Clinton’s Vision: Aligning Business and Philanthropy

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January 20, 2012; Source: Financial Times | Former President Bill Clinton recently offered a full-throated endorsement of capitalism’s capacity to solve the world’s problems in the Financial Times. Clinton—arguably America’s most energetic fundraiser and philanthropist—suggests that the relationship of charity, government, and business has changed. He acknowledges that the “global economic system has…exacerbated inequalities, both within and among countries…[which] not only hurts the poor and stifles the dreams of the middle class…[but] also hinders productivity and growth.” However, he argues that undoing economic privation through the engagement of the private sector is more important than ever.

As positive examples, Clinton cites his experiences in Haiti with the Digicel Group, which employs 70,000 people, and a fund for entrepreneurs established by billionaires Carlos Slim and Frank Giustra. He lauds companies such as Walmart, Google, and Procter & Gamble for having “shifted their corporate culture from promoting social responsibility to increasing shared value.” He references the shift in the pharmaceutical industry from a “low-volume, high-margin business to a low-margin, high-volume one with guaranteed payments” that is helping millions of people with HIV/AIDS “at much lower costs while also improving the profitability of the companies involved.” 

A core component of President Clinton’s vision of moving forward is business. He calls for promoting collaborative strategies that “benefit both the communities they target and the corporations and philanthropists involved, diversifying their businesses, expanding their markets, training more potential workers and helping to create a culture of prosperity. All this enhances profits, increases economic inclusion and gives more people a stake in a shared future.”

It’s a vision that resonates with the work of his eponymous foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative, which routinely pulls in big bucks from some of the world’s top business moguls, some of them known for political stances that don’t seem to be quite as liberal as Clinton or the Democratic Party he has long supported.

Clinton concludes, “The most effective global citizens will be those who succeed in merging their business and philanthropic missions to build a future of shared prosperity and shared responsibility.” Are we mistaken, or has the former president laid out a course for social change that reflects the movement in this country toward social enterprise that builds on private market incentives for social progress? –Rick Cohen