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.
I am attending the Clinton Global Initiative. It was this year in January, at Davos, that President Clinton announced that he liked Davos, so much so that he was going to start his own. Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum laughed nervously. It took a lot of guts to announce the conference that was going to be the most important Davos competitor…at Davos. But that´s Clinton. He saw a political void. He occupied it. There´s already a novelty here that I like. To attend this conference everyone has to write a pledge to help with money, effort or a combination in one of the four areas: fight against poverty, better governance, combat climate change, or conflict resolution. As Dennis Ross said “the Clinton Global Initiative is geared to problem solving”. Solving may be too ambitious, but alleviation is certainly achievable.
I have been attending Davos for 5 years. Tomorrow I will go to Clinton´s first Annual Conference. I am a trustee at President Clinton´s foundation. I don´t know if anyone else gave President Clinton the idea of creating his own “Davos” but I did in 2003. It´s great to see it happening. A Davos with a purpose!
This is what I tried to do at the March 11th conference on terrorism. Klaus Schwab, the entrepreneur founder of the World Economic Forum used to put together the most amazing conferences in the world. Davos 2000 was a truly remarkable experience. But, as opposed to advertising in the conference world repetition is not reputation, it´s boredom! Last year Davos was my last. The Davos format is becoming so predictable that the most important things happen at the pizzeria accross from the Congress Center. The sessions themselves are more an opportunity for self-promotion than debate and the role of the Fortune 1000 companies is too large. Not that I don´t believe that private entreprise should be part of the dialogue to improve the state of the world (WEF´s motto). But I also believe that there are too few people at Davos telling corporations that they are certainly partly to blame for the world´s status quo.
As I fly to NYC tomorrow I very much hope that the Clinton Foundation will put together a more hands on, challenging event. We will see.