Each year, layer upon layer is added to the Clinton Global Initiative. Government leaders, philanthropists, corporate titans are all intricately choreographed into panel discussions, awards ceremonies, plenary presentations and commitment announcements.
And the issues: the bigger the better. Water. Global warming. Financial markets. Human trafficking. Rather than wearying of tackling such deeply intractable problems year after year, CGI draws new energy from celebrities – Brad Pitt, Demi Moore– serious visionaries - Muhammad Yunus, Paul Farmer… still wealthy moguls - Ted Turner, Eli Broad - TV anchors -David Gregory, Diane Sawyer… and world leaders: Yes, President Barack Obama.
This year, the current president headlines the opening plenary alongside WJC, and after the next three days Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will offer the closing keynote. The potentially tricky balance of power issues make the UN opening session across town look tame.
Let’s put it in perspective: this time last year, financial markets were in meltdown. Observers like us wondered if philanthropy had much hope of survival, much less recovery in the wake of foreclosures, defaults, bailouts. Today, the US Government is considering whether to accept help from robust banks, and nonprofits are gingerly dipping toes into major fundraising campaigns once again.
So as onPhilanthropy publisher Tom Watson and I try to bring you lively coverage from the Fifth Annual Clinton Global Initiative this week, we will obviously be looking for meaning beyond the boldface names, beyond the offerings of brainpower and a fuzzy willingness to collaborate. Where CGI began as a successful effort to channel serious financial commitments to global problems, there's a sense in this latest convocation that this is an opportunity not to be squandered. If wealth has been diminished, if the impoverished and the working poor have been deeply hurt by the world recession, CGI is called upon to be more effective, more innovative, more supportive to other initiatives than ever.
As always, major themes will be the focus of the conference: Global challenges such as education energy and climate change, global health and economic empowerment will be tackled via four new action areas: harnessing innovation for development, strenghtening, infrastructure, building human capital and financing an equitable future. Opening the conference, President Clinton to the fiscal crisis and said when they thought about planning the 2009 CGI, they wondered if they might "have a party and have no one show up."
So far, though, signs are positive: CGI 5 has a bigger turnout than ever. As his one concession to the fiscal crisis, he said, he knows that some individuals who've made commitments will need more time to pay them than planned. Most important, he said, is to keep the focus on HOW to implement successful initiatives, to achieve lasting change in people's lives. As CGI unfolds this week, we'll bring you the details: who's stepping up, what they're committing, and how they'll make a difference.