In New York City during United Nations Week, heads of state have been more often splitting their time heading not only to the General Assembly, but also to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).
Created in 2005, CGI is the product of former President Bill Clinton. The event brings together celebrities, political and business leaders, and top thinkers to help find solutions to the worlds’ most pressing challenges. What makes the Clinton Global Initiative different from the Davos World Economic Forum (WEF) or even the UN meetings? It is run differently than any other event in the world.
The CGI Annual Meeting seamlessly facilitates cross-sector partnerships to create the best solutions possible — a method that has yet to be seen in Davos, the UN, or other major foundations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. By requiring each member of CGI to make concrete commitments, instead of simply discussing monumental issues and going to lavish “business” lunches and dinners, CGI is more successful than Davos.
CGI strives to “inspire, connect and empower” people to approach our world’s most colossal issues. The structure of CGI is set up like this: members join, they communicate with other members in different sectors, and they propose a “commitment to action” — essentially a promise that is described by all CGI goers as “new, specific and measurable.” The meeting recently focused on three main concentrations: Jobs, Girls and Women, and Sustainable Consumption — three topics that people have tirelessly said are underrepresented in just American politics alone.
The commitments are created on large or small scale, and can take a few months to a few decades to be accomplished. They can concentrate on one specific region or tackle an entire country’s predicament. To sustain these projects, members must report to CGI throughout the year and attend the Annual Meeting in September. They also must pay an annual membership fee of $20,000. While the work these illustrious members do may be undoubtedly effective and innovative, the hefty sum is daunting to an average citizen or an eager non-member who would like to become a member. But CGI works hard to be inclusive of these people — each year CGI extends a limited amount of complimentary membership invitations to non-profits. In 2007, CGI even created CGI University, modeled after the CGI Annual Meeting, but with panels given and commitments made my college students. The event is free for college students who are accepted.
Who exactly constitutes this ostensibly elite group of people and what are they doing to solve these global drawbacks? This is the most brilliant aspect of CGI — its members. Where else do you find a congenial amalgamation of former and current heads of state, Nobel Prize laureates, CEO’s, philanthropists, athletes, celebrities, influential non-profit directors, and venerable members of the media sitting in one room together? It could be argued you might see some of these individuals at Davos or the UN. But at Davos or the UN, is former Irish President Mary Robinson working with former NBA player Dikembe Mutombo on a commitment to use organized sports as a method to deflate human trafficking? Or is New York Times columnist Nick Kristof sitting side-by-side with medical anthropologist Paul Farmer formulating a commitment to set up micro-lending systems in Uganda? Not exactly. This is what sets CGI apart.
These numbers simply do not lie: CGI members have made almost 2,000 commitments, improving the lives of 300 million people, and those numbers have certainly increased after the 2011 annual meeting this week. CGI has become something people want to be a part of. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation donate money to CGI. Members of the UN would not dare miss it. Budding non-profits want to have their voices heard. Wealthy philanthropists look to CGI as an example. The unique partnerships between members add a depth and validity to the thousands of commitments that are made at the annual meeting.
The 2011 meeting came to a close on Thursday night when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, gave a final plenary. Secretary Clinton said that this is “an age of participation, whether we like it or not, and I’m just calling on people who have educated opinions, who have a voice — that should be heard — to participate and not just leave it to those who have an axe to grind or an ideological agenda or are just not well-informed.”
That is truly the core of CGI — people participating because they want to make a difference.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons