The Clinton Global Initiative Makes A Comeback: 5 Key Takeaways

By Arick Wierson and Bradley Honan | September 27, 2022 | Original Article

This year’s Clinton Global Initiative took place on Sept 19 and 20 in midtown Manhattan when leaders from around the world were already conveniently in town for the U.N. General Assembly. And the impressive list of this year’s attendees—from Blackrock CEO Larry Fink to Queen Rania of Jordan to fashion icon cum activist Christy Turlington Burns—proved that CGI was back in full force. Alongside the World Economic Forum in Davos, the Milken Institute Global Conference in Los Angeles, and the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley conference, this CGI reboot certainly propelled itself back into the holy pantheon of exclusive events.

The broad theme of the 2022 edition of CGI, “The Business of How,” focused on how the business sector needs to step in to fill in the gap between the public sector and philanthropic efforts. The conference was replete with workshops, sessions, and fireside chats focused on solving many of the planet’s most pressing problems such as climate change, health equity, and inclusive economic growth, with much attention paid to the plight of women across the globe and the growing international refugee crisis. 

All in all, this year’s CGI reboot featured nearly 200 speakers and more than 30 sessions over two packed days of discussions. 

The Key Takeaways of CGI 2022

1. The world needs action, not talk

One thing that has always made CGI stand out among its peers—Davos included—is the focus on action, or in CGI parlance, “commitments.” Whether it’s money, donations, or specific actions and achievements, all major participants are encouraged to share in writing and on stage how they intend to impact the problem they are addressing. For example, Melinda French Gates, the ex-wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates, used the stage at CGI to announce a $50 million donation to the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda. This focus on action creates a sense of energy different from the usual talk-a-thon that is common at these international confabs. Former President Clinton opened the conference by saying that CGI had, to date, created or funded programming that spanned 80 countries and impacted 400 million people across the globe.

2. Philanthropy needs to be more like venture capital

Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of Apple founder Steve Jobs, was just one of many mega philanthropists who spoke about the need for the corporate world and private philanthropy to come together. Powell Jobs sees the next generation of philanthropy not as a closed silo. Instead, she sees foundations as playing the role of catalyst, galvanizing government and society at large by creating valuable proof points. Ripping a page from Merton Capital’s Sean Davis, who has been among the most vocal advocates for next generation ‘venture philanthropy,’ Powell Jobs spoke about the impact that philanthropy at scale can have, particularly when partnering with the private sector to derisk experimental projects, making it easier for the public sector to intervene and even take over once the proof of concept has been established. She and many of her cohort at CGI argued that philanthropy must be more agile, experimental, and willing to try new, sui generis, ways of solving the world’s most pressing problems, citing her own foundation’s work as evidence of this new model of noblesse obli

3. Representation is good, but true equity means ownership

With economic inequality a pressing global and domestic issue, CGI served up several dishes of enlightening programming that forced attendees to rethink DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion). At one session entitled “Beyond Representation: How We Can Close the Ownership Gap for Entrepreneurs and Investors of Color,” MSNBC’s Alicia Menendez pinned her ears back and challenged the audience to think about ways of creating more ownership among people of color. One of the most compelling speakers on the panel was Patty Arvielo, the president and cofounder of New American Funding, one of the leading mortgage banking companies in the U.S. with more than $33 billion in home mortgages. Notably, Arvielo’s company is among the largest lenders to Black and Latino home buyers in the country. “The return of CGI, particularly coming on the heels of the pandemic, shined a bright light on structural inequalities, particularly among people of color–especially Black and Brown women. I was pleased to see a renewed focus not just on representation, but on ownership,” Arvielo told Worth in a post-mortem on the session. Arvielo and others argued that it is great that there are more Black and Latina CEOs as well as board members, but all those jobs are transitory in nature. True equity means ownership, which America should embrace as the new barometer of success.

4. Philanthropy under women leadership is changing the nature of the non-profit sector

It was notable that many of the philanthropic organizations in attendance were run and managed by women, and in particular women of color. Marla Blow, the president and chief operating officer of the Skoll Foundation, spoke passionately about how women leaders in philanthropy are prioritizing funding different types of organizations and programs with their giving than their largely white male predecessors. It was vividly clear that Blow’s comments signal a changing trend in how the philanthropic sector is managed and how impatient women leaders are when it comes to meaningful change. Indeed, in one particularly impassioned panel, moderator Maria Teresa Kumar of Voto Latino and MSNBC, scoffed at the idea that gender pay equity would not be achieved for at least another 150 years as current statistics seem to indicate. “I am ready for disruption now! I am ready for action. I’m sure not waiting that long and so let’s discuss what exactly we are going to do to change that unjust trajectory,” riffed Kumar in her plea for action.

5. CGI can still deliver the celebrities

The reboot was certainly not light on mega-cultural influencers. From U2’s Bono, who sat on a panel with President Clinton, to supermodel Christy Turlington Burns, the celebrity set was certainly well-represented. Interestingly, it wasn’t Hollywood names for the sake of Hollywood names. All the bold-faced names came there with something substantial to contribute—activists using their celebrity to effect change around the issues they care about most. Like Matt Damon, who spoke about his work with his charity, and Robin Wright, who discussed her Pour Les Femmes Foundation. 

What we didn’t see—but hope to see at CGI 2023

With the intensity of a climate activist, Unilever’s charismatic and passionate CEO, Alan Jope, wowed the CGI crowd with his pitch for companies to take sustainability more seriously. Jope’s attendance—and certainly his performance—considerably raised the bar for his peers and highlighted the question on the minds of many attendees—why were other Corporate CEOs not in attendance? Where were the CEOs of other major colossal brands such as Coca-Cola, Google, Apple, and Disney to name just a few? Hopefully next year the Clintons will use their considerable political capital to bring even more corporations to make important pledges and commitments as well and weigh in on the global state of things across the markets in which they operate.

CGI focused on the challenges and opportunities around the world’s youth and for the first time ever, brought many of the CGI University students and young social entrepreneurs from around the world to the conference. But that focus meant that with only a two-day conference, there wasn’t enough time to dive into other important issues such as the looming aging crisis—people living longer, needing more resources to live, and the question of how we care for the elderly. Industrialized nations from the U.S. to Southern Europe to China will be undergoing immense upheaval as they transition to an increasingly older population in the decades ahead. As life expectancy grows, the strain on the working populations will have profound reverberations on how these economies are organized and care for their senior citizens.

“As CGI evolves, we hope they will address the looming global care crisis of aging—one that disproportionately impacts women and communities of color,” said Bonnie Wattles, executive director of Hilarity for Charity, an organization founded by filmmakers Seth Rogen and Lauren Miller Rogen, which is working to raise awareness about Alzheimer’s Disease. “With 10,000 people turning 65 every day in the U.S. alone, and with families bearing the brunt of providing unpaid care for the aging population, a multi-stakeholder approach is needed to create a care infrastructure that includes access to care, support for family caregivers, and better care jobs,” said Wattles.

Looking Ahead to 2023

Bill Clinton closed the conference by posing a question to the thousand or so attendees in the audience: “Should CGI reconvene again next year?” The crowd’s resounding response was an unsurprising “Yes!” 

For a summit that many thought would never see the light of day again, this event proved it still has a lot to offer. The Clinton clan has created a vital forum for convening some of the brightest minds and unique problem-solvers across the public and private sectors from all corners of the world. And that alone makes this event one of the most coveted tickets across the globe.

“We’re grateful for the chance to come back together. We still think cooperation beats conflict, and we’re going to have a good time trying to do it,” said President Clinton in his prepared remarks.

We couldn’t agree more.