My Top 5 Moments at the Clinton Global Initiative Meeting

Pulse + Signal guest correspondent, Ana Tellez, attended the recent Clinton Global Initiative meeting in NYC – here is her recap of the world-changing event.

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to attend the Clinton Global Initiative Meeting that was held in New York City. Security was tight, the star-power was bright, and expectations for improving our world were high and abundant. The purpose of the meeting was to bring together CGI members – organizations from the private sector, public sector, and civil society – to innovate collaboratively to alleviate poverty, create a cleaner environment, and increase accessibility to health are and education across the globe. President Obama even stopped by on the second day of the meeting to promote his jobs bill during a session on Sustainable Consumption. He positioned his pitch for the global audience at hand stating that what helps the U.S. economy helps the global economy and he talked about the need to upgrade roads, bridges, and schools across the country.

The meeting had many exciting moments across a diverse set of sessions that all opened with “commitment” announcements of new projects or progress reports on existing projects by CGI members. Certain sessions were closed to the press (including a couple I had really been looking forward to!) yet I persevered and based on my experience I give you my top 5 moments at CGI:

#5. Witnessing the Announcement of The Global Smoke-Free Worksite Challenge as a multi-sector partnership between the American Cancer Society, the Global Business Coalition on Health, Johnson & Johnson, Mayo Clinic, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). The announcement came through a press conference that included the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Health Howard Koh, along with representatives from each of the other partners. The challenge invites employees to protect their employees from the harms of secondhand smoke by implementing 100% smoke-free policies.

It was interesting to learn that one of the partners – Johnson & Johnson – was the first company to implement a policy of 100% smoke-free work environments in its worldwide locations since back in 1997. In addition, Dr. Koh from HHS noted that, “On January 1st we announced that all federal employees can get access to smoking cessation services without added costs.”

#4. Learning about biomimicry as a design solution for fighting bacteria. During the “Form and Function: Designing for Humanity” breakout session, Janine Benyus from The Biomimicry Institute presented the concept of biomimicry as a design concept that can bring together biologists and designers to help address challenges across multiple disciplines. Her example of Sharklet blew me away! Sharklet is a surface design that biomimics shark skin to repel microbes instead of killing them – serving as a cost-effective solution for bacteria control in hospitals. You can also watch the full webcast of the session (which includes other innovative design solutions like a low-cost tablet by fuseproject).

#3. Listening to Archbishop Desmond M. Tutu shamelessly flirt with Aung San Suu Kyi while they were both being interviewed by Charlie Rose. Suu Kyi tuned in from Burma in her first interview since being released from house arrest. It was exhilarating to hear her and Tutu converse as two powerful forces of social justice as well as two individuals with great admiration for each other – him especially for her! Aside from the palpable chemistry between the two of them, it was inspiring to hear their calls for ongoing battles against poverty and oppression:

Archbishop Demond Tutu on HIV/AIDS: “We have done splendid work on HIV/AIDS – but please, let’s continue that work and have a generation free of HIV/AIDS.”

Aung San Suu Kyi on democracy: “People say democracy is a Western concept. Democracy is a Western word, but the concept is universal.”

For the full effect of the interview, watch the full webcast.

#2. Watching Chelsea Clinton interview the U.S. Secretary of State (her mom). As part of the closing plenary Chelsea interviewed her own mother, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and asked her some difficult questions about the role of the U.S. in Arab Spring movements in Egypt and Tunisia and the true meaning of democracy. A few tidbits include:

Clinton on the Arab Spring: “I can’t tell you what Egypt or Tunisia will look like in ten years but I can tell you that we made the right decision in supporting participatory movements in those countries.”

Clinton on democracy: “Democracy is not just elections…Democracy is hard. It doesn’t get easier and it’s not very efficient. Our challenge is to keep focused and committed when it’s a messy process.”

For the entire interview, watch the full webcast.

#1. Listening to Leymah Gbowee speak on the power of human perseverance through peaceful protesting. I will be honest, I had never heard of Leymah Gbowee before and had chosen the “Organizing for Change” Keynote Lunch for 2 reasons: 1) my general interest in participatory movements to empower disenfranchised groups and 2) the fact that Madeleine Albright would be moderating the session. As soon as I heard Leymah speak, though, I was completely blown away by her strength of character coupled with a lightness of being and charisma. She spoke eloquently and honestly about the hardships of peace-building work in a way that is not often seen in such high-level meetings. So of course it came as no surprise to me to hear that today she was one of three women to share the Nobel Peace Prize award! (Oh yeah, and the author Rye Barcott was also a panelist. Poor Rye, he never stood a chance against Leymah’s presence.)

If there is one CGI session that you would consider watching, make it this one! It speaks to those of us working across sectors and disciplines to improve our world and the health of everyone in it.

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