Less money to be pledged at Bill Clinton's summit

NEW YORK Mon Sep 21, 2009 3:04pm EDT

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - The international financial crisis will result in less money pledged to tackle global problems at former U.S. President Bill Clinton's philanthropic summit this week and there will likely be more U.S.-focused plans because of the recession, organizers say.

About 1,200 participants including heads of state like U.S. President Barack Obama, business leaders, humanitarians and celebrities will attend the fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), starting on Tuesday. To join CGI they must make a commitment to fight problems in education, energy and climate change, health, and economic empowerment.

CGI Chief Executive Robert Harrison said he was uncertain last year whether he would even be able to hold a summit in 2009 after Lehman Brothers bank collapsed and the financial crisis spread globally during CGI's 2008 meeting.

"I was genuinely nervous that companies would close their pocketbooks and that this would be a very bad time for corporate social responsibility and ... grants," Harrison said.

"All of us have been very pleasantly surprised at how none of that is the case," he added.

Giving by U.S. corporate foundations rose about 0.8 percent in 2008 from the year before to an estimated $4.4 billion, according to The Foundation Center, but a survey by the center found that 51 percent of corporate foundations expect their giving to fall in 2009. Three-quarters of those anticipated decreases of more than 10 percent, the poll found.

While Harrison said the value of the programs to be unveiled at this week's summit would be less than the $8 billion worth of commitments made in 2008, there would likely be more pledges of action made in 2009 than the 250 commitments last year.

Participants can either commit to fund a humanitarian program run by a nonprofit organization or initiate a program or strategy to tackle problems in the areas identified by CGI.

Previous commitments have included Wal-Mart pledging to reduce its plastic shopping bag waste by an average 33 percent per store by 2013 and actor Brad Pitt spending $5 million to build homes in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans.

COMPANIES CHANGE OUTLOOK

More than 1,400 pledges of action valued at $46 billion have been made since CGI began in 2005, improving the lives of 200 million people in 150 countries, CGI said.

CGI was born out of Clinton's frustration while president from 1993 to 2001 at attending conferences that were more talk than action. When the initiative began, corporations tended to show up and write checks to fund humanitarian programs.

But Harrison said he had noticed more companies were now realizing that helping tackle the world's problems could be profitable investment opportunities as well.

"Companies are building into their core businesses the commitment (they make at CGI) as opposed to looking at the commitment as a sideline or a charitable effort," said Harrison, a former partner at Goldman Sachs investment bank.

And with the United States in recession, he said, "There are definitely many commitments focused domestically."

U.S. President Barack Obama is one of 60 current and former heads of state attending the 2009 Clinton Global Initiative.

Also confirmed to attend the four-day meeting are U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, 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, PepsiCo Inc and ExxonMobil.

Among the celebrities attending are actors Matt Damon and Demi Moore and singers Alicia Keys and Barbra Streisand.

Attendees will pay $20,000 to be there and the rules state that if participants do not make or fail to keep a commitment they are not allowed to return.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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