How Chelsea Is Changing The Clinton Foundation

Here's how Bill and Hillary's daughter is making a difference at the Clinton Foundation.

The Clinton Foundation's troubles are well-documented. In this month's Fast Company cover story, Danielle Sacks writes about the impact Chelsea Clinton's "hands-on" involvement has had at her parents' organization:

When she arrived in 2011, she knew her primary role was to apply the data-driven skills she had developed in her other jobs to an organization that had long outgrown its startuplike infrastructure. "My father has always been such a doer. He had never focused on ensuring that we had the functions that not only enabled [other] doers to focus on doing, but also to help us keep systematic track of all the work that was being done," she says. The foundation had more than 2,000 employees in 36 countries, but its back-office support had fallen behind. There was little collaboration between initiatives.

Building a collaborative atmosphere in a sprawling organization isn't easy, and requires the consolidation of disparate offices. When Chelsea first became more involved with the organization, some Clinton Global Initiative employees worked out of the president's Harlem offices, others were based in midtown, and the rest worked out of a downtown office space.

To incite collaboration, Chelsea insisted on a consolidation, which occurred last year, bringing all three offices into one midtown location. This January, Chelsea created a new position that sits across all nine initiatives. Julie Guariglia, the new-initiative liaison, compiles lengthy biweekly reports that alert workers at all the divisions of potential overlap, and suggests possible connections between initiatives. In the works is a database that will finally give employees access to data on all of the foundation's activities.

The youngest Clinton (the youngest for a few more months, at least) is also reshaping how the Clinton Foundation chooses issues to focus on:

"Sometimes President Clinton simply would come in and say, 'You know, I had a great conversation with the King of Jordan. We should do something about Jordan.' And it would be like, well, now we'll make Jordan a priority," explains [CGI deputy director Ed Hughes]. Chelsea, on the other hand, "wants to see some evidence of why we're making decisions, as opposed to the anecdotes," adds Hughes.

Not only does Chelsea want evidence about the decision-making process, she also wants result data. As Sacks writes:

When the organization was created in 2005, it was highly forgiving of its members. Almost half are corporations, which regularly lap up tons of press with headline-grabbing declarations and are rarely held accountable on the other end. "The idea was that we were going to be a platform that allows a thousand flowers to bloom, without judgment," says CGI's Hughes. "We basically celebrated the effort, if not the achievement." But when Chelsea arrived, she started asking questions about the actual results. So now the entire organization is undergoing an impact audit of its 2,800 commitments. The results so far, according to CGI CEO Harrison, suggest that in the organization's first decade, 800 commitments have been completed. "But," he adds, "then there are the 1,600 that are in the category of ongoing. Not every one of those we have a high level of confidence in where they stand." Those deemed failures would be removed from the portfolio, albeit with no real consequence or public shaming ("We're not a law-enforcement organization," says Harrison)

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But while Chelsea is stepping out of her parents' prodigious shadows and leaving her own imprint, she is still a Clinton, particularly when it comes to side stepping questions about the Clinton Foundation's internal disarray:

When I ask Chelsea herself to give me an assessment of the state of the foundation when she arrived, the former McKinsey consultant fails to mention any of these problems, and she doesn't bring up the audit she and her father commissioned that year to analyze the foundation's health until I explicitly ask her about it. She is her parents' daughter, after all; during interviews, her crystal-clear thinking is accompanied by a healthy bit of deft stonewalling.

Maybe she's cut out for politics after all.

Read more about how Chelsea is rehaping the Clinton Foundation in Sack's cover story in the May issue of Fast Company: here.

[Photo by Ramin Talaie, Getty Images]

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