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September 24, 2010

News Briefing: Bill Clinton Secures Record Philanthropic Pledges

  • Michelle Obama urges international development organizations to engage military veterans, telling her audience at the Clinton Global Initiative that veterans' skills are "woefully underutilized."  [Associated Press]

  • Bill Clinton secures a record 291 pledges worth more than $6 billion to tackle global woes at his philanthropic summit.  [Reuters]

  • eBay hosts a charity auction called TwitChange, through which people can bid to have celebrities follow them, retweet their posts, or tweet their username on Twitter for three months.  [New York Daily News]

  • David Rubenstein gives $10 million to the Kennedy Center.  [Baltimore Sun]

September 22, 2010

News Briefing: Bill Clinton: Economy, Disasters Imperil Millions

  • Richard Branson, chairman of the Virgin Group, is working with the Nduna Foundation and Humanity United to put Zimbabwe back on its feet.  [New York Times]

  • Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife, Pam, is pledging $55 million to promote government transparency and mobile technology in developing countries.  [San Jose Mercury News]

  • Clinton announces new financial commitments to help Haiti and Pakistan, as well as Louisiana's gulf coast on the first day of the Clinton Global Initiative.  [Associated Press]

  • Oprah donates $6 million to charter school programs across the country.  [USA Today]

September 24, 2009

Innovation for Development Emerges on Many Levels

In introducing a CGI panel on Harnessing Innovation for Development, The Economist's Matthew Bishop pointed out that virtually all sectors - nonprofit, government, the corporate sector, embrace innovation. With 2 Nobel Peace Prize winners, a philanthropic foundation president and leaders of an entrepreurial group on stage, Bishop had an opportunity to explore how each of these areas can encourage and integrate innovation. From Al Gore, who now heads the Alliance for Climate Protection, it's all about carbon. Heretofore, efforts to control greenhouse gasses have been only partly successful. "The missing ingredient," he said, "has been political will. But we're seeing a big sea change around the world.We have to put a price on carbon."

Grameen Bank founder Muhammud Yunus, who had received the Nobel for his work in microcredit, said he could envision similar innovation by using a similar social business appoach in many other areas: "sanitation, health, growing vegetables, health insurance programs. Social businesses address issues while making money, as we did in making and selling yogurt that had enhanced nutrients, and opening a nursing college."

Bishop, while acknowledging that innovation in the financial sector has gotten some bad press of late, asked what financial mechanisms could help poorer countries help themselves. The responses reflected the panelists varied approaches to priorities as they see them. For Jack Ma, Chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group, there is great potential, not yet fully harnessed, in individual entrepreneurs. Citing his own experience, he said "Small is beautiful. Entrepreneurs are responsible for 1.1 million jobs created in China. Next, we'd like to see 100 million."

Judith Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, cited the legacy of the late Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution, which had been spurred by the Foundation. He succeeded, she said because "he looked for innovation, he experimented with the best way to do things." Rodin stressed that the social sector must embrace a "willingness to take risks, to experiment and to fail." Through that process, she said, you can assess which approaches are worth pursuing and scaling up.

Bishop pointed to the need for measuring social impact from innovative philanthropic endeavors.  "If you don't assess the outcomes," Rodin said, "you won't find the resources or the political will to take them to scale."

Notes from CGI: Giving Points, Quizzes, and Social Media

Call 'em gizmos, marketing tricks, or widgets. But there are more techniques designed to get people more involved and plugged in at  the fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative, unfolding in New York this week at a packed conference attended by 1,200 government, nonprofit and corporate leaders. A few examples:

Using a trick on view during last year's Presidential campaigns, the big plenary panels are taking questions via YouTube, Twitter and text messages from people in the room. From what I've seen, the queries so far are well-chosen and have led to some interesting exchanges.

Instead of the typical goodie bag filled with consumer giveaways and corporate tchotkes, delegates to CGI (who pay $20,000 apiece to attend) received 200 "points" that can be used at special Giving Back Center kiosks. The points can be used for things like a water filtration packet from Proctor & Gamble, books for schools, shoes, and other items paid for by corporations and nonprofit organizations.

You wouldn't call it a trade show for international development, but there's an exhibit hall for the first time at CGI - a place for organizations to show off their programs and link attendees with work in the field as they pass through.

There's a great online quiz up from the Clinton Foundation that cleverly introduces users to real numbers in large-scale world issues, while taking up only five minutes of someone's coffee break. Check out President Clinton's Global IQ Test.

September 23, 2009

From CGI Idea to Headline: Cash for Clunkers

Last year, social entrepreneur/technologist Jack Hidary made a proposal at the Clinton Global Initiative: why not incentivize car buyers to trade in older vehicles with lousy mileage for newer ones with great mileage?

The problem was obvious: the United States burns through 83 million barrels of oil a day, most of it imported - 25 percent of the world's total usage - and half of that goes for motor fuel. The idea was to attack U.S. dependency on foreign oil at the core of its usage, while also reaping the benefits of cleaner skies and a smaller carbon output.

Getting the "worst offenders off the road" was how Hidary put it at a news conference at CGI today. And so last year at CGI, the kernel for the "Cash for Clunkers" program was planted.

Hidary and Bracken Hendricks, a fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Clinton track chair who also advised the Obama transition on energy issues, broke down the process from idea to highly successful legislation - and one of the keys was the attendance at last year's CGI. Several automakers' CEOs were in attendance last year and "we were able to engage on the spot."

