NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton kicked off his philanthropic summit on Tuesday by pushing corporations and nonprofit groups to promote economic growth and prepare for a growing number of natural disasters.
More than 1,300 people including heads of state like President Barack Obama, business leaders such as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, humanitarians and celebrities are due to attend the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative.
As countries struggle to recover from the global financial crisis, Clinton, president from 1993 to 2001, said the private sector and governments could work together to grow economies and tackle the world’s problems.
“I hope when we come out of this meeting every one of you will have a clearer idea about how you can best use your resources in this climate to promote more economic growth in all the countries represented here,” Clinton told the opening plenary of the three-day meeting.
Clinton also hoped a better way of responding to and minimizing natural and man-made disasters would be developed.
“There’s every reason to believe that the incidence of economically devastating natural disasters will accelerate around the world with the changing of the climate,” he said.
To attend the meeting, commitments must be made to tackle economic empowerment, education, environment and energy, and health. Clinton said that by the start of this year’s meeting nearly 300 pledges valued at $6 billion had already been made.
“Unless we played a meaningful role in creating sustainable communities where we serve our consumers then we will never have a sustainable business,” Muhtar Kent, chief executive of The Coca-Cola Company, told the Clinton meeting during a discussion on empowering girls and women.
He pledged to empower 5 million female entrepreneurs throughout the company’s global business system by 2020 by building on successful practices. In Africa the company uses an independent network of entrepreneurs, who use mainly bicycles and pushcarts to distribute product to retailers, and he said this system had been expanded to Asia and South America..
For the first time, Clinton has broken out empowering women and girls as a specific area of action for his meeting.
“There’s still a lot of places in the world where women are still part-human and part-property and where men define their meaning in life partly by their instinctive merit and partly by their ability ... to control somebody else,” he said.
Clinton, who pursued peace in the Middle East as U.S. president, also brought together Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli President Shimon Peres on Tuesday to discuss sustaining Middle East peace once a deal was agreed.
“We have quite a good chance of achieving an agreement ... I think the chances are at least 50/50, perhaps better, that there will be an agreement,” said Clinton of the Middle East peace talks, which restarted this month.
Fayyad said that once a peace deal was agreed he wanted to see a rapid increase in sustainable growth and development in the region, while Peres pointed to agricultural development to avoid hunger and healthcare.
When Clinton’s initiative began, corporations tended to show up and write checks to fund humanitarian programs. Now many see philanthropy in terms of investment opportunities.
Proctor & Gamble chief executive Bob McDonald said his company would pledge to provide 2 billion packets of water purifier a year. The company has distributed 2.4 billion packets over the past six years.
“It’s good business as well as good philanthropy and consumers around the world today ... want to know what they are buying into when they spend their dollars for products,” McDonald told the Clinton Global Initiative.
Including the commitments already made at the 2010 meeting, there have been nearly 2,000 pledges made since 2005, which are worth $63 billion and have improved nearly 300 million lives, the Clinton Global Initiative said.
Bill Clinton’s philanthropic meeting was found to be the most popular summit for chief executives in 2009, according to a study by public relations firm Weber Shandwick.
Attendees pay $20,000 to be there and the rules state if participants do not make or fail to keep a commitment they cannot return.
Editing by Jerry Norton and Cynthia Osterman