The Clinton Global Initiative is a medium size conference with around 800 people. Davos for example has around 3000 people. The Aspen Brainstorm, still the best conference I ever attended, 300 people. I would venture to say the CGI has managed to attain the perfect conference size. Still, they are not managing people well. At this conference there´s a remarkable gathering of people, many of whom have something to say but are not getting the chance. In this, Davos is more efficient. In my view it is better to have more sessions, more choices. Here there are around 10 sessions per day for 800 people. At Davos there are 60 sessions a day for 3000 people. So at Davos they have 4 times the number of people but 6 times the number of sessions. Sessions here are too large and don´t give an opportunity to the very smart people who attend to contribute and interact as much. Also having more sessions is an opportunity for people who attend the conference over the internet, through bloggers or through the press, to go directly to the topics of interest to them. These places are like Congress – many times speeches are made for the whole country and not necessarily for other members of Congress. Ideally though, you don´t want long and uninterrupted speeches, you want instead small sessions where speakers to shift from propaganda mode to a more honest Q&A session.

There´s another problem in the CGI format and that is that people are supposed to stay on the same tables throughout the day. I didn´t. I changed. You come to conferences like this to interact briefly with people who seem interesting to you so you can deepen the relationship outside of the conference. CGI´s system connects you too much with people at your table and little with anyone else. So, I switched tables so I could go to three tables in one day and cover a bit more ground.

Here are some pictures from the conference that give a sense of the gathering.
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Last night a resolution to reform the UN was passed. Key issues are: Human Rights, Responsibility to protect and Intervention. Rwanda was used as a prime example. Annan expressed great pleasure in the passing of the reformation. He also received much praise from Clinton, which he reciprocated on the organizing of the Clinton Global Initiative. Challenges require collective action. You cannot have development without security and you cannot have security without development… and you can´t have either without respect for human rights.
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Notes on the session of Technology Opportunities in the Area of preventing climate change
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George Stephanopolous is the moderator. Shirin Ebadi, from Iran, first Islamic woman to win the Nobel Prize, starts speaking in Farsi. Shirin says she prefers to talk about ideology than religion. When she says ideology in Farsi the word sounds the same as in English. Ideology, she says, can be either religious or secular, as in Cuba. Ideology serves to give life a purpose. But when ideology is managed unilaterally by the state it becomes a tool for political oppresion. Islam is a religon she thinks. But Islam used to govern is an ideology. Is Islam compatible with democracy? The problem is that in the Islamic world governments manage Islamic law and people who are against the government are seen not as the opposition but as infidels. Shirin, however, believes that Islam is compatible with democracy and human rights but that it has to be reconquered from non democratic rulers. Key is to separate religion from ideology.
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If there´s something unique at the Clinton Global Initiative it is the Commitments section of this event. I have never seen anything like this. Throughout the day as sessions start, President Clinton comes to the podium and announces that such and such a person has made a certain commitment to improve the world. These commitments are very specific.
For example, a person commited to fund a program to train truck drivers in Subsaharan Africa to use condoms. It turns out that truck drivers are a leading means of transmission of HIV/AIDS as they travel, have many different sexual partners and tend to have unprotected sex. As I listen to Clinton tell this story I wonder if they teach the use of condoms as part of the curriculum to get a truck driver´s license in Subsaharan Africa.
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Last night I had dinner at the Clinton Global Initative with Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Sergey and Larry are by now as famous as Batman and Robin were when I was a child. I say this knowing that googling Sergey and Larry gave me 770,000 results but googling Batman and Robin, 2 million (so they are still not as famous at Batman and Robin). In any case, for being less than half as famous as Batmand and Robin they don´t look it. They are two smart, curious, fun guys to be with who care little about fame or glory. Sergey and Larry are curious about everything. A detail. As we were having dinner a water accidentally fell on the tablecloth. Surprisingly the tablecloth did not absorbe the water. Water stayed in neatly mercury looking shaped drops. Immediately and in the middle of the conversation Sergey began experimenting with throwing new things at the tablecloth, red wine for example, and much to his surprise he saw that it also would look like red mercury over a flat surface: in nicely shaped drops. So as we spoke Sergey started blowing into the drops to send them Larry´s way. Larry found that funny and blew them back. At that point Larry said that he wondered if we could find any liquid that would not stay in drops. I looked around and saw a candle, I poured liquid wax on the table and said, blow on this. And he did, and the wax did adhere to the tablecloth.

The following is a somewhat long article derived from the session on alleviating poverty at the Clinton Conference. Only recommended for those interested in the subject.
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The Clinton Global Initiative is a great conference. In terms of size and caliber of people attending, it beat Davos on the first day. President Clinton himself is a star and a pleasure to listen to. Klaus Schwab, who plays his role at Davos, is just in a much lower league. Moreover the Clinton Global Initiative is focused on deliverables, on committments and many are being received. This does not happen at Davos. There is however an area in which Davos is still way ahead of the Clinton Global Initiative and that is in format and content. It is in these areas that the CGI needs great improvement. The following is a list with my recommendations:

The Clinton Global Initiative is a medium size conference with around 1000 people. Davos has around 3000 people. The Aspen Brainstorm, 300 people. Probably the CGI has found the perfect conference size.

Still they are not managing human capital well at this event. At this conference there´s a remarkable gathering of people many of whom have something to say. But they are not getting a chance. In this respect Davos is more efficient. In my view it is better to have more sessions, more choices for participants and more voices overall. Here there are around 10 sessions per day for 800 people. At Davos there are 60 sessions a day for 3000 people so at Davos they have 4 times the number of people but 6 times the number of sessions. Sessions here are too large and don´t give an opportunity to the very smart people who attend to contribute and interact as much. Also having more sessions is an opportunity for people who attend the conference over the internet, through bloggers or through the press to go directly to the topics of interest to them. These places are like Congress many times where speeches are made for the whole country and not necessarily for other members of Congress. Ideally though you don´t want long and uninterrupted speeches, you want instead small sessions where speakers to shift from propaganda mode to a more honest Q&A session.

There´s another problem in the CGI format and that is that people are supposed to stay on the same tables throughout the day. I didn´t I change. You come to conferences like this to interact briefly with people who seem interesting to you so you can deepen the relationship outside of the conference. CGI´s system connects you too much with people at your table and little with anyone else. So I switched tables so I could go to three tables in one day.Tracks are fine and plenaries are fine but there should be more sessions, smaller sessions and shorter sessions. Lastly there´s a problem with the format as questions can only be asked anonymously and through moderators. A conference in which nobody can raise their hands and ask a question is just undemocratic.
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To many Europeans, American style philanthropy evokes a mix of admiration and contempt. Admiration because America has wealthy individuals who are willing to give a significant part of their income to improve the state of the world. Contempt because they believe that we cannot leave “improving the state of the world” in the hands of wealthy individuals. Personally, I think that the the problem here is one of degree. The American government is far too stingy in helping the world compared to European governments, but American individuals are remarkably generous. Bottom line is the American government should donate more. But the wealthy citizens in Europe should definitely be more charitable. Here at the Clinton Global Initiative we see American style philanthropy at work, and it´s amazing to see that at every session there´s an announcement of somebody coming up with an amazing donation.

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