This conference will not be like so many before it

By Bill Clinton

Financial Times

Published: September 16 2005

Sixty years ago, the San Francisco Conference launched the United Nations, even before the second world war had ended. Ten years ago, after terrible bloodshed in the Balkans, the Dayton proximity talks brought long-overdue peace to Bosnia. I hope that future historians will also think of 2005 as another step forward in the not-very-advanced ­science of conference-making.

This week, the inaugural Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), a three-day programme, is taking place in New York. More than 40 heads of state are joining me and a large number of participants from a broad swath of civil society: non-governmental organisation activists, legislators, policy experts, business leaders, journalists and writers from every continent. This will be a different kind of conference. At this conference, the activists will have access to the presidents and vice versa. And we will do a lot more than talk. International conferences always sound ambitious, but are rarely places where searching questions are answered. Too often, these sessions are glorified photo opportunities. Then it is business as usual the next day. That is simply not good enough. We need action.

That is exactly what we will try to get at CGI to address four critical challenges: poverty, religious strife, climate change and governance. All difficult – but all solvable. This conference is different because it asks everyone who attends to make a concrete commitment of one kind or another – a cash pledge, or a promise of service or some kind of specific executable plan.

As the conference begins, we have already received some important commitments, including a $100m (£55m) pledge from the Hunter Foundation to support holistic approaches for development; a study by McKinsey, Oxfam and Tufts University on the private sector’s role in disaster response; and a public ­education campaign to increase ­awareness of the UN Millennium ­Development Goals led by Bob Rubin and Don Evans.

As the world moves rapidly and ­inexorably towards being more and more interconnected, I think a more open conversation between the world’s “haves” and “have-nots” will benefit both. We need to move forward together.

To do so, we must answer some hard, troubling questions. Why is capitalism so robust in some places and failing in others? Why are countries rich in ­mineral resources often so poor in ­democratic resources? How can we stimulate economies in developing nations and contain environmental damage at the same time? What simple legal and political steps can we take to harness the tremendous energies of the world’s billions of poor? When we have some answers, we have to act on them to make change.

I do not claim for a second that this initiative will solve all of these ­extraordinarily tough questions, but one thing is clear – the vast majority of us, from all religions and races, all political views, all walks of life, want a better world. There is more that unites us than separates us.

Getting all hese people in one place to focus on these critical problems with a commitment to what each of us can really do to change them is an important first step, and this week it is a step that hundreds of us – activists, presidents and chief executives from every political party and religious affiliation – are taking together.

The writer was the 42nd president of the US