Will Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Change the World?

By Wiesen, Jeremy | USA TODAY, November 2005 | Go to article overview

Will Bill Clinton's Global Initiative Change the World?


Wiesen, Jeremy, USA TODAY


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. …

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