In a post-Sept. 11 world, people (especially Republicans) would want you to believe that terrorism is the greatest threat to global stability we have ever faced. But as we have seen from numerous studies, individuals have a better chance of drowning in their own bathtubs than dying from a terrorist attack.
Tragically, the most pressing world challenges we face today are often the ones least covered in the media and certainly by our own government. The issues I am referring to are global poverty, health and education. Every single day 30,000 people die because they can’t afford food or medicine. Nearly three billion people live on less than $2 a day and more than 330 million children can’t afford to go to secondary school (sadly, most poor countries still charge a fee to attend school). It is our actions on these issues, not the “war on terror,” that will determine global stability for generations to come. Consequently I can’t help but get excited when I hear that innovative programs like the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) are moving ahead of our government on these serious global challenges.
For those unfamiliar with the CGI, every year since 2004 former President Bill Clinton has gathered heads of state, Nobel Peace Prize winners, billionaires and A-list celebrities in New York City. Upon arrival this diverse and energetic group of people spends the next three days unveiling their personal plans to address the main problems of global poverty, education and health.
While this probably sounds like another meaningless conference composed of more style than substance, the CGI is different because it uses stricter rules when evaluating its members, the most fundamental being you have to show real progress in your pledges to get invited back (Clinton didn’t invite five participants this year). This might not seem like a big deal to you and me, but by making it a “cool club” for high-powered and highly motivated socialites, the initiative has been able to harness these people’s incredible abilities and achieve real change around the world.
According to Clinton spokesman Ben Yarrow, more than 850,000 children under the age of five have received life-saving vaccinations and more than 3.2 million people in the developing world have gained access to clean energy services since the first two conferences. From this year’s pledges, which totaled more than $4 billion, the CGI hopes to give 50 million people access to treatment for diseases and provide 8.5 million children a chance to go to school.
In addition to direct contributions, Clinton’s initiative is also giving existing organizations a great opportunity to market themselves. Probably the coolest examples of the CGI’s promotion abilities happened at last year’s event with the Web site Kiva.org. Kiva’s goal is to match microloan borrowers (usually seeking less than $50) in areas like Africa, India and the Middle East with lenders residing in more industrialized regions.think Facebook-meets-eBay but with loans. Immediately after being featured at the CGI, Kiva’s received thousands of new members and received even more attention by larger media outlets, which served to only broaden their membership.
Granted, the CGI is not without its faults; most pressing is the need for more transparency in the fulfillment of pledges. However, the event is only in its third year and, as Jonathan Alter of Newsweek wrote, “Even if only a fraction of the pledges get fulfilled, CGI is way ahead of the game.”
So what does this all mean? Is the CGI the panacea for all the world’s largest problems? Of course not; we still need substantive government mandates and international accords that can mobilize millions of people and billions of dollars to combat global poverty, health and education issues.
Nevertheless, it’s great to see a group of motivated people determined not to sit still and wait for world governments (especially our inept government) to come to its senses and really address these pressing global matters. By going straight to our society’s greatest socio-economic leaders, programs like the CGI can continue to fill the gaps that will always exist between even the most comprehensive government policies and the real changes they have on the ground.
Patrick Molnar is a business junior and the liberal columnist for the Mustang Daily.