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Home » Clinton Global Initiative, Public Commons

Bill Clinton Inside the Numbers

By Tom Watson on September 28, 2010No Comment
Bill Clinton - yes, I took this photo
Image by Creativity+ Timothy K Hamilton via Flickr

We’re here in the media bunker of the old Sheraton on Seventh Avenue, plugged into the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting – my fifth, as it turns out. Here’s what I just told a reporter from a major financial newswire about what CGI is in a single sentence: “it’s an investment banking service – old style – for causes and philanthropy.” And that’s exactly what CGI is. Bill Clinton uses his considerable political capital – and the platform that comes from being an energetic, globe-trotting former president who just happens to be married to the current Secretary of State – to work with foundations, nonprofits, corporations and no small number of stars and celebrities to make deals for the public good.

The annual meeting here in New York, timed to the opening of the United Nations General Assembly, gets most of the attention – look, there’s Ashton and Demi chatting with Muhammad Yunus! – but CGI has grown into a year-round operation. This past spring, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking on social media at the CGI University gathering at the University of Miami, which evoked an entirely different vibe than the pin-striped, star-studded affair each September. In Miami, 1,800 college and university students came together to work on projects of social entrepreneurship and charity – they were energetic, entirely un-jaded, and incredibly inquisitive. For them, CGI wasn’t a platform for making major corporate commitments – it was a place to learn from their peers and gain professional assistance for projects they believe will change the world.

Last night, I took part in a meeting of about 15 bloggers and writers with President Clinton here at the Sheraton. He spoke about the chances for Mid-East peace (he’s bullish), the importance of encouraging development centered around women and girls (a central theme at CGI), and how this year’s meeting will focus more on domestic issues than in the past because of the pain of the American recession. As always, Clinton powered an intellectual and wonkish whirlwind, jumping from the Tea Party to politics in Rwanda with ease, and evincing the kind of detailed knowledge of, for example, Israeli political parties that most Americans don’t have about Democrats and Republicans.

But as always, Clinton loves numbers and here are the top-line metrics CGI is pushing in its sixth year: it’s been responsible for 1,946 commitments, valued at $63 billion, “which have already improved nearly 300 million lives.” Or, we’d add, fully five percent of the world’s population.

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