I heard Bill Clinton speak last Friday at the Global Philanthropy Forum. I was so taken by his speech that I decided that I had to blog about it. I'm going to try to summarize the main points that I took away. But there's no way I can do justice to his eloquence. You can watch his whole speech on Google Video here to get the full effect.
In his speech, Clinton essentially posed and answered 5 questions (I only remember 4 of the questions...).
1. What is the fundamental nature of the 21st century?
Clinton's answer was interdepence. This is just globalization and "flat worldness" that people like Tom Friedman have been talking about.
2. Is this interdependence good or bad?
Clearly this interdependence has been very good for a lot of people. But it also has a bad side. Half the world doesn't participate in the benefit that this interdependence brings. The divide between the haves and the havenots is growing. Lots of things are worsening: population explosion, climate change, resource depletion, deforestation, oil depletion, top soil loss.
3. What can we do about it?
His answer to this critical question was that we need to build integrated communities with empowered people. He said that successful communities have three characteristics: (a) they give their members the opportunity to participate; (b) the members have a shared responsibility for achieving a common goal; and (c) members have a strong sense of belonging. He gave some simple examples of successful communities: a company like Google, the Tennessee women's basketball team, etc.
He pointed out that having a strong sense of belonging is critical. He noted that the terrorist bombings in England created a lot more angst in the UK because the terrorists were home grown; these were people who were part of the British community but did not have the
sense of belonging to that community.
He said that it was essentil to have some sort of a security strategy in this world. But that wasn't enough: "you can't kill, jail, or occupy all the people who disagree with you" (he repeated this multiple times to great effect). So you have to make deals with people you disagree with; you have to practice politics; you have to build a world with more partners and fewer adversairies. This is much cheaper than going to war.
He said that we know how to make partners. We know how to educate kids, end hunger, help farmers, help countries avoid the use of destructive energy use policies. We know that cell phones empower people. We know how to help with health care, climate change and resource depletion.
He said that saying you have to make deals with people you disagree with sounds like a terrible thing to do. Until you think of the options: you can't kill, jail, or occupy all the people who disagree with you. It's very much like Churchill's comment on democracy: it's the worst form of government except for all the rest!
He pointed out that before the tsunami, the US approval rating in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, was at 20%. But after the tsunami the approval rating went up to 60%. What caused this change? The US army was in the vanguard of bringing aid to the people. The Indonesians began to associate US army helicopters and uniforms with aid packages. Not with war. And this is significantly cheaper than war.
4. Who does it?
He said we all need to do it. We can't wait around for our government to do it.
The Clinton Foundation's work
After he discussed the above questions, Clinton started talking about what his foundation does. One of the big things they do is to organize markets. For example, they've organized the market for medicines. As a result, they got the price of AIDS drugs down to something like $139 per person per year from about $3500 per person per year. They're doing the same thing with medicines for kids. He talked about UNITAID, a French led effort to purchase drugs for the developing world. There are no longer financial barriers to keeping these children alive (though effective health care infrastructure still needs to be built).
He talked about organizing fertilizer markets in Rwanda. They went out and negotiated a deal with fertilizer companies. These deals, much like the deals made with drug companies, had three characteristics: low margin, high volume, certain payment. Then they negotiated a decrease in microcredit interest rates so farmers could buy the fertilizer.
All this work is about organizing and enlarging markets. Nothing empowers people like an organized, understandable market. Can this work with climate change? He's going to try. He pointed out that Denmark grew its economy by 50% without increasing its energy consumption!
He ended by asking everyone to do something about these pressing problems: "It's not as if we have anything more important to do"!