Seeking Parity - Clinton's Global Initiative

Now that the dust has settled - the Sheraton Hotel has resumed its regular activities, the motorcades have transported their esteemed charges to various airports, and secret service and security professionals no longer occupy every hotel lobby - I can finally reflect on the triumph of former President Bill Clinton's massive undertaking; his Global initiative garnered over $7 billion dollars in pledges this year.

It has already been widely reported that Sir Richard Branson pledged $3 billion to help fund alternative energy sources that don't contribute to global warming. But Clinton was also quick to extol the virtues of the smaller contributions, pointing out that though many of the commitments were in the thousands of dollars rather then the millions and billions, some of those commitments have the potential to alter the course of entire communities. It's not always as costly as we think to harness creative thinking with financial capital to positively change people's lives. Take, for example, First Lady Laura Bush's announcement of the "PlayPump" drinkable water project recently launched with the Case Foundation. Water wells and pumps cleverly disguised as children's playground toys in rural communities in Africa assure a constant supply of kid-power to turn those pumps, and keep fresh water flowing. Clever, unique, functional and making a difference now.

Having attended both Clinton Global Initiative symposiums, I've witnessed first-hand how President Clinton's call to action has motivated global leaders, NGO's and private citizens to step forward with concrete actions to help mitigate and eventually eradicate the world's most pressing problems. Gathered together in standing-room-only density, were representatives from every corner of the globe. Unless one has access to the United Nations meetings - it's rare to be in physical touching distance with so many heads of state at one time. But this symposium drew appearances from Pervez Musharraf, President of Pakistan, Alvaro Uribe Velez, the President of Colombia, Queen Rania Al-Abdullah, & King Abdullah II of Jordan, Kofi Annan, of the United Nations, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Shimon Peres of Israel, and on and on - a truly stellar list of attendees.

Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the President of the Republic of Liberia, was a panelist on the Urgent Issues & Innovative Solutions Panel, moderated by Thomas Friedman. She was eloquent in her candid evaluation of the needs of her country, and encouraged the movers and shakers in the room to invest in Liberia - and also suggested that participants remember to include the recipients of potential aid in the dialog, noting that different communities often have a different hierarchy of needs. For some, healthcare is the greatest need, while for others, housing or education may be the priority. It's also important to ensure that aid programs are ultimately sustainable, and not just a one-shot deal.

The CGI has a lofty goal - and nobody imagines it will be easy. In the breakout session on "What is to be done in the Middle East," it was clear that Hanan Ashrawi, of The Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, a passionate advocate for the Palestinians, and Eival Gilady, of the Portland Trust Tel Aviv, who was equally passionate about the state of affairs for Israelis, were hard pressed to find common ground to move the dialog forward, but were both willing to try. In the break out session, The Case of Darfur: Can Citizen Mobilization Make a Difference, we heard from Don Cheadle, actor and activist, John Prendergast, of the International Crisis Group, and Jeffrey Swartz, of The Timberland Company - all of whom spoke about ways we can raise awareness, and not only shine a light on the horrors of Darfur - but also, finally, to make a difference. Mr. Swartz had a choice - to take action, though seemingly illogical in his case, since the Timberland Company has no stores and no clients to speak of in Darfur - or to be missing in action. He chose the former, and has mounted a PR campaign using Timberland Boots to show his solidarity with Darfur. Creative thinking, creative solutions.

The intention of the Clinton Global Initiative is to encourage individuals, companies and governments to come up with solutions now - to make the world a better place. No matter which country one hails from, or which political end of the spectrum one participates in, this working symposium engenders communication and partnership. It fosters a generally positive atmosphere with discussions aimed at bridge-building and functional partnerships, rather than defensive finger-pointing, and canned rhetoric. It may be idealistic, but I believe each one of us can make a difference.