Our fourth post from our special correspondent this week, model and activist Christy Turlington Burns.
Today I was finally able to venture over to the Clinton Global Initiative (an idea founded in order to turn ideas into actions to “help our world move beyond the current state of globalization to a more integrated global community of shared benefits, responsibilities, and values”) for the last day of workshops and sessions at the conference.
I sat in on a plenary session regarding the current state of Haiti and heard remarks from President Clinton about all that CGI members have contributed both before and after the devastating earthquake that struck the country last January. He applauded President Preval’s efforts to rebuild the country and reminded us all of the incredible devastation Haiti suffered. President Preval reiterated the need for international aid and investment in the infrastructure of tomorrow: human infrastructure. He stressed an emphasis on education so that the men and women of Haiti could someday thrive. He then invited Wyclef Jean onto the stage and officially named him the Goodwill Ambassador of Haiti and also applauded Dr. Bill Pope, world leader against HIV/AIDS. He also gave special thanks to Paul Farmer and his Partners in Health organization – which has been tirelessly providing health and food provision services in Haiti for so many years.
The panel discussion that followed was comprised of stakeholders from the tourism, art, education, government and disaster response communities. Again, the panelists stressed the importance of continued support for Haiti. A representative from the government pointed out that $5 billion over 5 years to a population of 10 million people would translate into less than $150 per capita – not nearly enough to rebuild infrastructure, health and social security. He restated President Clinton’s remarks about how long this could take and added, “we don’t want to make the same mistake again.”
The closing session of CGI was truly hard to beat. President Obama introduced First Lady Michelle Obama who stressed the importance of utilizing the skills and knowledge of our returning military troops, given that they have a tremendous amount to offer in fields such as technology, management and medicine. She highlighted these troops’ passion for service, something which does not disappear upon their return from military life, as “service is the air they breathe.” It was a moving speech and a call to action to continue supporting those who served when they return home.
Bill Gates was President Clinton’s final invitee to the stage, for a one-on-one discussion about the challenges that the development world is facing given the current economic climate – a conversation I was enthusiastic to hear. Bill Clinton jumped right in by asking Gates what exactly worried him. Gates wasted no time, commenting on how easy it is to focus on what’s wrong, as opposed to the progress we’ve made and how to continue improving. He confidently stated that the MDGs have served their purpose and that there have been tremendous successes, but “the rate of progress is under threat due to the financial crisis.” Gates also commended the UK’s David Cameron for having “ring fenced” their aid budget which he declared as “mind blowing.”
Clinton then noted that he was worried about the US, as historically, Americans think we give a lot more than we do. Last year we gave less than 1 % of our budget to aid – most are under the impression that we gave 30 %. Bill Gates said he was also concerned about the state of polio, which could become the second disease to be eradicated (with smallpox being the first), but if we do not continue supporting research, we could fail. This is one of the many critical global health pieces that hang in the balance of the financial crisis. As the closing plenary came to an end, President Clinton urged heads of state in the room to do their part in getting appropriated monies into the right hands.
The CGI closing plenary was also an appropriate close to my busy week amidst the MDG Summit, the WIE Symposium and of course, CGI. It’s been a long 4 days and a very crowded New York City. I remain very optimistic that with continued discussions and the fulfillment of commitments, we can continue to make progress.
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