Photo Credit: Barbara Kinney / Clinton Global Initiative
Sep 19
September 19, 2016

11 Unforgettable Moments from 11 Years of CGI Annual Meetings


With the 12th and final Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Annual Meeting underway, I have been reflecting on past moments that have stuck with me over the years.

I started as CEO of CGI in 2007, but I actually had attended every Annual Meeting before that. I would say that the most exciting one for me was the first one, in 2005, when this brand new concept—that no one had ever seen in the world before—came into being. I don’t think anyone could have predicted then that President Bill Clinton’s experiment would succeed as much as it has.

The powerful speeches and enlightening discussions over the years have helped inspire Commitments to Action that have collectively touched over 435 million lives—and made the Annual Meeting a game-changing platform for social impact. As a historic chapter comes to a close, I asked CGI staff to share moments from the Annual Meeting that they will never forget.


President Clinton Captivates the Crowd with His Closing Address, 2007

Speaking to CGI’s mission of turning ideas into action, President Clinton asked the audience to shift their mindsets from “I Wish” to “I Will” when it comes to affecting positive change.

“I felt that his address was particularly powerful and a strong reminder of why we all are here working in support of CGI’s mission—because we believe in his vision, that if each of us commits to s­­omething and commits to take action, we can have tremendous impact.” – Heather Zachary, Director of Events & Interdepartmental Operations


Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi Discuss Humanitarian Leadership, 2011

In a 2011 session, Charlie Rose spoke with Nobel Laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi, who joined the conversation via satellite from Myanmar.

“I think that had everybody in the room melting into their seats in the most uplifting way.” –Scarlet Cronin, Associate Director of Commitments & Head of Response & Resilience Track

“It was so delightful and there was so much genuine warmth, love, and respect between them, and the whole community was included in that conversation.” – Elsa Palanza, Director of Commitments


President Clinton Connects with the International Space Station, 2014

President Clinton and Astronaut Cady Coleman spoke with Astronauts Reid Wiseman and Alex Gerst on the International Space Station by satellite to bring the 2014 Annual Meeting to a close.

“I remember being in the room and we talked about doing that, and we all thought it wouldn’t be possible. It all actually came together and worked for the closing. It was such a cool moment with Cady Coleman on stage in her gear.” – Lauren Su, Government Relations Senior Manager


Angelina Jolie Recounts an Experience Speaking with a Young Refugee, 2007

Angelina Jolie spoke on a panel at the 2007 Annual Meeting and described her experience meeting a young Syrian refugee who had aspirations to become a doctor, but who was facing barriers to reaching his goal.

“The story she told was unforgettable, and thinking about it again today, it is just as important nine years later as we face the worst refugee crisis in decades.” – Joe Ballard, Deputy Director of Commitments


Brad Pitt Details His Organization’s Work in Post-Katrina New Orleans, 2009

In a special session on infrastructure, Brad Pitt describes the progress made on the CGI Commitment to Action launched by Make It Right, an organization he founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Of all the incredible sessions I have seen during my 9 years at CGI, this session will forever stay with me. I had the privilege to personally visit the Make It Right site in the Lower Ninth Ward during our inaugural CGI University meeting in New Orleans in 2008. What the Make It Right team had accomplished was amazing, they provided more than just shelter for the residents, but homes filled with dignity, built to last, ones that were sustainable, affordable and durable through future storms. The room was packed with people eager to see Brad Pitt, but everyone walked away incredibly inspired to put into action what they learned from their model.” – Hannah DeLetto, Director of Membership


President Obama Gives a Rousing Speech on Human Trafficking, 2012

President Barack Obama highlighted the horror of human trafficking and its widespread effects at the 2012 Annual Meeting.

“He gave this very moving speech and called upon this group of women who were sitting right next to me. They stood up and the entire audience recognized them for their work, their advocacy, and experiences. That was just a really magical moment.” 
– Lissy DeSantis, Deputy Director of CGI America


The Brunswick Group Commits to Building the Business Case for LGBT Inclusion, 2015

At the 2015 Annual Meeting, the Brunswick Group and partners that include Google and AT&T committed to launch Open for Business, a consortium that promotes a positive business case for the inclusion of LGBT people.

“It was thrilling to see so many CGI members and their partners—after a year of meetings and conversations—come together to make such powerful announcements about changing corporate behavior and extending business influence to ensure that people all over the world, and not just in the U.S., are treated with dignity, respect, and equality regardless of who they love.” 
– Danica MacAvoy, Associate Director of Commitments & Head of Technology Track


Mexican Youth Orchestra Gives an Emotional Performance, 2013

To close out the 2013 Annual Meeting, the Hope Azteca Symphony Orchestra performed their music for CGI attendees. The orchestra, composed of young people from underprivileged Mexican communities, was established as part of a Commitment to Action by Fundación Azteca.

“It was the Mexican Youth Orchestra and there were so many of these kids who ranged in age from 5 to 17. They all looked so proud to be there, and there was this little trumpeter who played this beautiful piece. The room was silent and I was in tears.” 
– Megan Bambino, Former Deputy Director, Program


Chelsea Clinton Recognizes Ambitious Airlift Effort in the Wake of the Ebola Outbreak, 2014 

Just days before the 2014 Annual Meeting, Direct Relief coordinated the efforts of CGI members to airlift 100 tons of medical supplies from New York City to West Africa to combat the Ebola outbreak crisis. The group was recognized by Chelsea Clinton on-stage during the meeting.

“It was the peak of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and, as staff, we felt it was our responsibility to support our members in their response, but were unsure of how best to help. Then, the Direct Relief airlift came together and I was just in awe of the power of our membership and platform. In that moment, hearing Chelsea speak about the airlift from the stage, I felt so proud of our work, our members, and our organization. And, most importantly, that we, as a community, saved lives that day." 
– Emily Dery, Head of Global Health Track


Neil DeGrasse Tyson Engages in Conversation with Pepper the Robot, 2015

Neil deGrasse Tyson kicked off the session “Looking to the Next Frontier,” which focused on disruptive ideas, technologies, and breakthroughs, by speaking wi­­th Pepper the Social Humanoid Robot.

“It’s probably one of my favorite pairings because Neil brings a lot of enthusiasm, and then there’s this four-foot robot giving him a hug.” – Alex Amouyel, Director of Program 


Memories will continue to be made this year at the 12th and final Annual Meeting as leaders across philanthropy, business, government, and civil society come together from September 19-21 in New York City. Participants range from Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers and Executive Director of the World Food Programme Ertharin Cousin, to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim and Bono. Session topics include responding to the Zika epidemic, advancing the circular economy, addressing the refugee crisis in Syria, and more. Watch the action via livestream at