What’s new at CGI 2007
At the close of last year’s Clinton Global Initiative, the value of commitments topped $5 billion, given a healthy boost by Richard Branson’s commitment to invest some $3 billion of Virgin transportation company profits in new energy solutions. So the first day of the 2007 brought a few questions about what’s happened since and what we can expect this year. First, since the premise of CGI is that it must involve more than brainstorming and earnest intentions, how firmly have they held to the principle that attendees must make commitments and stick to them? Actually, they’re pretty strict about it, although a spokesman demurred that "we’re not the philanthropy police." Five commitment makers were not invited back for that reason, which is an improvement from the first year, when three times as many were disinvited.
Among the 1300 attendees, there are 52 current and former heads of state, a title Bill Clinton has given new meanikng to, and dozens of bold-faced names. For this crowd, of course, Desmond Tutu, Al Gore and Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus get the red-carpet treatment. All right, I’ll mention them: Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are here but they have, in fact separated – just long enough for him to speak about New Orleans rebuilding and her to discuss education, 2 causes to which they’ve dedicated much of their philanthropy.
In what has likely been months in planning, last year’s conference themes of reconciliation, climate change, global health and poverty allevation have been reorganized to include education. According to Clinton, the assemblage of government leaders, business executives, academics, philanthropists and NGOs are challenged to address problems which government cannot solve alone. The commitments are to entail time, money, skills or organization building. He estimates that tens of millions of lives in over 100 countries have been affected; 20 million tons of greenhouse gases kept out of the atmosphere; 3 million micro-entrpreneurs provided with capital.
However, Clinton has stressed since the first CGI was organized that he did not want to see the impressive commitments discourage smaller individual gifts and efforts, a point he underscored in his newly released book, "Giving." The latest iteration of that theme is the announcement today of a new website, mycommitment.org, where individuals around the globe can log on and make their own commitments of any size. Clinton announced this morning that more than 600 commitments have been made since CGI began. Now, it will be fascinating to see how the numbers – of gifts, givers, and last but not least, dollars – accumulate now that CGI’s gone virtual.