Bill Clinton Kicks Off First (and Last) Charity Summit Overseas


Clinton with Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and Victor Fung, chairman of Hong Kong's Li & Fung Group. Reuters

Bill Clinton opened the first Clinton Global Initiative Asia summit in Hong Kong on Tuesday, amid questions over how the global economic slump and his wife's new role as U.S. Secretary of State would affect his international crusade. One effect: in an attempt to eliminate conflicts of interest related to Hillary's new job, no more CGI conferences will be held outside of the U.S.

But as the two-day summit began away from its usual New York base, the former President, and his mission of bringing together global leaders to address the world's biggest problems, showed no signs of slowing down. "Our work is never more important because the government cannot solve all the problems alone," Clinton said in opening remarks. "We need partnership from the private sector and civil society."

Today alone, donors made pledges amounting to about $95 million USD.The money will go to projects aimed at alleviating poverty, fighting disease, improving education, and bettering the environment in developing countries in Asia and Africa. As usual, if a donor fails to deliver on its promise, it is not invited back to the summit. (See a sampling of pledges below.)

The Future of Bill
How many pledges CGI's first overseas summit will draw in this tough economic environment is also tied up with questions over the future of Clinton's globe-trotting.

As The Times reported, Bill Clinton has agreed to disclose publicly the names of more than 200,000 donors to his foundation as part of a deal to clear the way for Senator Clinton's nomination. He will also refuse donations from foreign governments to the Clinton Global Initiative ... cease holding the initiative's meetings overseas; submit his speaking schedule to review by the State Department and White House counsel; and submit any new sources of income to a similar ethical review, among other restrictions.

Curtailing Clinton's connections to foreign leaders makes sense; obvious concerns abound about the former President influencing or contradicting the current President's policies. But as commentator Joe Conason notes at Salon, Clinton has been very circumspect in his overseas affairs, be it his humanitarian work or speaking engagements. Even if he disagreed with Bush, he never embarrassed the country on foreign soil, and he kept the State Dept. apprised of his goings-on. But, Conason continues,

What would not make sense, however, is to hobble Bill Clinton's role as a global citizen, which ought to be used by the Obama administration to advance its own vision of American leadership in the world. His capacity to mobilize political, corporate and civic forces on behalf of benign objectives -- and his influence over officials around the world -- exemplifies the "soft power" that is supposed to become the new paradigm of our diplomacy.... all of [the members of Obama's incoming national security cabinet] have argued, at one time or another, that the real threats to American national interest are equally rooted in underdevelopment, disease, climate change and ethnic conflict as in the military ambitions of rival powers and the lethal mania of terrorists.

How Bill and CGI adapt to life under a Hillary Clinton State Department will be as interesting to watch as how the private and NGO sector in general -- and emerging venture philanthropy in particular -- adapt their charitable work to a rough economic climate.

Founded in 2005, Clinton's initiative's members have made nearly 1,200 commitments valued at $46 billion that have improved 200 million lives over 150 countries.

An Obama White House may rebuild America's reputation and reshape its foreign policy -- along with energy and economic policies. But it won't be able to address all of America's foreign concerns alone. Initiatives like Clinton's are good at filling in the gaps, at making connections between those who can give and those who need -- the kind of thing governments don't seem best suited to do.

Private, independent solutions can be more flexible, mobile and innovative when it comes to dealing with local crises. As Bloomberg notes, in September Clinton praised microfinance investors for helping "real people" make a "real rate of return" in poor nations while cautioning against allowing the U.S. financial crisis to undercut anti-poverty aid. To prevent that from happening, a clearinghouse of innovative ideas and the resources to make them happen may be more important than ever.

We'll be keeping a curious eye on how CGI develops, and what new kinds of organizations and summits (perhaps with help from Obama's administration) it might spawn.

Also interesting to see is what exactly George W. Bush plans to do with his post-White House life.

