STEVE SCULLY (SS): We have talked so often in the past about CGI, and I thought the last one was 2019, but as you rightly pointed out, the last time in person was in 2016. So, give us the very latest.
CRAIG MINASSIAN (CM): Well, the last time we did the annual meeting around the UN — in conjunction with the UN General Assembly (UNGA) — was 2016. And over the years, we’ve done it in a more targeted way. In 2019, we did CGI in Puerto Rico to help the region recover from hurricanes. But obviously, due to COVID and other things in the world, we haven’t been able to do it in New York during UNGA week. We’re able to do it again, and the president looked at the enormous range of interconnected threats that are challenging all of us right now from the health inequities exacerbated by COVID to the existential threat of climate change, to increasing economic inequality and new challenges and threats to women and maternal health, and a refugee crisis and said, “There is something we can do and governments and the private sector, philanthropists, can do something and we should bring CGI back.” And that’s why we’re doing it.
SS: There are a lot of themes and topics that you will be focusing on. And I mention that because two of the big issues, climate issues and prescription drugs, Congress is now addressing these…So how does what is happening here in Washington affect the discussion and the conversation you will have in September in New York?
CM: Well, first these are really important steps Congress and the Biden administration have taken. Though we know throughout history, there’s always been a gap between what the government can provide and what the private sector can produce. And that is the goal of CGI: to bring organizations of people together to fill that gap. Climate is a big part of the agenda, improving the economic circumstances for people all over the world who are in poverty, moving in and out of poverty. As I mentioned, the refugee crisis, not only exacerbated by the invasion of Ukraine but Afghanistan and Syria are threats that we can all try to help tackle. So they’re connected to the degree that these are threats that affect all of us. And the president’s committed to doing whatever he can as a private citizen to try to help.
SS: So this CGI initiative will take place three days, September 19th, 20th and 21st, again, tied into the UN General Assembly, which will be meeting of course in New York as well. I know the names have not yet been announced, but who are the type of people who attend this and the types of people who will be speaking?
CM: The original version of CGI — it was heads of state and CEOs, heads of nonprofits and other NGOs, and philanthropists. We’ll have that same roster of people. What is different is we are also making a real effort to include frontline workers and organizations, those who are out there actually doing the work, because so many of the solutions to these challenges are local…We want to hear from them, we want to present and highlight the work that they’re doing so we can scale it up. So it’ll be a real mix between the traditional pairings that we’ve always had and these organizations that are working on the front lines.
SS: And we’ve talked about the climate issue and certainly helping — especially impoverished nations— with economic security. As you look back over the years, what do you point to, where are the successes of what happens at CGI, and the commitments that follow those who attend the Clinton Global Initiative?
CM: Well, thank you for bringing up commitments. That is a real defining feature of CGI and simply put, it is a new plan, project, or partnership to address a specific challenge that has measurable goals and a real way to get it done. The theme of our meeting is the “business of how,” which reflects the President’s desire to make sure that it’s not just talking about what should be done, but that we actually have a plan to get it done.
There are now 3,700 of these commitments that are up and running. They’re making a difference in the lives of 435 million people in 180 countries, and more will be added to that portfolio when we get to the meeting. Just a couple of examples, particularly that I think address climate and some of the infrastructure needs…The Empire State Building, many years ago, working both with CGI and the Clinton Climate Initiative. They undertook a plan to retrofit the building… In New York City and other cities, a huge impact on climate is the built environment and emissions for building. So they retrofitted the building and now they have made those plans open and available to anybody and any building, by any government that wants to use them. So they spent enormous resources to figure out how to do it. And now they’re partnering with others to share that information. That’s one example of a type of commitment that you find at CGI that will go on to make a difference.
Another is the AFL-CIO and state pension funds got together a number of years ago to figure out how to invest pension funds in infrastructure projects. That has yielded billions of dollars in new infrastructure spending. And for those who travel through New York, a big part of the LaGuardia redevelopment is actually a result of that commitment. So, those are just a couple of examples of what a commitment is and how they impact and address some of the challenges that we’re facing.
SS: Certainly as the UN meets in September, what’s happening along the Russia/Ukraine border will remain front and center. How do you address what has been a very real threat to democracy for the people of Ukraine and the campaign by Vladimir Putin that continues and is likely going to continue well into the fall and winter?
CM: Well, it presents so many serious issues and serious challenges. What we can do as a private organization, bringing other stakeholders together is address the refugee crisis, address food insecurity. Obviously, as you’ve seen with Europe and the dependence on fossil fuels, if we can change that dependence, they would be in a different circumstance and that has a direct correlation to combating climate change. So, those are some of the ways that we will talk about it on the agenda and with an undercurrent of trying to protect democracy. Democracy is under threat all over the world. Rights are under threat all over the world. The more we can bring governments and the private sector and other organizations together to highlight them, it’s a reminder of what’s at stake.
SS: We look forward to following the speeches and the developments of CGI. My final question and I think I know the answer having covered Bill Clinton for eight years, but just how deeply involved is he in every aspect of this CGI return to New York in September?
CM: Very involved and not only him; Secretary Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, they are all very hands-on. These are issues they have all worked throughout their lives to address and felt, as I mentioned before, was crucial just given the challenges the world is facing that we do whatever we can. And we’re seeing a tremendous response.
We’ve been heartened by the fact that even since we began CGI in 2005, so many other organizations have also taken on the model to add action to convenings. And there are other successes the president has launched with the foundation, notably this is the 20th anniversary of what started out as the Clinton HIV and AIDS initiative. You mentioned prescription drugs a little while ago. That was a signature program to bring down the price of antiretroviral drugs and make them more available and improve supply chains and distribution. And now there are millions and millions of people around the world who are getting treatment for AIDS and HIV through that program. Those are the kind of solutions that CGI fosters and builds. And they are, and have always been, very intimately involved in making sure we can meet those goals.