Bill Clinton's summit evolves amid financial crisis

NEW YORK Tue Jun 23, 2009 7:05pm EDT

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivers his keynote speech during an opening ceremony of the 3rd C40 Large Cities Climate Summit Seoul 2009 in Seoul May 19, 2009. REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton delivers his keynote speech during an opening ceremony of the 3rd C40 Large Cities Climate Summit Seoul 2009 in Seoul May 19, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Jo Yong-Hak

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Responding to the global recession, former U.S. President Bill Clinton's philanthropic summit this year will focus on ways for companies to profit from tackling poverty, climate change, health and education.

To keep companies engaged in fighting the world's problems amid an economic crisis that has seen millions of people lose their jobs, summit organizers said the meeting had to evolve from an event where corporate chiefs showed up and just wrote checks to support humanitarian work.

"We recognized that the CGI (Clinton Global Initiative) of old was no longer going to be a feasible model to move forward on," said Edward Hughes, CGI's deputy director and director of program for the fifth annual summit this September.

"(Companies) couldn't simply treat us as a place where their foundation would come and write checks to NGOs (nongovernmental organizations), but rather for them to remain engaged, (CGI) had to deliver value to their core bottom line, to their business operations," he said. "We needed to justify this as being a real value-return exercise."

The summit was born out of Clinton's frustration while president from 1993 to 2001 at attending conferences that were more talk than action.

It gathers heads of state, celebrities, business leaders and humanitarians to tackle the issues of poverty, energy and climate change, health and education. More than 1,400 pledges of action valued at $46 billion have been made since CGI began in 2005.

This year, the Clinton Global Initiative will concentrate on four new areas -- harnessing innovation for development, strengthening infrastructure, developing human capital and financing an equitable future.

It says each of those areas offers companies investment opportunities, while at the same time tackling world ills.

While some CGI members will not be returning -- organizers received a letter shortly before last year's summit saying Lehman Brothers Chief Executive Dick Fuld could not attend, days before the investment bank collapsed -- an influential line-up is emerging for 2009.

Among those confirmed to attend are 29 current and former heads of state, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, top White House economic adviser Lawrence Summers, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Carlos Slim Helu, one of the world's richest men, and the chief executives of Goldman Sachs, Cisco, JP Morgan Chase & Co, Wal-Mart, Nissan Motor Co Ltd, Coca-Cola Co and PepsiCo Inc.

"It did taking a convincing conversation (to get them to attend)," said Hughes. "As much as they enjoyed the experience in the past, they knew that it was potentially a luxury they could no longer continue with when you're laying off people."

(Editing by Mark Egan and Peter Cooney)