September 19, 2017; New York Times
The United Nations’ General Assembly week, which took place last week in New York City, convenes the UN’s 193 member nations to address the globe’s most pressing economic and social issues, such as climate change, diplomatic tensions, and human rights violations. It has also become the epicenter for a number of related convenings and socially minded forums, such as the Social Good Summit, Concordia, and Climate Week, which strive to pull in a high power, cross-sector audience to feed their discussions on global change.
Until last year, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) was among these convenings, attracting a star-studded cast of world leaders and philanthropists to invest in global health, poverty, and the economy with both dollars and commitments to action. An initiative of the Clinton Foundation, CGI suspended its operations last year in the midst of Hillary Clinton’s run for the presidency and allegations around conflicts of interest. In his closing speech at CGI in 2016, former President Bill Clinton urged his audience to “keep this alive.”
Mike Bloomberg seems to be doing just that. With the launch of the Bloomberg Global Business Forum (GBF) last week, featuring Bill Clinton as its first speaker—after an opening by Lebron James—Bloomberg is stepping into this particular spotlight as the Clintons step back. Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, stated simply, “The Clinton Global Initiative caused business to think about New York this week as a destination. The end of CGI left a void, and this is filling that.”
This all-but-formal handoff is in some ways perfectly designed to fill the gap left by CGI, but differs in a few critical areas. First, CGI organized itself around commitments to action—in which private and social sector attendees signed up to participate, through dollars, people and action, in initiatives designed to address the challenges discussed. These commitments, importantly, necessitated the inclusion of nonprofits and NGOs at the meeting itself, since often nonprofits were critical implementing partners. Still, CGI fell under criticism for mixed results, as some commitments appeared to be more rhetorical than action-driven.
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The GBF is steering clear of these more tactical commitments for now, encouraging convergence and discussion amongst heads of state and commerce as the primary role of the forum in addressing those issues. In turn, the inaugural audience appears to largely comprise political and business actors.
Second, GBF is funded entirely by Bloomberg, while the Clintons’ fundraising powerhouse raised eyebrows around being compelled to “pay to play.” The result is a lighter, more focused affair—one day instead of three—that focuses on Bloomberg’s outspoken opposition to Trump’s “America First” approach.
“The issue isn’t whether we can solve poverty or climate change or income inequality,” said Chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya. “It’s whether or not we can work together. The willingness to just get together and talk—that’s why we’re here.”
Still, it remains to be seen whether the GBF will provide a meaningful forum for discourse among a cross-section of global actors, or simply another high-profile cocktail party.—Danielle Holly