Power of the citizen as an agent of change
27 September 2006
by Bill Clinton, Laura Bush, Jean Case

Volunteers try to line up earthquake survivors as they queue up for food at a distribution point in Bantul, Indonesia, May 31, 2006. Relief efforts for an estimated 650,000 people displaced by Indonesia's earthquake picked up Wednesday with a surge of foreign aid workers coming into the region and the reopening of a key airport. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara Volunteers try to line up earthquake survivors as they queue up for food at a distribution point in Bantul, Indonesia, May 31, 2006. Relief efforts for an estimated 650,000 people displaced by Indonesia's earthquake picked up Wednesday with a surge of foreign aid workers coming into the region and the reopening of a key airport. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara
In our increasingly interdependent world, we have seen the terrifying power of individuals to do great harm. Yet there is a more hopeful side of this interconnected age: private citizens have never had more power to advance the common good and secure a brighter future.

Three developments have dramatically increased the potential of individuals to be agents of change: for the first time more than half the people in the world live under democracies; the spread of information technology has empowered individuals to pool their resources and make common cause at a speed and on a scale previously unprecedented; and, finally, nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, have grown and become important agents of assistance. During the responses to Hurricane Katrina and the tsunami in Southeast Asia, citizen power was on full display, as the Internet provided a conduit through which enormous sums of money flowed from millions of people of modest means.

I created the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) to accelerate that kind of activity and to offer a new model for philanthropy in the 21st century. For three days in September, CGI brings together some of the world's best minds and problem solvers. It functions like a marketplace for global change, where those with the passion to make a difference--and others with the means to finance them--come together. Each attendee is asked to make a pledge of resources, time or leadership.

At this year's meeting, Richard Branson grabbed headlines by pledging to invest all future proceeds of his Virgin Group's airline and train businesses to fight global warming. But other commitments with smaller budgets were similarly designed to have a real impact. The Global Partnership for Afghanistan pledged to launch 100 commercially viable orchard and woodlot businesses. The Sanam Vaziri Quraishi Foundation partnered with child-rights activist Craig Kielburger to "adopt a village" in the Masai Mara of Kenya. With an investment of only $68,000 in the first year, they will help change the lives of 1,000 children and adults.

CGI is still in its infancy, but in two years, hundreds of commitments have been made, totaling almost $10 billion. That is a testament to the concern and generosity of the leaders and activists from around the globe who have attended CGI. But I believe it also reflects a growing realization that in today's world we all have a responsibility to influence change. The future our children inherit depends on whether or not we will act accordingly.

-- Bill Clinton

Consider the scene in Boikarabelo, South Africa. It's 10 o'clock in the morning in this village outside Johannesburg, home to some 300 children, many of whom have lost their parents to AIDS. Time for recess is approaching. After hours of morning instruction, the children are ready to burst forth into the schoolyard--eager to run, jump and take a spin on the merry-go-round.

Yet there is more going on here than meets the eye--and the American people play a key role in the story. The merry-go-round is not just a simple piece of playground equipment. It's a PlayPump water system. Lack of access to clean water is one of Africa's biggest health challenges. Through technology developed by an African entrepreneur, the children are pumping clean water for their village when they turn the merry-go-round.

How can we spread wonderful innovations like that? U.S. support for Africa has more than tripled during the Bush Administration, yet even the most dedicated governments can't meet all the needs of the developing world. We can do more when each sector is doing what it does best. The private sector can lead with innovation and capital. Nonprofit groups can apply solutions where they're needed most. And governments can help expand these solutions on a global scale.

Last week we announced a partnership with the U.S. government and the Case Foundation to install 4,000 water pumps in 10 African nations, bringing clean water to as many as 10 million people. That same spirit of innovation is showing up in other public-private collaborations. In partnership with the Pfizer drug company, the U.S. is working to tackle tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS. In partnership with Starbucks and the government of Rwanda, the U.S. supports farmers developing specialty coffee. The U.S. helps rebuild the country's infrastructure and coffee-washing stations, while Starbucks provides training and expertise to improve Rwandan coffee cultivation.

Cooperation between governments and citizens isn't just smart policy. It's our best hope for fulfilling the moral obligation of decent societies and caring individuals to end the suffering of millions around the world.

-- Laura Bush and Jean Case

President Clinton launched CGI. First Lady Bush and Case Foundation CEO Case announced their partnership at his conference.

From: Time Magazine, USA
© TIME Magazine


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