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Bill ClintonToday began the 2nd annual Clinton Global Initiative in New York, the annual “ideas fest” sponsored by the former President and brining together a massive list of opinion-makers, business and political leaders, and of course plenty o’celebrities. As one of the staff explained, the CGI “brings together 1,000 of President’s Clinton’s closest friends to find solutions to the world’s most pressing problems”. The focus this year is on poverty, climate change, global health, and mitigating religious conflict--the last topic certainly the most timely. The idea of the CGI is also to solicit “commitments” from individuals and groups about what they promise to do to address one of these four problems, complete with grand signing ceremonies. Although much of the real attention is on networking among the eclectic (but clearly Clintonite) crowd, I drew two themes of note from the early discussions at the poverty track:

  • Growth? Unlike most of the policy discussions in Washington (and Tunis - where I recently visited to present a new CGD report on the future of the African Development Bank) about reducing poverty, there was almost no talk of raising economic growth in the poorest countries. Instead, everybody seemed focused on micro-project interventions; particularly sexy is anything in microfinance (yes, still) or involving new technology. (Even the atmosphere, where there are large plasma screens almost everywhere you look and young people tapping on laptops in every nook of the hotel, oozes techophilia).
  • Trade is dead. Bob Rubin in particular was gloomy that the politics of trade in the rich world, and the US in particular, are getting much much worse. Just as bad, there did not seem to be any sense that people, many of whom are clearly gearing up for the 2008 election, were going to try to put trade back on the agenda. (At the same time, there seemed little recognition that it is mostly Dems who are against renewing fast-track authority, not Bush & Co.)

It is my first such event, and it is a complete zoo, but one where the energy of the participants is clearly palpable. Whether any concrete ideas or projects will emerge from the chaos is anyone's guess, but in some ways it is beside the point: clearly the CGI is mostly an eclectic networking event. My table yesterday which seemed a fair representative sample of the crowd) included a hi-tech entrepreneur from Argentina, an American businessman who builds malls in China, the head of a large microfinance NGO, a retired CEO, a perky college student, and Michael Douglas. I am usually a grumpy cynic when it comes to these kinds of things, but I have to admit the enthusiasm of the Clintonite crowd is infectious: Where else can I bump into Shimon Peres in the lobby and Richard Branson in the elevator?

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.