In my two previous posts, I discussed comments on the American job market by former President Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative. In this post, I'd like to briefly comment on some of the panel discussions on other topics.
Women and Girls
President Clinton's remark that it is amazing that we even need panels discussing the protection and empowerment of women and girls in the year 2010 set the stage for CGI's focus on this topic. The panel discussion on Empowering Girls and Women (see Michelle Kraus' piece at the Huffington Post and Ken Houghton's notes at Angry Bear) was one of the better ones in my view. A superb video worth watching and sharing - The Girl Effect - was aired during this session. Joan Walsh at Salon.com wrote more about this and about Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement on a new initiative:
I'm attending the first day of the Clinton Global Initiative, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton just announced the launch of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, a public-private partnership. Before you shake your head at the former president's powerful wife being confined to the kitchen, the toxins released by open fires and inefficient stoves create one of the five most serious health risks to people in developing countries, putting them at risk for pneumonia and lung cancer.
The participants on the main panel were Queen Rania Al Abdullah from Jordan, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Muhtar Kent, CEO of the Coca Cola Company, with Katie Couric of CBS moderating. I was particularly impressed by Queen Rania Al Abdullah (her outspokenness and willingness to take strong positions), although President Sirleaf was engaging as well.
The breakout session on Securing the Heath and Safety of Girls and Women, moderated by The Daily Beast's Tina Brown, was interesting as well (see Ken Houghton's notes at Angry Bear). The panelists were Gary Cohen, EVP of BD, Geeta Rao Gupta, Senior Fellow at the Gates Foundation, Richard Holbrooke, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan (US State Department), and actress Ashley Judd, Board Member of Population Services International (PSI). Holbrooke was vocal about what he felt were some shortcomings in traditional approaches to deal with women's rights and security in countries where women face suppression or sexual violence. He said that we also have to address the men in order to fix the problem of violence against women, that he rarely sees programs where men are the target of appropriate outreach - he gave an example of police training (not sure if he was referring to Pakistan) where he said there was nothing in the training really about how women need to be shown respect. He mentioned that both he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton see eye to eye on this topic. Gupta countered this by stating that there are programs that target men and boys - not just women - and with a broader community-level focus these programs aim to show how the men and the community can benefit (especially in terms of growing their income or wealth) if women are allowed more freedom to pursue their goals and are respected. Holbrooke also spent some time discussing the recent devastating floods in Pakistan and what he thought it would take to help Pakistan recover from this unprecedented calamity. He cautioned that any aid given to Pakistan should not be linked to any commitments on social re-engineering because it would be counter-productive - he said, aid should be provided to save lives and livelihoods, not just for security alone. Judd spoke passionately about her travels and experiences in Africa.
(NOTE: I was unable to attend the session on Profiting From The Poor? A Discussion on Microfinance IPOs - where Muhammad Yunus (Nobel-Prize winning Founder of Grameen Bank) and Vikram Akula (Founder of SKS Microfinance) evidently had an energetic debate. Megha Bahree of Forbes has a brief write-up on the debate in her blog and Rina Chandran has more at Reuters).
Market-Based Solutions and the Environment
The session on Strengthening Market-Based Solutions was moderated by NY Times columnist and author Tom Friedman and the panelists were Robert Diamond (President of Barclays PLC), Fadi Ghandour (CEO of Aramex), Leila Janah (CEO of Samasource), Valerie Jarrett (Senior Advisor and Special Assistant to President Barack Obama), and Iqbal Quadir (Professor at MIT). In my view, Friedman kicked off the session with a flawed proposition/view that in the coming decades governments will have to "take stuff away" from their people due to lack of revenues and that market-based solutions will therefore become more critical. His view was that solutions that are dependent on government funding will not be scalable in the future. The obvious flaw in this proposition is that governments are to a large extent in precarious positions across many western countries primarily because of the spectacular failure of large corporations that used market-based solutions and the need for governments to bail out these corporations. It was a strange proposition to start the session in any case. (President Clinton himself made it clear at different times that he sees the importance of governments working together with private enterprises and non-profits/NGOs growing with time and that none of these entities can solve the problems of the world on their own without each other's help). Quadir expressed strong views on the need to view the poor of the world not merely as "consumers" but also as producers who can generate wealth and contribute to economic growth when they are supported. Ghandour was passionate about the need to look at corporate profitability as a long-term goal, not as a short-term quarter-to-quarter driven goal and he explained Aramex's approach as one where they invest in supporting and enabling local communities and see the return on that investment as the communities grow and thrive. Janah agreed with Quadir and smartly added that when supporting downtrodden communities, the donors need to:
- Welcome feedback from the beneficiaries in order to make the efforts more effective
- Be reasonably embedded with the people they seek to help to truly understand their needs and how to help them
- Get much more comfortable with some degree of failure (just like venture capitalists have a comfort level with some level of failure on their investments)
Diamond expressed the view that Africa has tremendous potential and is on track, overall, to grow the third fastest in the world in the coming decade behind emerging Asia and the Middle-East.
