01/23/2013 12:50 pm ET Updated Mar 25, 2013

Making Good Last: Hillary Clinton's Contribution

With the departure of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, it is a good time to reflect on her legacy, not just in the field of diplomacy but her broader vision for how the United States can act as a catalyst for turning idealism into action.

Many observers, including David Brooks, have noted the rise of a new humanism and the desire of people of all ages to do something bigger and more lasting than themselves. Making Good, as social activists and authors Billy Parish and Dev Aujla describe it, has become the ethos of a generation that is deeply committed to a more just world, ready to roll up its sleeves and change the world for the better one step at a time.

But the issue arises: How can we mobilize and organize the efforts of individuals and small groups into a sustainable long term movement that builds on best practices, learns from its mistakes and includes an ever widening circle of women and men who are unwilling to stand on the sidelines of history?

Under the leadership of Secretary Clinton, the State Department created a suite of public/private initiatives that brought together visionaries from the two sectors in groundbreaking programs that should become an essential part of on-going American foreign policy.

Headed by the Special Representative for Global Partnerships, Kris M. Balderston, Secretary Clinton created the Global Partnership Initiative, the umbrella organization for Accelerating Market-Driven Partnerships, the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, the International diaspora Engagement Alliance and Partners for a New Beginning.

One example of what coordinated cross sector action can accomplish is the Clean Cookstoves Alliance that tackles the dangers of the toxic fumes which result from traditional cookstoves and open fires; nearly 2 million women and children die prematurely every year from these toxic fumes. The Alliance raised over 160 million dollars in support of the goal of 100 million clean cookstoves by 2020.

We recently asked Kris Balderston what are the elements that contribute to successful public/private partnerships. He emphasized four:

  • Leadership. Without a strong visionary leader inertia and routine become the enemy of action.
  • Platform. Bringing activists together through the convening authority of an influential organization is a key step in expanding the conversation and connecting projects and people.
  • Partnership. Mutual support and team work isn't just about money, its also about networking, shared values and communication. The communication revolution is a vast network for collaboration and combining resources.
  • Professionalization. Sustaining long term change means enabling people to engage with the issues and each other in a progressively informed and agenda setting atmosphere. To do this we need professional programs for those who want to make a career of making good.
These four elements are a good place to start building a culture of commitment that is broad and deep. We have discovered through our research about today's visionaries that turning idealism into action is a natural extension of the new humanism; the time has come to build an organizational infrastructure to support this new movement of hope energized by dedication.

We have yet to learn what Secretary Clinton will do in the coming years to extend her work at the State Department, but we hope that she will continue to advocate for public/private partnerships and remain as a leader in the worldwide movement to embrace the power of making good to transform lives.

There is no way forward without risks. But inaction is the greatest risk of all. In 1932 at the height of the Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt gave a graduation address at Oglethorpe University in Atlanta, Georgia. He concluded, "The country needs and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold, persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it: If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something."

Try something combined with careful planning is a lesson we have learned from the Clinton State Department; let's not forget it as we take the next step forward.

Jill W. Iscol and Peter W. Cookson, Jr. are authors of Hearts on Fire: Stories of Today's Visionaries Igniting Idealism into Action, to be published by Random House January 2013.