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Jonathan Lewis

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Clinton Global Initiative Should Recognize The Little Guy

Posted: 09/28/11 09:28 AM ET

Last week, the world's super achievers convened in New York for three days to celebrate their shared global citizenship as well as their accomplishments in solving the world's toughest problems. Heads of state, corporate titans, nonprofit CEOs, celebrity journalists, Hollywood stars and academic thought leaders rubbed elbows, received awards and pledged to do more, but mostly gloried in themselves.

Former President Bill Clinton's immodestly-named Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) is the place to be. I was there.

CGI is a good idea. It showcases the enormity and disgrace of global and domestic economic injustice. It reminds us that environmental degradation is the real terror which we are visiting upon our children - much more worrisome than bogus Republican concerns about America's national debt. It teaches us that good people matter.

The epicenter for this megaphone of decency is Bill Clinton. It is his brand of hyper-charged intellectual curiosity, his visionary world without borders, his access, his power, his money and his charm which make CGI work.

And, like for so many who have accomplished so much, the CGI Bill Clinton Show - with cameras rolling 24/7 it is nothing less than a stage production - is not about failure. The great, the grand and the glittery are spotlighted.

The trials and tribulations of failed or failing social change organizations are missing at CGI. But their stories are part of the reality and difficulty of reversing 10,000 year of economic and ecological bad behavior.

The leaders of smaller, emerging and sometimes wobbly organizations are no less noble, committed, well-valued or able. Indeed, from their experimentation in the living laboratories of social change will emerge tomorrow's solutions. To survive and rise again, they require the emotional, financial and intellectual camaraderie which CGI, and other convenings, provide.

Importantly, we can and must learn from well-intended mistakes (and in the matter of global change there are plenty of well-intended mistakes to learn from!). CGI could use a bit less bragging happy talk and much more candid conversation about what doesn't work.

By reputation, Clinton himself is a relentless learner. Retooling CGI should be a cinch for him.

Instead of a parade of awards and recognition, add revealing explanations about why a program has caught CGI's attention and why it is ready to globalize. And, for good measure, tell the viewers at home (don't forget those rolling TV cameras, twittering fingers and blogging computers) how to engage with their brains as well as their checkbooks. Teach us how to make smart decisions before we allocate our philanthropic and social investment dollars.

Instead of speeches to extol what a person has done to date, let's ask the brave and bold to reveal their secret sauce of accountability -- how they failed and then succeeded. What can they share and teach? What pitfalls threatened the road to success and how did they steer around them?

Vulnerability, honesty and brutal openness in social change is what a giant like Bill Clinton could model for us all. Less hype, more hope.

 
 
 

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