The breakout session on Market Based Solutions for Protecting the Environment had Mindy Lubber (President, Ceres) moderating a panel discussion with Matt Kistler (SVP of Sustainability, Walmart), Jeffrey Swartz (CEO of Timberland) and M. Sanjayan (Lead Scientist, Nature Conservancy). Kistler was very vocal about not just the importance of driving environmentally sustainable solutions but also that it is 'good for business'. He said that sustainability was initially seen as a defensive rather than offensive opportunity at Walmart, but over time this view changed. Walmart is finding that a focus on sustainability is good for business and allows for significant efficiencies and cost savings. Kistler said that their fleet efficiency had increased ~60% since 2005 and contributed to ~$200M in savings last year; his claim was "everything we've done for sustainability has been good for our bottom line" and that sustainability is not an investment as much as a reward. When asked about specific examples of how Walmart changed the behavior of its suppliers, he mentioned how they switched to a more environmentally-friendly concentrated laundry detergent and how Lee Scott challenged General Mills to convert curly noodles in their Hamburger Helper product to flat noodles to reduce the packaging material needs by a third. Kistler also said that Walmart employees have the option to create their own sustainability plan (MSP or My Sustainability Plan) and share it via their internal social network. Swartz said Timberland does not have Walmart's size and market power and was unable to initially influence their leather suppliers. So, they took a legal but secretive approach of working directly with their competitors to drive sustainable standards ("gold, "silver", "bronze") for their supply chain. He talked about the challenge of trying to figure out the environmental impact of their products - it evidently took them 5 years of 'grunt work' to get their supply chain to even think about and understand the environmental footprint of what they sell. His view was that people don't want to destroy the environment but they also don't want to be made to look like villains for doing everyday things that might harm the environment. The only way, in his opinion, to address this holistically was for government to "unpuff", the private sector to "uncross its arms" and activists to "stop spitting" (presumably on the other two entities?) and all come to the table and work out meaningful solutions. Sanjayan felt that despite much success, the environmental movement has not moved the needle significantly so far in addressing some of the major environmental problems of the world. He favored an approach where local communities are made aware of the value (to them) of using more sustainable practices in order to make progress, rather than simply using the idea of conservation in general. His pitch was that solutions need to be scalable and self-sustainable to really effect long-term change and for the environmental movement to be successful. The session ended with Kistler emotionally (with tears) exhorting everyone to do their part for sustainability.
In the breakout session on Clean Technology and Smart Energy: Deploying the Green Economy, there were interesting comments from panelist Conrad van Oostrom, CEO of the the Dutch company OVG Real Estate. He attributed former US Vice President Al Gore's advocacy as being a major influence in his decision to pursue more sustainable building practices. The approach his company took was to pull together a team to go do a search of literature and practices on environmentally sustainable construction. They were surprised at the number of easily adaptable ideas they found and that they then implemented within 6 months to drive dramatic improvements in their building practices. They instituted an internal competition for employees to come up with innovative ideas for carbon neutral buildings, with great results. Oostrom also noted in response to a question that in Western Europe, heating and cooling are no longer major issues on the green building/sustainability front - the biggest challenge is lighting. They are researching new, more efficient LED based technologies. He said that their buildings can reduce ~20% of their energy bills by switching off the lighting automatically at 6:30 pm and beyond that time, employees can turn on the lights manually if needed. Tri Mumpuni's comments (she is the Executive Director of IBEKA in Indonesia) were also interesting. She remarked that Indonesia has 17,000+ islands and the government cannot set up an interconnected electrical grid as a result - which called for a micro-hydro approach that they implemented. The approach involved having local communities taking ownership for what they were building so that they were vested in making it successful for themselves in the long term. Her vision of a scalable solution was to (a) build trust in the community by addressing their needs and (b) ensure community participation from design through implementation and maintenance.
In some ways, the session on The Recovery in Haiti was the most intriguing and moving from my standpoint and the video of the entire session is worth watching. As President Clinton said in his introduction, "this is about to get too serious" and he provided impressive and sobering context for what is happening in Haiti. The challenges faced by Haiti after the massive earthquake (the huge loss of life and infrastructure, including the major loss of government employees and infrastructure) are almost unimaginable. The huge challenge for the Haitian government and its people is simple - how do you rebuild an entire country (quickly) after it was decimated? The panel discussion was moderated by President Clinton (who is also the co-chair of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission) and the participants included Réne Préval, President of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive, Prime Minister of Haiti, Denis O’Brien, Chairman of Digicel, Adam Golstein, CEO of Royal Caribbean International and Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. The candor of the participants in acknowledging their own limitations in figuring out the solution to such a large scale problem was noteworthy. When we talk about developing solutions that can scale, Haiti is perhaps the most pressing and challenging example of how to apply investment, ingenuity, innovation and hard work.