For several years now, two annual Manhattan conferences representing the 1 percent and the 99 percent in social good activism—the high net-worth schmoozefest that is Bill Clinton’s star-studded Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) and the digerati’s answer to it, the upstart Social Good Summit that meets concurrently across town—have been trading global social capital to boost social problem-solving.
When sized up in the context of for-profit-meets-nonprofit entrepreneurship, both of these causefests and others emerging across the giving sector may well be characterized as the trading floors of the new philanthrocapitalism. Since founding CGI in 2005, Bill Clinton has been trading his social capital, using his vast networks and reach (and by association, his wife’s vast networks and rising clout) to forge unlikely alliances among corporate executives, NGO leaders, celebrities, and government officials. In the process, he has been doing much to help erode some of the traditional cultural barriers to business collaboration and impact measurement within the American philanthropy establishment. “The world’s problems are so big, philanthropy cannot do it alone,” Clinton said Tuesday when opening this year’s three-day CGI, called “Mobilizing for Impact.” “We need everyone at the table.” And multi-lateral it is. According to the Clinton Foundation’s website, more than 2,300 CGI-forged partnership deals among billionaires, multinational corporations, governments and social entrepreneurs have, over the past decade, affected more than 400 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, Clinton says, these collaborations will be worth more than $73.1 billion, combined.
Similarly, though less expansively, the Social Good Summit, organized by Mashable Founder and CEO Pete Cashmore, spends social capital to partner big foundations with innovative cause startups—a deal-fest co-sponsored by the United Nations Foundation, Ericsson, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. This year, the gathering at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y brought more than 800 grantmakers, government policymakers, CEOs, and tech startups together to form new funding collaborations in-between technology programming, startup pitch sessions, and cross-town meet-ups.
Mostly, the two conferences attract different crowds. CGI’s members are older and more titled, but some speakers are attending both, including Sir Richard Branson of The Virgin Group, United Nations Foundation CEO Kathy Calvin, UNICEF Executive Director Tony Lake, celebrity Lauren Bush, environmentalists Al Gore and Jeffrey Sachs, the TV and film producer JJ Abrams, Google Ideas Principal Yasmin Green, World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, and Melinda Gates, among others.
“Thanks to social media, philanthropy is being democratized,” Case Foundation CEO Jean Case told a sold-out Social Good Summit crowd on Wednesday. “Philanthropy needs to collaborate more across the sector and with supporters. We need to help nonprofits master social media and help them to communicate using these tools. When we think of philanthropy, our definition is any effective effort that promotes human progress, which does not mean we should get just anyone in the tent. We need talent and help from companies too. The traditional sense of charitable giving is not where we should stop, because stopping would mean we’re not using all the tools in our toolbox.”
No argument there. The annual PopTech gathering in October and the recent “design of everything” forum in Chicago, called CUSP, are starting to model themselves after CGI to provide similar trading opportunities to the members of their networks, for a fee. Says fashion designer Eileen Fisher, a philanthropist who spoke to me from just off the main stage at CGI yesterday: “These are exciting times for philanthropy because the tent is expanding, big-time, and it seems that now, everyone can make a deal.”
Given philanthropy’s need for more speedy and measureable impact, let the trading proliferate.
Among other Cause Week programming highlights:
- Samantha Power, the new United States Ambassador to the United Nations and a Pulitzer Prize-winning activist, warned Social Good Summit attendees of “a crackdown on civil society” by governments around the world. “It’s clear that a lot of governments are now sharing worst practices on how to crack down on civil society,” she said. They are doing this “to impede the kind of connectivity that can occur virtually, even as they close off public streets and squares.” The goal: to dissuade cause-wired activists from using social media and other methods to demand human rights and economic reforms. “Governments are getting more and more sophisticated at shutting down the Internet, and are blocking, filtering, and using technology to trace human rights activists” for retribution, Power added. “They are aware of the explosion in civil society and of the power of social media. It is time to sound the alarm.”
- Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the subject of endless speculation over whether she will or won’t run for the White House in 2016, said she will spend much of the next two years leading an international effort to evaluate progress made globally in empowering women and girls worldwide. “Whether we are talking about empowering and connecting women in economics or health care or education or politics, it all comes back to a question of the full and equal participation of women versus their marginalization,” Clinton said. She said she will use the convening power of CGI and the resources of the Clinton Foundation to bring together global, local, and national women’s and civil society organizations to assess how much progress has been made on women’s rights since the landmark 1995 UN summit on women, which was held in Beijing (and which Clinton attended as First Lady). “While more girls are in school and more women hold jobs and serve in public office, it is still not enough,” Clinton said. “Women and girls still comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unfed, and unpaid, marginalized in so many ways.”
