By Maria Bermudez Pizano
Founded in 2005, some might argue that the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) has been one of the most impactful organizations of modern philanthropy, having hosted or helped to broker 3,400 “commitments to action” (otherwise known as pledges) made by corporations, nonprofit organizations, and governments to address major global challenges (Saldinger, 2016). The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) program has allowed students the same opportunities to make over 6,250 commitments to action, with numerous SEI projects receiving part of valuable $3 million that has been invested through CGI U. However, with projects that have benefited people in more than 180 countries and focusing on issues that range from climate change to women empowerment, the CGI has faced harsh criticism, especially given its many ties to politics. This has only intensified with the current presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. With the possibility of Hillary Clinton’s election to president of the United States, the Clinton Foundation is in the midst of a restructuring of their operations, but perhaps the most shocking part of it is the end of the CGI and CGI U by the end of the year.
The Clinton Foundation, and all the initiatives and programs that stem from it, has fought accusations of the conflict-of-interest that some sources argue surged during Hillary’s time at the State Department. This in turn, has brought to question the transparency of the CGI and the foundation itself (Phillip, 2016). While there is minimal evidence, suspicions of lack of transparency and their doubtful “real” impact have spread like fire. Inevitably, the question of veridic impact has once again surfaced to become the topic of multiple articles in the media.
The question of tangible and genuine impact is constantly re-visited within a social enterprise or a nonprofit organization, either because this drives their financial independence or their long-term goals. And the criticism from individuals from outside of the organization, who question the management of funds or measure of impact, is not something that is unheard of. After all, dissecting the impact and internal functioning of nonprofits and global organizations is more and more the topic of discussion in classrooms and research papers every day; many of these organizations have attained high popularity with the media and have achieved a global scale.
It is natural for the public to question the “real” impact that the CGI had throughout its existence. “What did they really do?” But most importantly, one must question how they measure their impact, as this often makes a difference in the results that are presented. In fact, one of the guiding principles of the Clinton Foundation dictates “results you can measure are the only results that matter” (Clinton Foundation, 2016). According to the Foundation’s website, impact measuring is done by conducting internal reviews of their programs based on key metrics of their impact, which are published in their annual report. Examples of these metrics include the number of lives affected by CGI commitments; the number of tons of carbon emissions reduced by [their] home energy affordability loan and building retrofit program; and the number of farmers in Africa who are seeing better livelihoods and incomes as a result of [their] development work.
According to The New Yorker, outside agencies such as the World Health Organization and Charity Watch have praised the work of the Clinton Foundation and its affiliated entities, such as the CGI and the Health Access Initiative. In fact, for specific initiatives and programs, external groups are brought in to conduct analyses and evaluations. For the CGI, Palantir – a leading computer software and service company – evaluated the commitments to action from 2005 to 2013. According to their report, the commitments had become “more focused on direct interventions such as skills development, access to capital, STEM, and access to education,” rather than focusing on “indirect activities such as awareness-raising, policy and advocacy, peace building, and donations” (Palantir, 2014). In addition, purely donation-based commitments (which at the time represented 3% of the entire portfolio) had become less common than those directly implementing a program (Palantir, 2014). Finally, “over two-thirds of completed commitments, that reported impact on their original target metrics, reached or exceeded their target number of lives affected” (Palantir, 2014).
Women to Women International was just one of the many beneficiaries of CGI in 2007. This organization supplies programs that range from economic independence to health and nutrition for women in countries affected by conflict and war. The CGI was a vital supporter in raising funds so they could continue their work. The founder, Zainab Salbi, is a first-hand witness of the impact of CGI, stating that multiple members facilitated collaborations to benefit their work and create what she calls “a ripple effect” in the lives of the women they intended to empower. This ripple effect is very much still in effect: this past September Women for Women International joined the No Ceilings Project, an initiative of the Clinton Foundation and a coalition of more than thirty partners across all sectors, that resulted in a new series of commitments to address gender gaps and gender equality (Women for Women International, 2016).
Although this organization was founded in 1993, Salbi stated that “no organization has had as great an impact as CGI has on Women for Women International and women’s rights” (Salbi, 2016). Having been an avid navigator of global conferences to spread the message of and raise funds for the organization, it seems that the CGI was a catalyst like no other for the organization to continue to build strong programs for women empowerment. The partnerships that were established, the funds that were raised, and the platform that was made available for Salbi to speak of women’s rights is definitely a legacy that will be missed.
Perhaps the biggest legacy of the CGI is the construction of partnerships that are often difficult for a social entrepreneur to find, especially those that are still university students. As with regular entrepreneurship, a social entrepreneur must often find investors to fund his or her idea. This gets tricky when the return on the investment is not tangible. Often times, social entrepreneurs find themselves in front of investors looking for ROI in dollar terms, while other times the investors are willing to invest because they believe in the cause. Either way, they are unwilling to wait long before their resources are put in a less risky alternative that is sure to pay them dividends or interest every year. This is where a foundation like the CGI and CGI U comes in.
Whether it is to recruit talent across multiple areas of study, share best practices, or spread information on the organization itself, CGI served as a powerful network for investors to meet the ideators and for ideators to meet each other in search of solutions to the world’s biggest problems. Throughout its existence, the CGI helped fill the gaps that were needed to be filled to bring lasting impact to communities around the world, serving as a mediator for “businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere to work faster, leaner, and better; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be, tomorrow” (Clinton Foundation, 2016).
Nevertheless, it seems that the gears are already in action, and the sole existence of the commitments and connections that were made will hopefully inspire the social enterprise community to continue with their work and find new ways in which to collaborate with each other. For now, at least for the CGI the curtain must close, but according to The Washington Post, the legacy of the Clinton Foundation could still continue with the potential spinoff of one of the strongest programs in the foundation. The Clinton Health Access Initiative works to reduce drug prices around the world, focusing on HIV/AIDS medication, and its efforts have already helped nine million people receive these medicines at a lower cost (Phillip, 2016). For organizations like Women for Women International, it seems that the road that was paved with the help of CGI will be enough to help them move forward with their programs, but for other organizations and student entrepreneurs who are still looking to set the groundwork, the CGI and CGI U will be deeply missed.