Bill Clinton: The world is on fire, but teamwork can help

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton is calling on governments, businesses, philanthropists and other prominent institutions to come together and help a world that is “on fire” as he reconvenes the Clinton Global Initiative, a meeting of world leaders for the first time since 2016.

Interest in the two-day meeting was so strong that the Clinton Foundation had to turn away more than 1,000 potential attendees. It brings together a number of luminaries, including Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan, Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mutli, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai and actor and water access activist Matt Damon.

Clinton, president of the United States from 1993 to 2001, said he was overwhelmed by the massive response.

“The world burns in different ways,” he said in an interview with the Associated Press. “But there are many things that businesses, non-governmental groups and governments working together can do to help with a lot of these problems.”

The Clinton Global Initiative, or CGI, has helped more than 435 million people in more than 180 countries since it was founded in 2005. It previously required participants to create a commitment to action, a measurable project that addresses a global issue, though that requirement has been dropped for this year. These commitments often bring together new partners and encourage collaboration between the public and private sectors.

“I think there is a desire for people to come together and meet with a purpose,” Clinton said. “Not just talking about it, but knowing that if they leave, they’re going to have to do something.”

Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton calls this a “propensity for action,” which she says is part of what makes CGI special and a catalyst for global change. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened interest in public health and addressing health disparities because people outside the area could see the effects.

“Health is interconnected with anything and everything that concerns someone,” said Chelsea Clinton. “There are a lot of people who are now mobilized to do something about what they just realized and that they now feel a responsibility to help solve.”

Panel discussions planned as part of the initiative focus on possible solutions. Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will discuss approaches to gender equality with New York Governor Kathy Hatchul, actor and philanthropist Robin Wright and others. All three Clintons will talk about a partnership focused on humanity. They will be joined by Dr. Tedros Achanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, U2 lead singer Bono and Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Peter Sands, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said CGI has always introduced his group to new potential partners, which has become even more valuable after two difficult years of the pandemic, which made it difficult to access new donors. “There’s so much you can do with PowerPoints and Zoom,” Sands said.

He is currently in the midst of his own fundraising campaign. President Joe Biden will hold the Global Fund’s seventh fundraising conference in New York on Wednesday, delayed by two days so Biden can attend Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral on Monday.

However, he now plans to attend CGI and said the meeting was skipped during the break, although the Clinton Foundation itself remained active. The initiative raised annually until 2016 during former Sen. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, when questions were raised about potential conflicts of interest when donors subsequently dealt with her administration.

Bill Clinton said that the initiative relies on the special energy of its participants in solving an increasing number of issues.

“We have the largest number of migrants since World War II,” he said. “And the most publicity they get in America is when one or two governors turn it into some kind of political issue and try to create problems for other people. Smart countries are working together and trying to find a better way to deal with this.”

Clinton also hopes that CGI can highlight various solutions that need additional support. He points to research by Generation180, a nonprofit that promotes clean energy. His research shows that some rural schools have installed solar panels to reduce carbon emissions and cut electricity bills. Schools then used the money saved to give raises to teachers.

“The energy is here. Work is here. The benefits are here. The kids will win,” Clinton said. “This should not be a political issue.”

He says philanthropy can help break the political and cultural gridlock by showing what can be done. For example, he said, when President Barack Obama proposed hiring 100,000 new STEM teachers and Congress turned him down, the charity stepped in to make it happen.

“We brought together the Carnegie Corporation, the American Federation of Teachers and more than 20 other partners, and they said, ‘We’re going to raise the money,'” Clinton said. “Nobody ever thought that was the purpose of philanthropy. But it got the job done and demonstrated why Republicans and Democrats should work together on things like this.”

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Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and nonprofits is supported by AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US with funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc. AP is solely responsible for this content. For all AP philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

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