The theme of this year’s Winter Meeting was “the Future of Impact”. While that sounds similar to most conference themes, I left CGI convinced that its members and participants will build us a new future, one that shifts our standard approach to development. The bottom line for me, as someone who is hell bent on seeing change happen in my lifetime such that our poorest global citizens are able to live more dignified, productive lives, is that the efforts underway by CGI are the real deal. There is no denying that the results are there, with more than 3,000 commitments made, and 430 million lives positively impacted over the last ten years. There are a few reasons for these achievements:
- The right people are in the room. I cannot count the number of conferences I have been to addressing economic, environmental or social development challenges where attendees were simply not ones that could or would ever make decisions for their organizations that affect change. It can be maddening, frankly, when resources go into a convening and the participants enjoy time away from the office, perhaps some networking and even a nice dinner or two but nothing substantive comes out of the conference. CGI is clearly different. CEOs, thought leaders, budget holders and other decision makers are together in one room with a mandate to make something happen. Something that is worthy of a former President’s time and effort. It was refreshing to see commitment from the highest level within multi-national companies, NGOs, think tanks and government agencies.
- The commitments are real. They are also transformational. I often use the word ‘transformational’ because in development, economists like to measure marginal change. What we tend to forget, however, is how critical ‘transformational’ change is if we as a global society will address some of our urgent challenges (poverty, climate change, food insecurity, nutrition, health, etc) Marginal improvements in income are important. Over time a sequence of marginal increases will yield economic shifts from one socio-economic position to another. What CGI members clearly want to see, however, are macro shifts that are scalable, replicable and achievable.
- The diversity of commitments made at CGI is exciting. For example, CGI introduced us to Kickstart International, a for-profit social enterprise that builds innovative tools for smallholder farmers to solve challenges like water access (in this case with a pedal pump). In a conversation with the IKEA Foundation at the 2011 CGI meeting, KickStart and IKEA Foundation teamed up to scale KickStart’s program. KickStart’s commitment led to IKEA’s commitment – and the rest is CGI history. Commitments can be big or small. But they must be new, measurable and specific. CGI holds you to the commitments, too. It is a breath of fresh air to see action-oriented work by organizations large and small. There is no small commitment. Every commitment is leading us toward a better life and vision for our future. That is the future of impact.
- This is no longer about Bill Clinton. While I got to hear from both Chelsea Clinton and President Clinton at the CGI meeting (and President Clinton moderated the keynote session) it is clear that CGI is no longer just a speaking opportunity for the Clinton family. Not to say that the early days was all about the Clintons, but any doubt that CGI is making a big difference goes by the wayside when you see the work being done by CGI staff and members to move us all into a place of positive action. For Clinton fans it is still a thrill to be involved in an initiative so close to the family’s hearts (which is clear in the honest way only Bill can deliver a plea to move us all into greater action) but the work speaks for itself.
The cost to participate as a CGI member is high, and the importance around sticking to your commitment is critical, but the next ten years for CGI are poised to be as productive, if not more so, than the last ten years. I was honored to participate in the midst of such inspired leaders like Paul Polman and Jaqueline Novogratz and I hope to return again with commitment in hand.