Some go on vacation to feel renewed, recharged, revitalized, regain a sense of optimism in the world.
I go to the Clinton Global Initiative.
For the past eight years, I have been able to have a few days in what seems like an alternate universe of possibility – far away from the “real” world we have become, of a topsy-turvy Wonderland of “no-can-do”. At CGI, the most severe, entrenched, seemingly intractable problems plaguing the world – poverty, malnutrition, disease, oppression, conflict, lack of clean water or affordable fuel or electricity – are solvable. In fact, the solutions have already been tried, and they work, and we know they work because they are measured.
Established by President Bill Clinton as the afterlife for a Presidency that was stunted by the obstructionism that has become entrenched in our governance, the Clinton Global Initiative, has basically invented a methodology, a science, a new economics, for sustainable development.
The essence is to bring the people, institutions and agencies together – representatives of governments, the nonprofit nongovernmental organizations, private sector corporations and financial institutions, moguls and titans, financiers and foundations – those who know the problems and those who have the means to solve the problem, and give them an opportunity to brainstorm, to network. Every one of the “members” who come are obligated to make a commitment – they can join together to create a commitment.
But here’s the real beauty: they don’t just promise to do something, CGI has the mechanism to follow up to make sure the commitments are implemented, and even more importantly than that, they actually measure results so that the concepts that are most successful can be replicated elsewhere.
Sometimes the projects are as simple as making sure every child has a bowl of rice to eat – then they are more successful to go to school. Or getting young women something like a tampon, so that they are not forced to stay out of school during their menstruation.
Proctor & Gamble’s commitment has been to make readily available a tiny packet of chemicals costing two cents apiece, which a family uses to turn filthy, contaminated water into potable water, so girls and women don’t spend hours of a day hiking to a source of fresh water, vulnerable the whole time to attacks and rape, and therefore have time to go to school, be educated, and a million children don’t die before the age of five of waterborne illnesses. Two cents a packet and 20 minutes of stirring is all it takes.
Much of the focus of development projects have been oriented around the “Girl Effect.” It has been found that advancing the rights of girls and women, access to education, jobs and health care, is the most efficient and effective means to solve the world’s largest problems – including the deprivations due to over population – and the best way to achieve real and lasting economic development to break the cycle of poverty and conflict. That is because it has been shown that when girls and women get better paying jobs, they use the money to make better lives for their children, and the cycle of poverty and illiteracy and ultimately conflict is broken. Many of the commitments at CGI involve opening up education to girls, mentoring girls and young women, training midwives (the most lethal thing a woman can do in the developing world is give birth).
What we would consider simple, take-for-granted, practices are hardly so and involve innovative solutions. Getting medicines to rural villages, for example, proved an insurmountable obstacle, until someone had the brilliant idea to call upon Coca Cola, with 20 million Points of Sales every week the most expansive, efficient distribution system on the face of the planet, and ask for their expertise in setting up supply chains. The result? The number of distribution points increased from 500 to 5000 and delivery time for critical, life-saving medicines reduced from 30 days to five days, and instead of half of the population having limited access, now eight out of 10 get medicines in a timely way.
Coca Cola will next apply its expertise in delivery systems to Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, who has invented a water purification machine manufactured by his company, Deka.
Then, they report back – give progress reports – at the following year’s conference, so that the ideas and programs and projects that work can be replicated or adapted by others. the Yale School of Public Health, for example, studied the Coca Cola solution to see how it could be replicated in Tanzania, Ghana and Mozambique.
This year, they took the challenge to an even higher level: how to scale up the best ideas.
The focus for this year’s conference was on “designing for impact” – how do you design a program or project to have the maximum impact.
Many of the sessions were structured as “design labs” – where a certain topic or issue was presented – such as the need to expand access to early childhood education, and why that is so vitally important for families, communities, nations and society as a whole. (Did you know that the first 1000 days, from gestation to when a child is two years old, are critical to determining what the full potential of that human being’s potential will be?
By 2 ½ years old, 85% of child’s brain development is complete; during the first six years, the cognitive, emotional skills are established. The child that goes to preschool is more like to finish secondary school, but also have higher impact on country’s GDP. Children that who are malnourished in their first six years of life are not just stunted physically but intellectually; as adult, their earning capacity is 22% less.
The Impact has large impact on the economics of the country. Preschool programs can be as inexpensive as $2.50 per child per month – $30 a year to have kids in preschool, – but the impact of that is enormous on GDP, said Carolyn Miles, president and CEO of Save the Children.
“Kids brains not fully developing in the first 2 years, can cost a country’s GDP 2-3%,” she said. “This issue of early nutrition isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s an economic issue.”
Then the members were presented with a challenge which they had to brainstorm together to solve.
