Magazine article USA TODAY

Will Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Change the World?

Magazine article USA TODAY

Will Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Change the World?

Article excerpt

A FEW MONTHS AGO, former Pres. Bill Clinton invited heads of state, business executives, and others to gather for a Global Initiative at a UN Summit in New York. He believes that individuals can make a big difference in solving world crises. Prior to attending, participants had to commit in writing to implementing a specific innovative proposal in one of four areas: poverty, religious reconciliation, governance, and clean energy.

While Clinton's do-something format was unique, his choice of topics was derivative of other conferences and lacked a sophisticated appreciation of the complexities in selecting which global changes should receive the greatest support. There is no question that the Global Initiative participants acted wisely in putting their time and money behind helping others, but on what basis were their ideas evaluated and which should receive our applause, if not help?

Missing from the Clinton program was an intellectual paradigm--prioritization--applying cost-benefit analysis to each proposal and then ranking them in order of philanthropic importance. In this way, he would have been better able to guide the topics and their content at his gathering and we could have funneled our scarce resources to the most effective programs.

There already have been many "save-the-world" conferences, such as the ones I attended just last year in the U.S. (at Stanford and New York universities) and abroad (in Denmark, Italy, Brazil, and at Oxford University in Great Britain). Recently, former Congressman Tim Wirth (D.-Col.), president of the United Nations Foundation and the Better World Fund, convened 100 donors and foundation leaders to explore how they could better affect the policy environment in support of their program goals.

Helping others abroad also is coming from rock star Bono of the band U2, actor Brad Pitt, and other leading entertainers who have formed "The ONE Campaign" to encourage Americans to donate one dollar per day to end hunger and provide drugs in Africa; prominent actors working for scale wages on movies that showcase help for the disadvantaged; and an organization called Dropping Knowledge, where 112 leading thinkers sit atone enormous round table to brainstorm innovative global solutions.

Business schools already are teaching and researching "social entrepreneurship"--nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) developing self-sustaining enterprises to help the poor, such as micro-lending, where 70,000,000 small loans have been made to start businesses in Third World countries. Moreover, many organizations are vying to be "the" website for finding all new solutions to world problems, and it is possible to visit syndicated columnist Arianna Huffington's daily blog of novel ideas from her 250 most creative friends. Call it impact philanthropy, 21st century noblesse oblige, or just good, old-fashioned social activism, the spirit is there, but something vital is missing--a prioritized framework or model that works.

It is an unfortunate fact that no idea presented at the Clinton conference could assist all of the 1,000,000,000 people living on less than one dollar per day, nor even many of the 30,000 children dying every 24 hours of famine or preventable diseases. After holding meetings similar to Clinton's Global Initiative from 2001-03, I began quantifying the total cost of each crisis and the cost of the solution, then ranking them by the amount that the crisis' cost (or "benefit" if eradicated) exceeded the solution's cost--calling it a global goals priority model. This is the only way to determine the most urgent crises/solutions deserving of our most immediate attention.

Who to save first was debated by 10 leading economists at The Copenhagen Consensus with an attempt to quantify the various types of suffering and the cost of preventing them. The conferees chose drugs to treat HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases to be first on the list, as did philanthropists Bill Gates and Bill Clinton. Economist Jeffrey Sachs picked mosquito nets to prevent malaria in Africa after visiting 50 of the poorest countries for the UN. Using my model, we identified the eradication of genocide as one of the most worthwhile initiatives. In Rwanda, for instance, a mere 3,000 peacekeepers could have prevented 800,000 people from being slaughtered in 100 days. For former Pres. Jimmy Carter, the first choice has been conflict resolution.

No-cost or low-cost solutions to major crises always get the highest priority score, making an undeniable claim to be adopted and executed. Micro-lending is one example; as are organizations like AmeriCares and Direct Relief, which receive donations of "expired" (but safe) medicines and mislabeled foodstuffs and send them to Africa. In all cases, programs should be measured not just by their effectiveness, but by the "return" from the investment of resources.

Based on the prioritization model, I would have chosen four different topics for Clinton's conference, while retaining some of the subjects he did choose to cover:

Humanism. The Clinton conference focused on religious reconciliation, but I believe its importance is exaggerated. What often appears to be religious animosity really is economic warfare over limited resources. The vast majority of Israeli and Palestinian peoples do not hate each other--and even many of the extremists might be mollified by better economic conditions. For the approximately 1,000,000 out-of-work Palestinian men, this means jobs, and although peace in the region would be the result, there are no such specific strategies being offered to meet that great challenge. Why isn't economic development the number-one priority in our foreign policy, as was suggested by Ambassador Richard Holbrook as he left his post at the UN?

