Scientists, politicians, and artists all drinking out of the same wishing well is the special genius of the Clinton Global Initiative, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary in New York. Yet, can a potent mix of Nobel Prize Laureates, Heads of State, philanthropists, CEO's, NGO's and creative mavericks actually better the lives of 430 million people in more than 180 countries at a cost of 103 billion, in three days of confabs? With their 2,900 Commitments to Action, they feel they can.
At the podium with Bill Clinton was Peter Diamandis, one of Fortune Magazine's "World's 50 Greatest Leaders," an MIT graduate with a degree in molecular genetics and aerospace engineering, and a Medical Degree from Harvard, founder of Singularity University, a silicon valley institution partnered with NASA, Google, Autodesk, and Nokia. He aims to solve the problem of there being 1 billion illiterate people in the world. To this end, he is offering 15 million dollars as the "Global Learning XPRIZE" for the team who creates the best software for teaching an illiterate child to read and write in eighteen months.
Diamandis believes in worldwide open source technology, aimed at the urgent need for a shared prosperity through a democratization of technology. By 2020 three billion new minds will be using the Internet, he says, and with widely disseminated technology education, people around the world can become empowered entrepreneurs, generating 15 Billion in income through crowdsourcing alone by 2015. He intends to provide them with tools for a "do it yourself" income, including the use of 3D printing and Artificial Intelligence, where less and less people will have to work for others. One wonders, however, what unintended consequences might ensue by bringing so much top-down Western style utopian thinking to indigenous people. This he did not address.
With true Silicon Valley brio he told the audience, "The worlds biggest problems are the worlds biggest opportunities. Become a billionaire by helping one billion people. This kind of beautiful paradox exists right now."
Clinton had a more immediate concern: How to feed all these newly techno-literate children in developing countries? Especially since the medicines for AIDS, malaria and TB, often are prevented from even adhering to the body because of stunning malnutrition. "And how," Clinton asked, "are we going to feed all these people without making climate change much, much worse than it already is?"
Diamandis believes in "techno realism" rather than "techno optimism" and says we are moving from Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection to Evolution by Intelligent Direction. For example, 780 million live without clean water. Since half of the preventable diseases on earth are due to unclean drinking water, a solar energy revolution will bring abundant energy, which will result in abundant clean water, and by the way, give electricity to the 1.3 billion who live without it now. Food distribution and production worldwide will be addressed by vertical urban farming.
Attendees could travel even beyond the planet when Clinton and Cady Coleman, a female astronaut conducted a live video chat with NASA astronauts as they tumbled in anti-gravity somersaults at the International Space Station.
They spoke with Reid Wiseman, the flight engineer for Expedition 41. "When you remove gravity from the research we do up here" he said, "the equation always has some odd, unique sometimes game changing outcome... 120 days ago when I first looked out my spacecraft window right after launch, and I got to see that tiny, thin, impossibly thin blue atmosphere that covers our earth. And it's within that, that every living creature survives on our planet. And then once you get up on the space station and you get to spend months up here, you realize just how incredibly dynamic our planet earth is, and it's a beautiful, living organism."
On the closing day, Clinton mused to the several thousand people in the room: "For ten CGI's, look at all the good it has done, all because you made a decision about what to do with your mind and your heart. No one can ever take that away... You have got to make a decision. And everyday someone else will watch you decide... Tell them it's what you did, in the end, that's why the things that we believe in will prevail."
Walking out into the twilight of the city on the last day, after three days of emersion in these dazzling ideas, which reached forward in time and space and included most of the world's problems, it really was possible to feel that we are evolving into a Global Species. Fittingly, Global Citizen Awards were given to many high-impact individuals such as Leonardo DiCaprio, dedicated to protecting Earth's wild places, Graça Machel, the widow of Nelson Mandela, ranked among the World's Top 100 Women Activists and Hayat Sindi, the World's 19th Most Influential Arab Woman, working for the education of girls and women. In the words of Astronaut Cady Coleman, "The fact that you can look down and see the whole planet, it's almost hard to feel as if you are from any particular country."