The World Isn't Vegas: What Happens There, Matters Here Say Global Poverty Experts at Democratic National Convention

September 02, 2008

CGD President Nancy Birdsall with Ben Affleck and Tom Daschle at the National Democratic Institute's (NDI) 2008 Rocky Mountain Roundtable (photo courtesy of NDI)What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but what happens in the rest of the world doesn’t stay there and directly affects American lives according to several participants in roundtable discussions on international relations and global poverty at the Democratic National Convention. Former ambassador Richard Holbrooke was the first to point out the stark contrast between Vegas and today’s interconnected world, saying “globalization isn’t a choice, it’s a reality.” The notion that what happens in the rest of the world matters for Americans was echoed by CGD President Nancy Birdsall and other global poverty experts, a few celebrities, and Obama’s own foreign policy advisors during events at the convention.

CGD president Nancy Birdsall participated in the Rocky Mountain Roundtable session on global poverty, part of a week-long series for international leaders during the Democratic National Convention in Denver that drew a crowd of nearly 2,000 participants including international leaders (current and former heads of state, parliamentarians, elected officials, cabinet ministers, political leaders and ambassadors), 750 U.S. high school students, activists and convention delegates. Gayle Smith, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, moderated the discussion on global poverty with Nancy and nine others:

  • Madeleine K. Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and NDI chairman
  • Ben Affleck, actor, director, and advocate (above left)
  • John J. Danilovich, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Account
  • Tom Daschle, former Senate Majority Leader and Co-Chair of ONE Vote ‘08 (above right)
  • Hernando de Soto, president of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy
  • Obiageli “Oby” Ezekwesili, vice president of the Africa Region of the World Bank
  • Donald Payne, U.S. congressman and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Global Health and Africa
  • Tim Wirth, former U.S. senator, and CEO of the United Nations Foundation
  • James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank

In response to a question about why policymakers should do more about global poverty, Nancy said that better opportunities are the key to prosperity and security at home and overseas. China’s food safety standards and Pakistan’s growing middle class were just two examples she used to illustrate that the world isn’t Vegas and what happens there, matters here. Nancy added that nearly all of U.S. economic growth last year was associated with exports—a third of which go to developing countries. Increased opportunity and prosperity in those countries directly affects prosperity at home, she said.

Former Senator Tom Daschle, Congressman Don Payne and Ben Affleck all spoke of recent trips to Africa. Affleck summed it up best, saying that his travels “belied the image he had about Africa.” He urged better messaging to show the many things people are doing successfully in developing countries and that there are real solutions even in the direst places.

Gayle Smith asked the panelists what the rest of the world wanted to see from the next U.S. administration in response to global poverty. Don Payne said education; Oby said leadership on poverty; and Tom Daschle said leadership, justice and individual empowerment through health, education, and economic opportunity.

Nancy took a somewhat different view and answered “trade and technology.” Developing countries don’t necessarily want aid, she said, they would prefer access to our markets. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, she said, if the next president gave fifteen of the poorest countries access to U.S. markets with no barriers to help create millions of jobs to help them life themselves out of poverty? (The audience liked this, as did Megan Marsh, who called it “brilliant” in a Bread for the World blog post). Ben Affleck struck a similar chord on the need for access to markets and opportunity, saying “these people know how to fish; they need a pond to fish in.”

Nancy also said that Americans should harness their creativity and innovation to help export clean, cheap solar and wind energy; develop vaccines for diseases affecting developing countries; and invest in agriculture research to help address global poverty and prosperity.  As the discussion continued with strong comments from MCC CEO Danilovich, Madeleine Albright, Tim Wirth and others on the panel, moderator Gayle Smith said that she could see that Nancy was “frustrated” and asked her why.

Nancy replied: “I’m frustrated that we’re at a political event, we have all these young people in the room, we have all this interest in this event, but this conversation is not being reflected in our politics.” Gayle Smith pushed back a little, saying that such an event would not have taken place at a political convention ten years ago, nor would it have been so well attended. But Gayle agreed that the American people want something they’re not hearing enough of in politics — namely, it is in the U.S. national security and economic interest and is a moral imperative for the next president to do a better job on global development.

The world has grown more complex, Gayle said, and the next president will have a huge list of challenges on his plate. She said Americans need to do more to let the politicians know that if they take a risk on these issues, that Americans will support them. Nancy issued a final call for the audience, and especially the 750 students, to do more than travel and increase their exposure to the issues. She urged them to get involved in the political process and “fight in the political arena to get development and global poverty issues on the agenda for the next president.”

Nancy and other who did just that in Denver are now boarding planes to do the same at the Republican National Convention, including during a ONE Campaign event on Wednesday, September 3 from 10:00am – 12:00 in the Civic Fest Marketplace in Minneapolis. Stay tuned!

See Our Updated Republican Convention Blog Entry and SlideshowRead our original Blog on the Conventions and Comment


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.