From a broader humanist agenda, there could be solutions to many crises at little cost. We need to reform the way people with power wield it, such as the manner in which employers care for employees, parents raise their children, wardens respond to the needs of inmates, and bullies treat the bullied. Pastors could remind wealthy parishioners to see their workers as family; philanthropists could follow cable TV mogul Ted Turner and support world needs, not just the local museum or hospital: politicians could be less polarized and stand up to party extremists; and we could learn more from humanists, vegetarians, and all conciliatory and peace-loving people.

One novel solution for the 81% of all U.S. high school students who report having been bullied or harassed by fellow students in grade school comes from a practice in some parts of Europe where, starting in kindergarten, students enter into their own social compacts, agreeing to treat each other fairly and enforcing that commitment. Also. all high school students should be required to perform community service, not just for the good of the aided, but because it has been shown to improve the student's self-esteem and grades.

Free-market solutions. Clinton says he got the idea for his Global Initiative while at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and that "the two most remarkable things that have happened since the fall of the Berlin Wall" are the spread of democracy and the growth in NGOs. Social entrepreneurship, however, cannot solve the world's needs alone--we need to have new ideas on how to increase the total basket of goods and services (i.e., global wealth). Too little attention is being paid to this great challenge.

The global economic picture is weak, at least in human statistics. It is estimated that, when 1,200,000,000 youths in Arab countries enter the workforce in the next 10 years, they will find only 300,000,000 jobs. Without substantial economic gains in the well-off countries, increasing aid to the poor will become more unpopular.

U.S. workers have not experienced higher standards of living despite their dramatically increased productivity. Instead of shortening the work week--which has been stuck at five days for over 100 years--the American labor force has been told to expect longer hours to meet competition from abroad. Healthcare is not available to more than 50,000,000 citizens; unemployment and underemployment still are considered more of a statistic than a human crisis; seed capital for a new business generally is not available; and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates issues a dire warning that the U.S. cannot compete in world markets with its "obsolete" educational system.

The ability of the U.S. government to generate new economic solutions does not appear promising. The biggest issue of the day--private investment accounts for a percentage of a person's Social Security--will have no significant economic consequences regardless of how it is resolved. The sad fact is not just the political fighting between Democrats and Republicans on out dollar, but that this is the only economic proposal that they have to fight over at present.

Clinton's program would have made a great contribution had it reviewed anachronistic economic theories that are too static to predict the future, along with certain economic indicators, such as the consumer price index, which misled the Federal Reserve Board in the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s into reducing the money supply. That led to economic recessions that were exported abroad. It is wrong to stifle economic growth in a high-tech age, for the Fed to be surprised by dramatic increases in productivity, and to set policy with conviction and then admit that forecasting the economy really is not possible. Just this past June, the point was made clearly when Japan, with its easy money policy, announced a six-year low in unemployment, while Brazil, with 19% interest rates, showed a 20% decline from predicted economic growth.

There are international economic initiatives which can increase global well-being. Clinton has participated in the Club of Madrid programs and knows that governments must reduce red-tape for starting a business (a big problem in Brazil and India), and Third World countries need to improve their legal systems in order to attract capital investment. The effect of national subsidies, especially in farming, must be monitored and analyzed continuously; workers have to be retrained before the free-trade agreements are adopted; and innovative ideas are needed--such as having engineers from industry train high school science teachers.

What would make every inhabitant on Earth more euphoric than finding a cure (or cures) for cancer and other diseases in 10 years, not 30? This will not happen if scientists around the world cannot fully collaborate--from all companies, universities, and hospitals. We need to harness talent globally to solve global problems. Where are the new macroeconomic ideas for our extraordinary hypertech age. Having a good heart may leave us all with emptier stomachs if we do not innovate global economic strategies for this new century.

The role of the media. From his own experience in Rwanda, Clinton knows that public awareness of crises may alone yield the highest cost-benefit results. If the Rwandan genocide had been known to the public, would the U.S. and Britain still have vetoed the sending of peacekeepers at the Security Council? When Congress learns of famine from Bread-for-the-World, they hopefully allocate more funds.

The Global Initiative explored ways that transparency can topple corrupt governments, as well as greedy business owners, in countries of all economic strata. Creative 21st-century proposals put video cameras and the Internet in the hands of the abused to catch physical atrocities and economic grabs in even remote comers of the world.

Jeff Skoll, a founder of E-Bay, is pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into affecting public opinion through television programs, documentaries, and first-rate movies that show noble efforts to fight global crises. This kind of initiative can alter the approach of the American media, which, until recently, have not been much of a leader in global social change, providing little coverage to the suffering abroad and even editorializing in the 1990s against sending peacekeepers to stop genocides in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

Government action. For his first conference, Clinton failed to cover the effect of foreign policies as a separate topic. He should have championed the following:

* The lobbying efforts of economist Jeffrey Sacks, new World Bank Pres. Paul Wolfowitz, and even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, all of whom want the U.S. to give more foreign aid--quite low as a percentage of gross national product--especially to support the "superfund" which will provide drugs urgently needed in Africa.