Climate Changes
The CGI is happening in parallel with another big global crisis-focused pow-wow: the latest round of talks on a global climate agreement in Poland. That China is the world's leading producer of CO2 (Poland is incidentally the largest coal user in Europe) further underscores the country's crucial role as a party to future, post-Kyoto treaty greenhouse gas restrictions.

Yet, while the current economic climate hasn't boded well for significant moves on climate change in Poland -- especially as the finger-wagging between China and the US over responsibility continues -- China's foreign minister was surprisingly sanguine at the opening of Clinton's meeting.

Each country should contribute" on climate change, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said. "It's very important for all of us to pitch in... If we work together, we will be able to meet the target set by the Bali road map."

Yang's optimism departs from the gloomy forecast on climate talks just a few months ago by China's climate change ambassador. Already, China is winning praise in Poland.

China aims to reduce its energy intensity by around 20 percent from 2005 to 2010, Yang noted. "We will not shirk our responsibilities. Although we foresee continuous growth of energy consumption in China, we will try to control the pace as much as possible."

He added, "We should participate all of us, in a very serious manner in a series of meetings leading up to the Copenhagen meeting" in 2009, when governments will have their next opportunity to form a new climate treaty.

"Developed countries should take the lead, but it's a mistake to say poor countries aren't worried about it," Clinton said. "A lot of these issues are not clear. Every country that takes this seriously still has to know how to do it."

Besides Yang, other luminaries appearing at the summit today and tomorrow include green building guru Ken Yeang, China's Vice Minister of Construction Qiu Baoxing, and green NGO pioneer Sheri Liao. Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, President of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta and action star Jet Li are also involved.

Today's Commitments

For a complete list, see here. Among the pledges:

Standard Chartered Bank and The Vital Voices Global Partnership commit US$3
million over three years to empower women throughout Asia by providing them
with key educational opportunities and financial skills training that will
enhance their participation in society. It will build the capacity of
women to become economically literate, manage their finances, and start and
grow Small and Medium Sized Enterprises through an annual training summit.

Big Brother Mouse announced their intention to improve literacy in Laos by
helping 90% of villages have access to a wide range of books by 2016. It
will establish a series of locally-owned libraries that will provide
reading materials to over 5 million, of which half are children. Valued at
US$2 million over 7 years.

The Henderson Group and the Chi Heng Foundation commit US$640,000 over 3
years to help AIDS-impacted children and youth directly by enhancing their
access to a quality education and participation in community self-help
support programs. This commitment will impact more than 10,000 children
whose parents have died of AIDS. Children affected by HIV/AIDS themselves
will also benefit from this initiative.

The Noble Group, one of the world's largest supply-chain managers whose
operations involve many of the earth's natural resources and raw materials,
announced a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2008. In addition to going
carbon neutral, the Noble Group will also generate an awareness-raising
campaign targeting its 10,000 staff members and more than 4,000 business
partners. Valued at US$10 million over three years.

The ZeShan Foundation, the Asian Liver Center at Stanford University, U.S.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and China Center for Disease
Control in coordination with other partners announced a global coalition to
eliminate the transmission of hepatitis B and reduce discrimination among
those infected with the virus. They will focus on the 41 countries in the
Western Pacific and South-East Asia regions — which account for 76% of the
global burden of hepatitis B. Valued at US$4 million over 5 years.

The Louise and Arde Bulova Fund, UNICEF, Global Alliance for Vaccines &
Immunizations, and Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust commit US$500,000 over
five years to enhance access to vaccinations for preventable diseases for
children under five years old in Timor Leste. By improving transport and
distribution mechanisms and leveraging support from existing health care
staff and clinics through UNICEF, this commitment will reach 200,000
additional children over the course of five years.

Dr. Robert S. Zeigler, Director General of The International Rice Research
Institute, commits US$2.2 million over four years to develop a new
technology that will produce carbon-dioxide free energy from rice residues
such as straw and husks, helping create additional income for farmers and
reduce greenhouse gas emissions in India and Cambodia.

