President Clinton announced that more than 60 current and former heads of state, 500 business leaders, and 400 leaders from nongovernmental and philanthropic organizations will be attending the meeting, representing 84 countries. The event is time to coincide with the opening of the United Nations General Assembly when heads of state and government from around the world are in New York.
President Obama said, "This week, even as we gather at the United Nations to discuss what governments can do to confront the challenges of our time, even as we're joined tonight by so many presidents and prime ministers - this Global Initiative reminds us what we can do as individuals - that you don't have to hold public office to be a public servant."
President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama onstage at the Clinton Global Initiative. September 22, 2009 (Photo credit unknown)
"That's the beauty of service," said Obama, "Anyone can do it and everyone should try."
Established in 2005 by President Clinton, the Initiative provides a meeting place for people and organizations to make commitments to improve the lives of those in need. In total, they have made have made more than 1,400 commitments valued at $46 billion affecting the lives of people in 170 countries.
President Obama got the audience chuckling as he described how President Clinton inspires so many commitments and how he got Obama to commit to appearing on stage on opening night.
"Now, I think everyone knows what it's like when Bill Clinton asks you to make a commitment. (Laughter.) He looks you in the eye; he feels your pain. (Laughter.) He makes you feel like you're the only person in the room. What could I say? I was vulnerable just as all of you have been vulnerable to his charms."
In the past five years, the Clinton charm has brought together more than 100 current and former heads of state, 10 of the last 16 Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, hundreds of leading CEOs, heads of foundations, major philanthropists, directors of the most effective nongovernmental organizations, and prominent members of the media to offer their time, influence and money to help others.
"In the midst of a global financial crisis, I don't think it's a coincidence that more people are attending this meeting than ever before," President Clinton said tonight.
"Since 2005, it has become clear that CGI has found an effective model for addressing challenges around the world. Our members have made more than 1,400 commitments affecting more than 200 million people around the world," Clinton said.
"Because of their efforts, more than 10 million children have access to a better education, 48 million people have better health care, and more than 12 people million have safe drinking water," he said. "But there is still work to be done."
After making his opening remarks, President Clinton moderated a panel discussion featuring Chilean President Michelle Bachelet; Mike Duke, president and CEO of Wal-Mart Stores; Muhtar Kent, chairman of the board and CEO of Coca-Cola; and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
From left: Matt Damon, Gary White, and President Bill Clinton announce Water.org's Haiti Commitment. (Photo credit unknown)
President Clinton also announced the first two commitments of this year's meeting, one of which is environmental in its focus.
Water.org co-founders, actor Matt Damon and the organization's executive director Gary White, joined President Clinton on-stage to announce a $2 million commitment to provide 50,000 people in Haiti with safe water and sanitation over the next three years.
"The situation in Haiti is extreme. It's the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and nearly half of its people don't have access to clean water," said White. "Expanding Water.org's programming to Haiti will help people break the cycle of disease and poverty."
Water.org's Haiti Commitment will reach beneficiaries with grant-driven programs while also exploring opportunities with microfinance institutions in Haiti under its WaterCredit Initiative.
WaterCredit is a financial innovation that brings microfinance to the world's poor who lack safe water and sanitation. It is the first comprehensive program of its kind to move beyond grant-driven charity and enables microfinance activity in the water and sanitation sector.
WaterCredit leverages commercial capital and motivates microfinance institutions to launch loan portfolios to assist the poor who lack basic water and sanitation services.
As part of the commitment, Water.org has launched a social media campaign so that anyone can participate in meeting the water challenge in Haiti.
The Haiti Challenge is a new website that encourages visitors to fundraise and "friend-raise" for the cause through their online social networks. Getting a friend to really care about the water crisis is as important as asking for a donation. White says the website includes new technologies that leverage the most popular social media sites, making it quick and easy for people to invite their friends and followers to support the cause.
The other new commitment comes from Coca-Cola, which commits to alleviating poverty by increasing opportunities for women in the Coca-Cola distribution network in Africa.
In partnership with the Academy for Educational Development, and with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Coca-Cola will work to identify strategies for overcoming barriers to women's participation, particularly skills development and access to finance.
Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.