September 24, 2012

Bill Clinton Urges Donors to Think About Results From the Start

Former President Bill Clinton's seventh annual philanthropy conclave opened in New York Sunday with its hallmark blend of high-powered talk about the world's biggest problems and announcements of new financial commitments designed to alleviate them.

In one session, World Bank leader Jim Yong Kim, Queen Rania of Jordan, Wal-Mart chief executive Michael Duke, and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon discussed how to reduce youth unemployment in the Arab world, maintain peace in countries like the Ivory Coast, and ensure that students are taught skills that businesses need.

They were preceded on stage by Tom Golisano, founder of Paychex, who announced a $12-million gift to help the charity Special Olympics expand its work to improve the health of people with mental disabilities.

The theme of this year's Clinton Global Initiative is "Designing for Impact," a nod to the growing influence of "design thinking" in shaping efforts to eradicate poverty and improve society.

"Today we want to talk about how you can design your actions in advance to make it more likely those efforts will succeed," Mr. Clinton said.

The opening plenary featured a conversation between Linda Tischler, senior editor at Fast Company, and Tim Brown, chief executive of IDEO, a design firm.

Asked how a word associated with "fashion" and "cars" applies to poverty and hunger, Mr. Brown said that "design is about being intentional about what you want your outcome to be."

Good designers, he said, must exhaustively study the needs and constraints of the communities they're trying to reach.

"That's as true as if you're designing a new washing machine for North America as a new water pump for farmers in Rwanda," said Mr. Brown.

In addition to Mr. Golisano's gift, other new financial commitments announced Sunday and this morning include:

  • A pledge of roughly $8.8-million from the IKEA Foundation to expand to Zambia the work of KickStart, a nonprofit that helps poor people start farming businesses.
  • A $2.9-million commitment from the Alcoa Foundation and other donors to reduce energy consumption in New York City's public-housing facilities.
  • A pledge of laptops, radios, and other equipment, valued at $750,000, from Hewlett Packard to the Lake Tanganyika Floating Health Clinic, to help the group create electronic medical records and make other improvements to health care in Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of  Congo.

Mr. Clinton's conference continues through Tuesday, with invited speakers to include President Obama, Mitt Romney, and new Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.

While Mr. Clinton lacks the financial resources of the other prominent "Bill" in the philanthropy world—Bill Gates—he has carved out an important role helping to connect wealthy donors with solution-driven nonprofits.

The seeds for the IKEA Foundation's grant to KickStart, for example, were planted at last year's Clinton Global Initiative, says Per Heggenes, the fund's chief executive. Mr. Heggenes bumped into one of the KickStart founders at the 2011 conference and was taken with his approach and track record.

"This event is unique for networking," Mr. Heggenes says of the Clinton Global Initiative. "Everyone is here."