Guest Post: Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting

As our Americas president Kim McMann mentioned in her guest post, we recently joined, and made our commitment to, the Clinton Global Initiative.  Like me, you may have wondered what the CGI Annual Meeting is like. Other than the named member and select VIPs, the only other attendees are volunteers.  Bernie Shaw, a long time  BT colleague, has volunteered at the CGI Annual Meeting for a couple of years and kindly agreed to share her perspective on the event in this guest post.

Two weeks ago I volunteered at the CGI annual meeting in New York and it can only be described as a somewhat surreal experience, to see so many visionary people all in one place.

Mohammed Yunus, the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on microfinance in Bangladesh was there, as was Paul Farmer, the founder of Partners in Health. Also there (via video) – was Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese opposition leader. Hearing her speak about democracy and reconciliation without any trace of bitterness or anger was incredible. I personally find it difficult to comprehend how someone who has been imprisoned for almost 15 years can emerge from that ordeal with such grace, clarity of vision and true wisdom to share. It was reminiscent of listening to Nelson Mandela, following his release.

The corporate world was also very well represented and this year there seemed to be a growing acknowledgement of the importance of engaging with local communities. The CEO of Oando, an energy company operating in Nigeria, talked about building schools along a planned pipeline, before the pipes were even laid. This approach ensured that the local community saw direct benefits from Oando’s engagement in their region, which in turn created a more stable and secure business environment. Bob McDonald of Procter & Gamble talked about his company’s efforts to improve local healthcare standards and encourage girls to stay in school longer. These social investments helped to drive local economic growth, which in turn expanded the market for P&G products. McDonald maintained that the more social investing his company did, the greater the overall financial return it was likely to see. However, a challenge acknowledged by many CEOs was the difficulty in reconciling these social-based investment programs (critical to the longer term bottom line), against the quarterly demands of shareholders.

On the last day of the event, a young man walked past me and it took me a moment to recognize that it was Valentino Achak Deng. One of the lost boys of Sudan, Valentino had ended up living in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya, before being resettled in the US.  Valentino made a commitment to CGI in 2007 that he would build schools in Southern Sudan. This year he reported back that there were now 350 registered students at his first school. While a major accomplishment, Valentino is now focused on trying to encourage more girls to enroll – by building dormitories, which he believes will provide a safe and more conducive environment in which to pursue their studies. In Southern Sudan, less than 1% of girls complete secondary education and an estimated 92% of women are illiterate. In order for Southern Sudan to build a sustainable future, the education of its young girls and women is critical.

Among all of the amazing achievements recounted at CGI, I find Valentino’s story truly inspiring. For me it reinforces that we just don’t know from what part of the world those brilliant minds will emerge, that will help us to successfully address the many challenges the world faces.

The various sessions at the CGI 2011 annual meeting can be viewed via the following website.

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