With Oscar-winning actor Forest Whitaker.
Last week I attended my fourth Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting. It is a three-day event in New York City that gathers about 1,000 leaders from across the corporate, philanthropic and government worlds “to create and implement innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.”
President Clinton, a masterful convener, draws together the widest diversity of people you can imagine from around the world. In crowded rooms and hallways, you bump shoulders with many, never being quite sure who you will meet. Over the years, I have run into Gerry Adams (president of the Irish Sinn Féin political party), South African activist Desmond Tutu and Michael Jordan’s mother.
This year, I met actor Forest Whitaker and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. And that list doesn’t include the current and former heads of state that President Clinton entices away from the competing annual U.N. General Assembly meetings happening blocks away from the CGI meeting, as well as the CEOs of many, many major companies (from Barclay’s Bank and Monsanto to Cisco Systems). This year, Jack Ma, chair of China’s Alibaba company, which just had the largest IPO in history, making him the richest man in China, even showed up and spoke on a panel. He is quite a character – who pledged to set aside $3 billion raised in his IPO for philanthropic work!
(Note – if you ever think about visiting NYC during the last week of September, when these two events take place, don’t. With all the security and limos, traffic is at its worst. When I ventured out of the hotel for other meetings, I ended walking more than taking taxis – it was faster.)
So, why are we all there? In one way or another, people are looking for ideas, connections, money and opportunities to work together on major social problems – from providing education and health care to bringing power to Africa and everything in between. This was the 10th such meeting, and the CGI staff did a good job of summarizing and sharing the commitments to action made to date and ideas for the future. Combating Ebola in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea was a big issue this year, and I’m proud to say that ChildFund’s efforts were acknowledged on stage during the closing plenary session.
Although the official CGI meeting takes place on the 2nd and 3rd floors of the 7th Avenue Sheraton Hotel, an unofficial, and just as well-attended, meeting spills out through the lobby and cafes on the hotel’s first floor. Heavy networking occurs in every nook and cranny during the day and well into the evening hours, primarily by those who accompany the CEOs. Everyone has a cause they care about, and they look high and low for fellow believers.
Making a world safer and more supportive of children is a very slow and sometimes frustrating business. That’s why it’s good every once in a while to get out and meet some powerful people who care about the world as much as you do. It reinforces my belief that if you get the right people working on a problem, anything is possible.