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September 28, 2012 | Nidhi Chaudhary

Clinton Global Initiative 2012: Partnerships, Scale, Dignity

Partnership, scale, but above all, dignity, was at the center of this year’s Clinton Global Initiative held earlier this week in New York.

In her remarks in the opening plenary, Queen Rania of Jordan reminded us that the Arab Spring was a fight for dignity, not just politically, but also economic dignity and freedom from want.

Secretary Hillary Clinton said, “Dignity is a word that has a lot of resonance in development. It may mean different things to different people and cultures, but it speaks to something universal in all of us. As one Egyptian observed in the wake of that country’s revolution, freedom and dignity are more important than food and water. When you eat in humiliation, you can’t taste the food.” 

President Obama spoke of human trafficking, certainly a surprise for many in the room given the issues most pressing for the upcoming election.

He said “Our message today…to the millions around the world, is we see you. We hear you. We insist on your dignity and we share your believe that if just given the change, you will forge a life equal to your talents and worthy of your dreams.”

His comments could perhaps speak to the work of any social entrepreneur around the world, trying to address any issue, and to support any number of communities.

In conversations about education for girls, we were reminded that this was not just a right for knowledge, but economic dignity that would have implications beyond a woman’s own life. Even during talk of more environmentally sound supply chains, a member of the audience urged fellow CEO’s to also think about how they can ensure more dignity for people along the way.

Is it a core element to how you approach your work?

As in the past, we were thrilled to see so many Echoing Green Fellows and supporters acknowledged for their work, while also stepping forward to make even stronger commitments for social change. Spotted on the main stage:

  • The demand for B Corps certification is growing globally and on Tuesday, Echoing Green Board Member and founder of B Lab, Andrew Kassoy, announced a commitment to certify 100 B Corporations in South America by 2013, with an even bigger goal of having B Corps in 20 countries and of reaching 750 Certified B Corps globally!
  • Building Tomorrow, launched by 2007 Fellow George Srour in 2006, received a $500,000 commitment at the meeting, the largest single contribution the organization has ever received. With the funding, Building Tomorrow hopes to enroll 15,000 primary-level students every year at sixty academies, while providing training for over 450 educators by 2016. President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton visited the Building Tomorrow Academy in Gita over the summer visiting with teachers and students.
  • 2011 Fellow Joel Jackson commited to design, manufacture, and sell 1,000 low-cost, high-functioning Mobius vehicles to local entrepreneurs over the next two years, improving access to mobility for 50,000 people across East Africa.
  • Echoing Green Fellows Raj Panjabi, co-founder of Tiyatien Health, and Josh Nesbit, co-founder of Medic Mobile, made a commitment of $1 million to build a model for mobile-enabled maternal, newborn, and child health services in Grand Gedeh, Liberia, an area of the country that has only one health facility.
  • The meeting opened with a plenary discussion that included Queen Rania of Jordan, Michael Duke, CEO of Wal-Mart, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Jim Yong Kim, the newly appointed President of the World Bank. With a broader theme of designing for impact across the meeting, Queen Rania referenced Embrace, founded by 2008 Fellows Jane Chen and Rahul Panicker, as an innovation that is harnessing the enormous power of technology we have today.

Numbers and data were dodged around throughout the meeting: more people, than ever in history, have access to a mobile phone; with technology now, recorded human history will double every seventy-three days; ninety percent of Egyptians under the age of thirty are unemployed; eighty countries grew at five percent or more last year, yet only eight countries produce eighty percent of the world’s food; and with current population growth, we will need two and a half times the amount of food in the next ninety years than we did in the previous eight thousand; there are ten million child brides around the world and one-third are from India; a billion people will never see a doctor in their lives.

Lynn Stout, professor of corporate and business law at Cornell Law School says that on average, the shareholder holding period on an investment has declined from eight years to four months—with such little patient capital, how can companies take risks and consider larger social impact?

Amongst all of this, at some point, President Clinton said, “You can’t just stop the bad things from happening. You also need to make good things happen.” Since he launched CGI seven years ago, nearly 2,300 commitments totaling over $73 billion have been announced. This year alone, over 150 commitments were made, valued at $2 billion and expected to impact nearly twenty-two million people around the world.

So, good things are happening. But, as Secretary Clinton remarked, we cannot have development without partnership with the private sector, a more willing investment community, and stronger country ownership.

You can now watch many of the sessions from CGI 2012 online:

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