- Bill Gates, speaking on a CGI panel called Big Bets Philanthropy, urged nonprofit leaders to work harder at collaboration between nonprofits and for-profits. “It’s interesting that nonprofits think the for-profit guys are evil,” Gates said. “That attitude has blocked cooperation in many areas of the global food and drug sectors,” and it’s slowing aid to the world’s hungry and dying. Gates also urged fellow philanthropists, in the new world of public-private activism, to take on the role of funders to riskier projects “that nobody else wants to touch.” Said Gates, “You don’t want to go into an area that is already well-covered. … Philanthropy has more leeway to experiment; it should fund the high-risk projects and let businesses and governments do the easier stuff.”
- Bono shared with CGI attendees how his fight against AIDS in Africa, his One (RED) campaign, was flagging, funding-wise, until he took it to the American marketplace. “US lawmakers would tell us we’re not feeling that (AIDS) issue at home,” Bono said. “So we went straight to the people, to the shopping malls and Gap stores, and through the marketplace, RED started to turn up the heat on the issue. The marketplace is where the real money lies. Do you want a blue iPod or a red one? Kids started choosing red because they knew that purchase would count.”
- Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg talked about the barriers to leadership that many women face around the world. Conducting a quick poll of how many female leaders in the CGI audience had been called “bossy,” Sandberg said: “We teach ourselves from a very young age—and this is true across cultures and countries—that men should lead and women shouldn’t. In many cultures still, women are expected to marry young, expected to follow and stay out of the workplace. When this changes, not if this changes, we will have a global society that is more productive, more peaceful, and families will be happier.” Christine Lagarde, the chief of the International Monetary Fund, agreed and encouraged women to get into politics, citing countries such Rwanda, which has a Parliament composed two-thirds of women. “In every crisis you see women rising,” Lagarde said. “When it’s messy, you get the women in, but when the mess is sorted, you need to keep the women in.”
- Speaking on a Social Good Summit panel called “A New Africa Rising,” two social entrepreneurs using social media to fuel support for their organizations in Africa talked extensively about the rapidly growing entrepreneurial scene there. “Charity? Rather than support the traditional NGOs in Africa, support the African social entrepreneur,” urged Magatte Wade, founder and CEO of Tiossan, a cosmetics startup that uses proceeds to benefit local education. Teddy Ruge, a leader of the African social start-up movement, agreed that young Africans are reshaping their own communities for the better, and that “it is time” for traditional NGOs to work with these new innovators—and to hear their input—rather than drive their own agendas without collaboration.
- John Prendergast, co-founder of the Enough Project, is working in partnership with Google and satellite companies on what he calls a “drones for good” project that “is about getting eyes on remote locations in conflict zones, where there is no other way to verify that human rights abuses are occurring.” Prendergast said using drones to monitor for mass gravesites and rebel movements, for example, can help aid organizations warn innocent civilians and prevent human rights abuses from occurring. Kevin Kennedy, chief of integrated training services at the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support, said his office is using drones for good in four countries: the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, South Sudan, and Haiti, to help monitor public health crises, the movement of child soldiers, and rebel and refugee movements.
- Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-British mobile communications billionaire and founder of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation used his seat on a CGI panel to blast the West for neglecting investment in Africa, chiding Google for investing only relatively small sums and criticizing US-based Internet companies for being “totally absent” from the push to provide broadband data access to some 3 billion people in Africa who still don’t have it. He also criticized stereotypes about Africa on corruption, saying that “for every corrupt leader, there are 50 corrupt business people, half of them sitting here.”
- Bre Pettis, the CEO of Makerbot Industries, and Ushahidi Co-founder and Executive Director Juliana Rotich, told CGI members that their organizations prove that the power to make, communicate, and connect is no longer in the hands of the few. Crowdsourcing solutions to social problems, Rotich said, holds tremendous opportunities for digital humanitarianism at all levels of the pyramid. Ushahidi, which has created real-time data maps to help expose corruption and speed aid to victims of natural disasters from Haiti to Japan, grew from a blog started in Kenya into a platform that’s now available in more than 35 languages and in 159 countries. “This is how we are building a global humanitarian community,” Rotich said. “Digital scaling and diversity is the next level of collaboration we need to create a better world.”