Clinton Global Initiative Commands Stage

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[Global: New York]

There is light at the end of the tunnel; and, as the saying goes, it's not a train coming in for a head-on collision.

This was the overriding message, as world leaders and top entrepreneurs spoke at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York today.

Most believe that at the end of the day, sanity will prevail, and that the world will embrace the imperative of sustainable development.

The Global Initiative, which was launched in 2005 brings together a community of global leaders --government officials and captains of finance and industry -- to discuss and execute innovative solutions to major global challenges around poverty; hunger; and diseases. The captains of industry and finance also contribute tens of millions of dollars to Clinton's projects.
The Clinton Global Initiative members, over the years, have made more than 1,400 commitments valued at $46 billion; CGI officials say the funds have improved the lives of more than 200 million people in more than 170 countries.

The money goes to counter numerous challenges, including: fighting diseases; paying school fees for children in the developing world; providing clean water and sanitation; and seeding businesses.

Clinton said the recession may slow down the rate of giving. Money already pledged, that ordinarily would take three years to remit, may not take as many as five years. He urged potential donors who were still considering new commitments, to think about giving to on-going projects that had slowed down.

Clinton sounded very hoarse at times, but this was his stage; and it's great to see the former president commanding an audience that included current and former heads of states; and captains of industry, commerce and entrepreneurial skills.
It's the 5th such annual gathering and it grows each year. 

Security was fortress tight around the Sheraton in Midtown and there was added media publicity as President Barack Obama dropped in as a guest speaker to rousing standing applause; he spoke of the importance of giving; the importance of non-profit work; and the importance of working with and empowering the needy. These are passions he said he acquired as a youngster when his mother did such work in Indonesia.

Earlier, Clinton hosted a panel that included Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile; Mike Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart Stores; Muhtar Kent, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Coca-Cola; and, Kevin Rudd, Prime Minister of Australia.

The former president prodded each to speak about sustainable development; and the need to escalate the use of renewable resources and alternative energy sources.

How could the rest of the world --especially skeptical members of Congress-- be convinced that the use of renewable energy would not lead to less productivity and economic decline?

Prime Minister Rudd had the most impressive response: Fifty years ago, no one was engaged in Web design, or IT work, he observed. So who knows what productive activity will provide new stimulus and growth engine in the future? He also noted that  today 500,000 people around the world are engaged in economic activity that evolves around wind-powered energy; and that these half-million jobs were only created in the past five years.

Rudd also said the G20, rather than G7 plus-one should become the main engine of dealing with global financial, economic and social crises. It was anachronistic in the 21st Century to ignore China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and the rest of the Muslim world, he said.

Coke's Kent was also called to task by Clinton. Since more than 1 billion people around the world didn't have adequate access to clean water, how could Coke justify its use of 300 billion liters of water annually to produce soda?

Kent said Coke already was tackling the problem; that Coke was increasing use of recycling as well as harvesting water. Kent said that by 2020 Coke's production would be "water neutral"; in other words, the company would replenish the exact quantity of water that it used for production.

Coke also planned to increase employment of women in Africa, Kent said. He noted that women are held back by lack of financing and training; Coke planned to increase money and training and boost the ratio of women employees in distributorship from 30% to 50% in the next two years, he said.

Wal-Mart was lauded by Clinton for extending health insurance coverage to employees.

Chile has come a long way, and Clinton cheered Bachelet, whom he noted, was once the first female minister of defense in Latin America.

Clinton wanted to know how Chile had tempered the impact of the global financial crisis.

"Sound policy," president Bachelet observed, which involved "private sector and public sector partnerships."

When the price of copper was sky-high, the Chilean government --unlike other governments in the developing world-- chose not to spend, but to increase its savings rate. The country was able to preserve billions of dollars.

Chile now offers its citizens healthcare coverage; Clinton was quick to take a poke at Republicans who are currently giving president Obama a headache over healthcare reform. Bachelet also urged the industrial countries to live up to their commitment and contribute 0.7% of their gdp for development projects in developing countries.

The Academy Award winning actor Mat Damon also spoke about his involvement, a foundation that leverages donations with commercial financing to provide clean water in developing countries.

The Clinton Global Initiative continues here in New York through Friday.

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