positive change in our world.