Put a bunch of executives from different companies in a room to hatch plans, write checks, and plot how to move markets, and it’s a federal crime. Add some foundations, NGOs, and myriad worthy causes, and you’ve got the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).
The two watchwords of CGI are "partnership" and "commitment," and those two concepts aren’t far apart. In exploring the main exhibition hall, observing the forums, or simply walking through the halls, one finds an absolutely staggering environment completely focused on collaboration. It’s all about who can do what for whom. It feels like a combination of bustling marketplace, business conference, and tent revival: at any moment a clutch of people might stand up and declare they’re going to "invest $55 million in internet and mobile technologies to advance government transparency and economic empowerment," as the Omidyar Network and others did. Although there is in fact tremendous advance planning to each of the many commitments, the feeling of exuberance permeates.
It’s an entirely different environment from any other conference, business meeting, or foundation gathering. Usually it would be gauche to run up to a foundation president and ask for funding; at CGI, it is the norm—if not the imperative. At CGI, one minute you might be a small nonprofit with a vision to change the world; the next minute you might be shaking hands with a head of state who wants to explore your project with you. Free-flowing partnership and funding discussions are fundamental to this action-oriented event.
Public-private partnerships are a major theme. For example, Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm highlighted her state’s efforts to retain and attract jobs through work with the private sector. In response to a question by Matthew Bishop, Business Editor and New York Bureau Chief of The Economist, and author, Philanthrocapitalism, Granholm explained that as a governor you "have to be able to partner with the private sector" to increase hiring.
Foundations, NGOs, government, and corporations might all partner. Soon after Granholm spoke, for instance, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced a new program to develop and deploy clean cooking stoves. The initiative aims to greatly reduce the deleterious environmental and health hazards of current cookstoves. The program is part of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, an effort that includes several governments, the United Nations Foundation, and corporate involvement from companies such as Morgan Stanley and Shell. In a private interview with Simon Bishop, Head of Policy, Shell Foundation he reported that "Shell Foundation has been fighting poverty, advancing global health, and addressing climate change through energy solutions for ten years. With a $6 million commitment to cookstoves from the Shell Company, the corporation is now adding its support for entrepreneurs who design, manufacture, and distribute this vital technology."
CGI participants even showcased partnerships with individuals through the web. At one session today, The Body Shop announced their commitment to a new initiative in their efforts to combat child sex trafficking. The retailer is urging customers to go online and sign a petition calling for new anti-trafficking legislation. Just like organizations such as Kiva and Do Something, these efforts are about engaging individuals as partners in changing the world.
In a forum on "Preparing Girls for the World," one panel-member called for an even more individual "partnership." Tanvi Girotra, founder of the Becoming I – The Foundation, asked people not just to make commitments to CGI, organizations, and corporations, but also to themselves. She had each person in the room stand up and take a moment of silence in order to "make a commitment to yourself that ‘I’m going to do something about helping girls tomorrow.’"
CGI is about commitments, partnerships, and action. At this Sixth Annual Meeting, many corporate and NGO leaders whom I’ve talked with have made commitments in past years, delivered on them, and are back to make new commitments. Jacqueline Novogratz, CEO, Acumen Fund is one; more on that to come.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a stack of business cards to go through. I’ve got some NGOs and businesses to introduce to each other.
(With contributions from David Korngold.)