* The ideas of former Ambassador Mark Palmer on how to dethrone the 45 remaining dictators by the year 2015--180,000,000 people perished at the hands of their own leaders in the 20th century--through political coaxing, economic incentives, and military might, if necessary. Clinton participates in the Club of Madrid, which promotes the advantages of democracy to those countries.

* The end of sanctioned-based foreign policies, like those of Clinton's own Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who said that the death of 500,000 Iraqi children from economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein was "worth it." (She has since rethought that conclusion.)

* Ways of dealing with rogue states such as North Korea, where Clinton has recommended helping that country turn its arms industry into other products that will sell on world markets and improve its unfertile land through 21 st century agri-tech methods.

* Linking foreign aid and homeland security, as the Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto did shortly after 9/11, writing that, to prevent terrorism, every person needs the opportunity to be an entrepreneur, a point subscribed to by Pres. George W. Bush, who has said that the Afghans, Iraqis, and Palestinians will be good entrepreneurs (though there has been little follow-through). Even the rich who do not care about the poor ought to see that showering dollars--before bombs--is in their best interests.

* My proposal to have the State Department engage large numbers of MBAs and experienced business people, principally from investment banking and venture capital firms, to assist in fulfilling many of the recommendations on this list. Surely we can afford to pay such talent at the start of their careers or post-retirement.

* The Security Council's new "robust peacekeeping," giving its forces the right to fight back when fired upon, and the UN's Global Compact, which brings companies around the world together with its agencies to advance social and environmental principles and its own self-study.

* Running governments according to best business practices. Even removing dictators does not guarantee the end of corruption--look at our own government on the Federal, state, and local levels as well as the New York Stock Exchange and the companies listed thereon that are being investigated. We must make developing good accounting oversight of governmental and other nonprofit organizations a priority.

The Clinton agenda included developing clean energy. Yet, a case could be made that environmental issues already have an avid constituency and the lack of clean water for billions of people is a more certain, calculable, and immediate devastation than clean energy, and therefore a greater priority in the environmental movement.

Environmental concerns also are an example of the need to avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead study the costs of solutions to global dilemmas. Some environmentalist activities have had deadly consequences by banning essentials urgently needed by today's poorest: DDT (kills malaria-laden mosquitoes); nuclear energy (produces cheap electricity); and genetically-altered seeds (increases the food supply). Also, those who argue against drilling for oil in the Canadian wilderness to protect the caribou ought to be big supporters of vegetarianism to be consistent. If environmentalists would examine fully their well-intentioned efforts under the priorities model microscope, they could select their most worthwhile and important causes.

It is almost 10 years since Ted Turner stood as one of the very few global philanthropists, pledging $1,000,000,000 to the U.N. when the U.S. was in debt to it in that amount, and then chiding others with even more money to do something to help the world. At that time, Gates had said it would be 10 years before he would give some of his billions to world causes. Today, however, the legions of global philanthropists and interested people who wish to make the U.S. and the world a better place are growing at a breakneck pace.

So, Clinton's timing was good, but he needs to bring structure to this fast growing field of global philanthropy by measuring the costs and benefits in a prioritization framework. This is the only way that those not in attendance at the conference can understand the proposals of those who are--the kind of clear thinking that Americans need before they can be asked to join the movement.

Priority analysis should have been used by Congress before sending troops to Iraq. The great benefit of bringing democracy to the Middle East should have been assessed in a larger framework of other priorities--saving 1,000,000 people from genocide in the Sudan, which included a government-sanctioned rape of women and young girls; freeing 12,000,000 from slavery, including over 1,000,000 in cross-border forced prostitution; or spending the $100,000,000,000-plus per year on employing half of out-of-work Americans or ending world poverty and communicable disease---or a good deal of each.

Prioritization requires rationality and does not work for people with closed, intractable minds, polarized by politics or other preconceived notions, spouting deeply-held shibboleths. Congress was distracted from making adequate preparations for Iraq by the old smoke of anti-war debates. This, though, was an invasion and not a war, and the violence today is not by insurgents that need to be democratized, but predominantly by the millions of hoodlums and unemployed who need jobs.

One of Clinton's greatest contributions since he left the Oval Office has been to speak out against the polarized politics that can disengage the American public from a desire to seek real-deal priorities. National and global change severely is hampered when, as Clinton puts it, "We think that someone with different social and economic views is an ogre--calling the other half of Americans stupid." Clinton wisely included leading Republicans in his Global Initiative, such as publisher Rupert Murdoch and California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Best wishes to Bill Clinton, his colleagues, and conferees in the years to come. (Global Initiatives are planned for the next 10 years.) This ongoing effort is a great contribution to world peace, no matter what. However, if done properly from this point on, it could turn out to be the 42nd president's finest hour.

Jeremy Wiesen is an associate professor of Business Law and Accounting at the Stern School of Business, New York University, and is former chairman and co-CEO of the Financial News Network.

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