Clinton Global Initiative 2010: Things that made me go “hmmm…”

imagesPoverty: A man or a woman?

This year’s CGI kicked-off with “girl power.”  Specifically, the need to educate them, protect them, respect them, prepare them and empower them.   Among the ideas tossed around at this week’s do-gooder conclave that made me go “hmmm”:

  • Technology: Cherie Blair who heads up her own foundation for women wants to, along with Google, Microsoft and Cisco (CGI’s big sponsors) increase women’s access to technology, i.e. mobile phones and computers, in order to increase their ability to communicate.  That’s not what grabbed me.  This was: “When we’re talking about the poor we are talking about women,” Blair said.

Are we?  Solutions that focus on educating and empowering women in the developing world are imperative.  It is equally as important to educate men in the developing world so they may understand why.  This is why I like this campaign:

  • Real Men Don’t Buy Girls: As mind-boggling as it is, people, (mainly men but some women too), buy and sell other people, (mainly women).  It’s beyond evil.  Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore launched the “Real Men” campaign, “with a passion bordering on anger” intended to stop human trafficking.

Absolutely let’s support women.  Let’s make sure men are part of the conversation too.  And let’s not forget that empowering women also requires changing laws, particularly those on property (Women own less than 15 percent of land worldwide) and inheritance rights.  It also requires enforcing ones regarding violent crimes.  If honor killings and rape are an offense, then prosecute the offenders.

“CGI is about networking,” remarked Katie Couric, after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf asked Coca-Cola CEO Muhtar Kent to ensure her that Liberia is included in Coca-Cola’s efforts to create jobs across eight African nations.  Hmmm… Networking, yes, but with whom and for what?

Not networking with the very poor.  CGI’s attendees were red carpet royalty or corporate titans, who made multi-million dollar pledges and paid $20,000 to attend. Yes government officials and non-profit leaders roamed the halls as well.  Yet, neither group experiences daily destitution.  Am I being too idealistic in believing that if we are going to help the poor, it would help if we talked to them?

Leila Janah, CEO of Samasource, didn’t think so:

“If you are ostensibly serving the poor how can you serve them if you’re not living among them and understanding what their challenges are?….The biggest mistake we make as a sector is that we think that we can sit in a big institution in D.C. and understand the problems of the poor by spending one week in a developing country and staying at a five-star hotel and driving around in a fancy car…That’s not the way we learn about our consumers.”

That speaks for itself.

Bill who?

Over CGI’s three days, Bill Clinton kept talking about how Bill Gates runs the biggest foundation in the world.  Turns out that foundation isn’t big enough for USAID.

“I was at the Gates Foundation for a long time,” USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah noted, “and often wondered how can I get USAID to partner with me.  It really wasn’t that easy.  And now that I’m on the other end I’m learning why it’s hard.”

Hmmm..He didn’t explain why it was hard.  As a former government official I suspect it has a lot to do with tremendous red tape.  Nothing gets done in Washington without filling out several dozens of forms, which have to be approved by several dozens of people.  Which is why I was surprised to hear him say that donors like USAID:

“(H)ave to ask hard questions about ‘Are we working with the types of partners that genuinely will build strong local institutions?’ Because at the end of the day the goal isn’t simply to solve these problems for others. The goal is to create the condition where our assistance is simply no longer needed.”

If Raj Shah can get the U.S. Congress to understand the importance of building strong local institutions in the developing world and stand down from its demand that USAID or any other U.S. government agency give procurement and outsourcing contracts to U.S.-based enterprises, he deserves the Nobel Prize….in Physics.

And speaking of Bill.. will the real one stand up?

The name behind the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was the last headliner at the Clinton Global Initiative.  He wasted no time in responding to development skeptics: “It’s easy to focus on the things that aren’t going well and that are really a problem.  It’s important to maintain perspective.”  I couldn’t agree more.  It is, as Matthew Bishop noted, “so much easier to sneer than to report/analyze.”

So in analyzing Gates’s appearance, I was focused on this:

“If you look at its (MDGs) achievements they are pretty amazing,” Gates said.  “MDG One, poverty reduction, – we’re going to meet that.  The MDGs have served their purpose of getting people focused getting UN groups, rich governments and poor governments working together. ”

Hmmm.. I’m pretty sure that if poverty were Microsoft Bill Gates wouldn’t be so easy embrace the UN’s “progress” numbers.  He’d be a bad ass, demanding that more be done — because more needs to be done.  Poverty, as SKS Microfinance’s Vikram Akula pointed out, is growing at such a rapid rate that we need to counter it with equally swift, scalable and sustainable solutions.  The MDGs aren’t that solution.  Will the Bill Gates that knows that please stand up?

There were things at CGI that made me clap as well (it was a very musical week).  Here are a few of my favorite lines and moments.  Overall, CGI was, and is, a worthwhile event.  As I mentioned to Bonnie Koenig, “Talking about these issues, however imperfect the platform, is better than not talking about these issues.” And that these issues are being taken up by those that have the power and means to affect action is positive.  Positive is what I choose to hold onto in this field.

Favorite lines:

“Of course modern technology is very important for a good education.  But I would invest in the education of teachers because you can never under estimate human resources.”  — Finnish President Tarja Halonen.

“You know how many people (working in poverty alleviation) don’t know what they’re talking about?” Bill Clinton

“Democracy isn’t a spectator sport.” – Arianna Huffington

“Gender shouldn’t be a lottery: ‘who gets to blossom and who doesn’t.” – Queen Rania of Jordan

“Be suspicious when people say there’s no market (in the developing world).”  — Paul Farmer

“I’m grateful that Michelle isn’t running for any offices I am.”  Barack Obama

Favorite moments:

NPR Plant Money’s Adam Davidson noted that the “Profiting from the Poor?” panel with Grameen Founder Muhammad Yunus would… “…be a historic moment in the history of microfinance. When history books are written they are going to talk about this conversation right now.”  MUST WATCH.

Hanging out in the cavernous pressroom with @laurenist @sloane @texasinafrica @penelopeinparis @kenyanpundit @alanna_shaikh @ferenstein with occasional drop-bys from @auerswald.  Yes, we talked shop.  These are all smart and thoughtful folks who are serious about development and recognize that it’s not a “hobby.”

When Aid Watchers and White Man Burden author Bill Easterly started following me on Twitter.  That’s like getting asked out by Brad Pitt.

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  1. […] Clinton Global Initiative 2010: Things that made me go “hmmm…” – Wonderment Woman – “This year’s CGI kicked-off with “girl power.”  Specifically, the need to educate them, protect them, respect them, prepare them and empower them.   Among the ideas tossed around at this week’s do-gooder conclave that made me go ‘hmmm‘” […]

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