Putera Sampoerna Foundation commits US$7 million over three years to
develop and implement a rich, non-religious curriculum for disadvantaged
Muslim students enrolled in Madrasahs across Indonesia that will improve
the quality of their education and provide professional development
services.

Habitat for Humanity (HFH) China is committing US$12.5 million over one and
a half years to rehabilitate three communities that were heavily affected
by the disastrous earthquakes that struck the Sichuan Province of China in
May, 2008 by constructing 924 houses, three nursery schools, health
clinics, libraries, and outdoor exercise areas. This commitment aims to
improve the lives of 3,200 people.

The SAGE Foundation, along with its partners, is committing US$8 million
over four years to establish a self-sustaining village model in
Maharashtra, India that will ensure that local, disadvantaged communities
have access to relevant educational and training opportunities, helping to
improve the lives of 30,000 people.

The Orr Foundation, and its partner, is committing US$300,000 over two
years to strengthen the capacity of information and communications
technologies (ICT) entrepreneurs in Bangladesh and Nepal to deliver
sustainable and affordable ICT solutions--computers, networks, access to
the Internet--to NGOs that provide education, health care, relief and
economic development services to remote, rural and under-served
communities.

Hang Seng Bank, along with its partners, is committing US$150,000 over one
year to build 300 biogas toilets for 1,700 people in Yunnan, China that
will store methane gas produced by humans and poultry to provide local
communities with alternative forms of energy for daily use, in an effort to
reduce carbon emissions.

ICNEER, along with its partners, is committing US$1 million over two years
to raise awareness of the dangers posed by climate change in India and
Mozambique, engaging 60,000 students in renewable energy discussions in 600
schools to demonstrate that a positive change in individual and community
behavior can result in energy efficiency and resource conservation.

The Jal Bhagirathi Foundation (JBF), along with its partners, is committing
US$7.6 million over six years to implement projects in 400 villages in the
Thar Desert of India that will improve underserved populations' access to
safe drinking water, sanitation, and alternative sustainable livelihood
opportunities; in an effort to reduce their vulnerability to climate change

Over the course of three years, Practical Action commits US$27 million to
help disadvantaged, rural communities develop their capacity to use
innovative agricultural techniques that will reduce their vulnerability to
disasters and risks associated with climate change, aspiring to improve the
lives of 700,000 people.

The Amity Foundation, in partnership with the Ghizhou Ministry of Health,
is committing to improve the delivery of health care services in one of
China's poorest rural provinces by building 100 clinics that are
cost-effective, and better respond to the needs of poor villagers and
health workers. The five year, US$645,000 commitment aims to improve the
lives of 170,000 villagers.

The Malaysia AIDS Council (MAC), along with its partners, is committing
US$1 million over two years to reduce the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among sex
workers and transsexuals in Malaysia through prevention campaigns, as well
as other community outreach and empowerment programs.

Filligent Limited and the Asian Consultancy on Tobacco Control, along with
their partners, are committing US$500,000 over two years to empower more
than 67,000 migrants in China by enhancing their access to quality
education and healthcare, and helping stimulate key behavioral changes
among migrant workers. It will partner with corporations, NGOs and the
Chinese government to provide migrant workers with "tools for change" or
incentives that can motivate them to lead healthier lives.

The World Toilet Organization (WTO), along with its partners, is committing
US$1.2 million to expand access for more than 750 million people in
Cambodia and India to basic sanitation by improving the current market
structure of the sanitation sector. The WTO will work to better match
supply for sanitation products with demand and provide training programs
for business leaders who wish to tap into the US$1 trillion global
sanitation marketplace.

And there's video of two of today's working sessions (opens in a pop-up window): Energy & Climate Change - Green Buildings, Green Cities and Balancing Growth, Sustainability, and Equity.

More multimedia at CGI.

via CGI and Salon

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