An update from the opening of the Clinton Global Initiative
If it’s New York in September, it used to mean: the United Nations General Assembly. And gridlock.
Now it means UNGA, plus a host of other gatherings of those from around the world concerned with international affairs. And worse gridlock.
But that’s not too bad. It means you get to walk around midtown Manhattan rather than drive – good for the heart and waistline – and that you get an almost infinite number of chances to reflect on some of the world’s most intractable problems and meet some of its most inspiring people.
The salmon at the center of this smorgasbord – if I’ve got my Scandinavian analogies right – is the Clinton Global Initiative, now in its tenth year.
This year’s opening session at the midtown Sheraton Hotel was a reminder of why the CGI has become such a coveted stop on the international circuit. Moderated by the 42nd President and former Secretary of State (and former Senator from New York – these things matter in Gotham) Hillary Rodham Clinton, four guests – IBM Chairman and CEO Ginni Rometty, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, Michelle Bachelet, the President of Chile, and King Abdullah of Jordan – reminded their audience of why it was worth squeezing into the Sheraton’s crowded ballroom.
This year’s CGI has as its theme Reimagining Impact (the CGI prides itself on securing “commitments” from its members – 3100 so far, valued at $100 billion, to improve more than 430 million lives in 180 countries, according to a new analysis by Palantir Technologies) and the session’s participants seized on themes that accelerate the impact of development interventions around the world.
Bachelet, Rometty, and Sen. Clinton all stressed the vital importance of providing new opportunities – particularly in leadership positions – for women and girls.
“We cannot grow the global economy if we do not open the doors to women to participate in the economy,” said Sen. Clinton, in a theme that has been picked up at many of the meetings in New York. Bachelet told the former President that there were still macho men in Latin America (now there’s a shock) but the fact remains that she is now in her second stint as Chile’s leader, and Brazil is also led by a woman, Dilma Rousseff – with another woman, Marina Silva challenging her in next month’s election.
When women are successful, Bachelet said, they become role models. By contrast, she continued, “When there are no women in high-level positions, people can talk about equal rights, but it’s just a speech.”
If the return on investing in women and girls is increasingly understood to be vital to development, the second theme picked up at the session is perhaps less well understood. That’s the potential impact of data – especially when it is placed in the hands of involved citizens armed with the modern technology such as mobile phones that can use it to hold their governments to account.
Rometty called Big Data “the world’s next biggest natural resource,” pointing out that being able to analyze social sentiment in Sierra Leone, for example, allows us to know the precise locations of the hotspots of fear about Ebola and direct educational and informational resources there accordingly. Kim heartily agreed with the sentiment, saying that data – and the ability to use it well – is crucial to helping governments become more transparent and accountable, which, in turn, allows leaders and citizens to make better, informed decisions about their future.
At ONE, we’re trying to take these lessons to heart, working with partner organizations to give real shape to a Data Revolution in development.
As that takes off in the next few years, then President Clinton’s summing up of an excellent session will have real weight. “The aid business,” Clinton said, “is getting smarter about how to have the largest impact.”
Michael Elliott is President and CEO of The ONE Campaign. Follow him on Twitter @mje51