The program eventually leveraged $3 billion in taxpayer funds leading to $23 billion in consumer spending - a win for the automakers and for the recession-riddled consumer sector - but more importantly, said Hidary, it sent a fleet of cars averaging 15 miles per gallon into the crusher in favor of cars average 25 MPG. "It was win-win-win," he said.

Hendricks said the Cash for Clunkers commitment was a case study for how CGI works best - and useful in answering President Clinton's charge at this years CGI to "focus on the how and look a mechanisms we use for change." In this case, the early involvement of the auto industry - even before it was enveloped in crisis last year - was key to a winning policy.

Both Hendricks and Hidary emphasized that creating green jobs isn't just about new high-tech technology - it's also about replacing what doesn't work with what does (another Cash for Clunkers lesson). New York City, suggested Hidary, is the Saudi Arabia of potential energy savings and reduced emissions - a huge metropolis just beginning to replace old, wasteful technologies ... like the overhead lights in the Sheraton conference room.

Less Money, More Commitment?

The organizers of the Clinton Global Initiative, unfolding this week in New York, expect the actual dollars committed to projects this year to decline over the 2008 total because of the global recession - but they also expect the number of commitments (the CGI term for development deals) to increase.

There are more than 1,200 delegates to this annual gathering - timed to coincide with the opening of the United Nations each September - including more than 60 heads of state. That's more people than attended last year, when more than $8 billion was committed through about 250 partnerships, facilitated (and tracked) by the year-round CGI commitment process.

CGI CEO Robert Harrison told Reuters this week that he wasn't even sure there would be a 2009 meeting if corporations weren't able to continue their funding and involvement.

"I was genuinely nervous that companies would close their pocketbooks and that this would be a very bad time for corporate social responsibility and ... grants," Harrison said. "All of us have been very pleasantly surprised at how none of that is the case."

He said that while the dollar number may be lower, CGI expected a greater number of commitments this year. CGI continues to evolve, meanwhile: this year there are fewer panel discussions and more collaborative sessions designed to let delegates meet (and develop commitments). Since it kicked off in 2005, there have been 1,400 commitments valued at $46 billion. But the number President Clinton always mentions first is the number of people assisted by a program that came out of CGI - a number the organization pegs at 200 million people worldwide.

Watch CGI Live at onPhilanthropy

We're bringing you a live feed of the major sessions at the Clinton Global Initiative - watch the panels and plenary sessions here. And you can also follow many of the proceedings with publisher Tom Watson's Twitter feed. We'd love to hear from you!

September 22, 2009

Obama Hails Partnership, Collaboration and Vision

President Barack Obama brought a strong message to the audience of a thousand heads of state, diplomates, CEOs, major philanthropists, and movie stars at the Clinton Global Initiative this evening:  "Real progress doesn't just come from the top down - not just from govt - it comes from the bottom up, from real people."

Kicking off this fifth annual gathering with a speech that publicly cemented his growing partnership with Bill Clinton - the husband of his former political rival - the President stressed his community organizing experience and the non-governmental work of his late mother.

"My mother understood that whether you live in the foothills of Java or the skyscrapers of Manhattan, we all share common principles:  justice and progress, tolerance and the dignity of all human beings," said the President. "And we all share common aspirations, for ourselves and our children:  to get an education, to work with dignity, and to live in peace and security."

That meshed well with Clinton's remarks while waiting the Obama motorcade to wind its way through a gridlocked midtown: the President was the first to come into office with experience nonprofit experience "and that's a very good thing."

President Obama praised the CGI attendees and took note of the gathering's five-year record of achievement, including its 1,400 commitments affecting the lives of 200 million people around the world.

"That's how we'll confront the challenges of our time," he said. "Standing together, working together, building together... That's the spirit that I see here tonight -- the spirit that says we can rise above the barriers that too often divide us."

The President began his remarks on a light note, razzing President Clinton on his golf score an about monopolizing his wife's schedule. "I've always appreciated President Clinton's valuable advice and the ideas he's offered my administration.  I do understand that the President has been having trouble getting a hold of my Secretary of State lately.  (Laughter.)   But I hope he doesn't mind, because Hillary Clinton is doing an outstanding job for this nation and we are so proud of her."

Then he praised the former President choice to found CGI. After leaving office, said Obama, Clinton asked, "What can I do to keep making a difference?"And what an extraordinary difference he, working with all of you, have made.  For the victims of disaster, from the Asian tsunami to Hurricane Katrina, he's made a difference.  For those in need, from parents and children battling HIV/AIDS to your efforts today on behalf of the people of Haiti, he's made a difference. It's no exaggeration:  Around the world, Bill Clinton has helped to improve -- and save -- the lives of millions.  That is no exaggeration."

And CGI, said the President, is increasingly important in an interconnected world. "We need a new spirit of global partnership," the president said. "That is the spirit that guides this organization. I hope that is the spirit that guides my administration."

CGI Returns to a Place Called Hope

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.

December 03, 2008

News Briefing: College May Become Unaffordable for Most in U.S.

  • Clinton's conference in Hong Kong results in pledges to charities worth $185 million.  [Associated Press]

  • Harvard University says its endowment has dropped $8 billion in the last four months.  [Associated Press]

  • The rising cost of college threatens to put higher education out of reach for most Americans, according to a new report.  [New York Times]

  • JPMorgan Chase will match Washington Mutual's 2008 level of corporate philanthropy in Washington state in the coming year.  [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

  • Despite a drop in assets, the Weinberg Foundation distributes a record $100 million in grants to nonprofits.  [Baltimore Sun]

  • Philip J. Smith is named chairman of the Shubert Organization and the Shubert Foundation, replacing his longtime friend Gerald Schoenfeld, who died last week.  [New York Times]
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