What we have found over the years, tough, that casual encounters in an elevator by individuals whose thinking has been sparked by the sessions, often lead to collaborations on commitments – the vital “partnerships” of those with expertise on the problem and those with the resources and means to bring a solution to reality.
But there is a certain moment in each of these CGIs when the euphoria of “eureka” moments that keep firing off turn to a bit of sadness as I contemplate what can be accomplished, what is being accomplished, and almost all of it focused on the so-called “Developing World,” when the United States is just as needy when it comes to our rate of poverty, our need for early childhood education, our need for access to health care and to clean energy, and the urgency to address climate change before we succumb to floods, droughts, famines (all to preserve the primacy of the fossil fuel industry, the most profitable and rapacious in the history of humankind). (I don’t know if I was happy or depressed when Yunis, famous for developing microfinance in the developing world, brought the concept to Jackson Heights, Queens – what does that say about the state of the USA?).
Indeed, one of the commitments this year did actually come extremely close to home: United Water ‘Solution’: Investing in America’s Water: In 2012, United Water committed to partner with institutional investors to form entities that will provide Nassau County, New York and the City of Bayonne, New Jersey with private capital to pay down accumulated debt and initiate capital investment in their municipal water systems. Through this five year commitment, United Water will take over operations and repairs of these water systems in exchange for resident-paid water usage fees. The municipalities, while clearing millions of dollars of accumulated debt, will maintain ownership and regulatory oversight of these systems. This unique partnership and innovative financial solution will promote job creation, create a cleaner environment, and ensure that ownership and stewardship of the water system never leaves public hands.
I was jealous of the island nations that will be the recipients of Norway’s commitment this year: Norway, which supplies 97% of its electricity from hydropower and has the highest percentage of electric vehicles on the road (“because we made it affordable”) is partnering with the Clinton Climate Change Initiative and contributing the benefit of their considerable expertise setting up renewable energy systems. Norway is committing $39 million over three years to assist in the feasibility studies, then the Clinton group will help nations negotiate with developers.
“It is unfair that the poorest nations pay the highest rates for energy because they are dependent on diesel, we are helping to replace diesel with renewables, cheaper and more viable,” said Heikki Holmas, the Norway’s Minister of International Development, (Take that! Koch Brothers!). Besides easing the burden on household incomes, perhaps to put a few extra bucks aside for food or school, and to lessen the health effects of carbon particulates, there is also the benefit to addressing climate change, those these island nations already are at risk of being swamped because of the nonaction by the biggest energy polluters on the planet, the US and China. Already, the village of Vunidogoloa on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island, has had to be permanently relocated from the coast because of rising sea levels due to climate change.
This year’s CGI was really focused on the “how-to” of designing projects for impact – that is, to have them achieve what they are supposed to. The opening session featured a kind of primer on “designing for impact”. The guidelines are pretty much the same whether you are designing a health care program, a literacy program, or a building.
Among the guiding principles they discussed when designing for impact – that is, effectiveness – is to get out into the field, not just have experts sitting around a table. Also, they said, a blank slate is actually not as constructive as a set of constraints. Constraints, they said, inspires innovative and creative solutions.
These principles have application in our own communities – in fact, if we considered the larger context and longer-term impacts of climate change, renewable energy, childhood development, equitable access to quality education and health care to list but a few our communities could all become the building blocks for a sustainable society and a sustainable planet.
At CGI where the most incredible things get done, I am learning about these amazing ways to design a green, sustainable building for not much extra, but the return is significant, and I learned of a new design concept: Building Wellness.
It is already acknowledged that buildings can make you sick – it is one of the reasons there is an epidemic of asthma among school-age children, as just one example. At CGI, I heard of this Building Wellness concept in connection with a new teaching center that the American rapper, musician, songwriter, singer, entrepreneur Will.I.Am is building in the blighted neighborhood where he grew up and where the kids’ potential is shunted in part because of the decrepit building they attend now. But the same New York City architectural company, Delos, is incorporating such principles into an office building in Seattle [PORTLAND?) and a luxury residential building that is rising on the lower West Side. But the concepts of designing “wellness” into a building – which they hope will become a new Real Estate can be applied to virtually any building, including a Library.
In the eight years that the Clinton Global Initiative has been around CGI members have made nearly 2,300 commitments – $73.1 billion worth when fully funded and implemented. These commitments have already improved the lives of more than 400 million people in more than 180 countries.
In just the three days of the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative an array of heads of state, CEOs, non-profit leaders, and other global luminaries made over 150 new commitments, expected to impact nearly 22 million lives.
If you want to be amazed and thrilled and see what “possibility” looks like, take a look at this partial list of commitments that came out of the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative, see story.
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Karen Rubin, Long Island Populist Examiner
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