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Multiplying the Impact of Collaborative Commitments

By Susan Carey Dempsey on September 28, 2007No Comment

Here at the Sheraton New York, it’s been a tightly organized schedule, with energetic CGI staff and volunteers shuttling reporters, philanthropists, heads of state and corporate CEOs from the ballroom to breakout sessions to one-on-one interviews and press conferences. President Clinton, a few times each day, announces commitments in the millions and billions.

Out of sight, one suspects, there are also sidebars and conversations taking place, tentative explorations and bold overtures, as philanthropic entrepreneurs seize the opportunity to connect and create new alliances. "That’s the genius of this meeting," Clinton said today. "When people have good ideas, it gives us a chance to hold them up to the light, to strengthen the power of the idea."

This morning President Clinton introuced Dr. Paul Farmer, who heads Partners in Health in Rwanda, and leaders of the  Schooner Foundation, to create a global health community practice, in which medical professionals can share their experience on the Internet. This model of health care delivery science, in fact, is a new academic discipline, providing web-based information to share with low resource communities in developing countries. It will be implemented first in Rwanda, a country with a per capita income less than $1 a day, which can only spend $7 per capita on healthcare.

While the value of this specific commitment may only be $500,000, it could be a model worth billions eventually in delivery of healthcare to poorly served communities.

The value of the CGI process was further demonstrated by a commitment Clinton later announced from John Podesta, from the Center for  American Progress, AIG and others: a Middle East financial initiative, which will provide political risk insurance to Palestinian small businesses. Ninety percent of Palestinian businesses are small to mid-size, so the value of this commitment is potentially significant, both monetarily and symbolically. In recognizing this commitment, Clinton declared with obvious satisfaction that the first Clinton Global Initiative had been the catalyst for this idea. Its creation emerged from the collaboration of businesses, academics and nonprofits.

Whether in climate change, alleviation of poverty, education or healthcare, the commitments that have announced in these three days are heavily dominated by collaborations. Indeed, many new entities are being formed, which are hybrid alliances combining nonprofit, corporate and often government components. As we’ve noted in onPhilanthropy over the past several months, the walls are being breached and the definitions melting. More and more, nonprofits are behaving more like corporations and for-profit firms are realizing that corporate social responsibility needs to be woven into their fabric. And governments, increasingly challenged to address socio-economic problems on a macro level, are seeking to leverage their significant but not infinite resources through collaboration with these two sectors.

As the Clinton Global Initiative winds down today, President Clinton is expected  to announce record numbers of commitments, with millions of lives potentially impacted. And one of the most powerful effects may be difficult to measure, but I suspect that its benefit will be multiplied exponentially. If the process for forming collaborations can be replicated on smaller scale, the evolution of philanthropy will accelerate. Partly as a result of the exponential growth of communications, partly from the increasing visibility of philanthropy, there will be heightened expectations for change. Pressure to remove barriers to progress will grow, as examples of successful public-private and other collaborations demonstrate what can be achieved.

It can only be hoped that the accumulating knowledge of how to create successful alliances for change will not merely be used as inspirational anecdotes, but converted to practical guidelines to replicate the innovative breakthroughs they make possible.

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