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The League of Humanitarian Superheroes

Thomas Tighe Reports from the Clinton Global Initiative’s Annual Meeting


Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit humanitarian organization Direct Relief International, is currently attending the third annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting, which takes place this in year in New York, from September 23 to September 26.

Tighe attends alongside various government, business, and civil society leaders from around the world and was kind enough to offer The Independent a run-down of his experiences there. Below is the first, a report of the event’s activities on Wednesday.

If the attendance at Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) reflects the singular magnetic qualities of its host, the topics and themes show his policy wonk-in-chief (of the world) skill. (Full disclosure: I was the chief operating officer of the Peace Corps during the Clinton administration.) Beginning Wednesday morning, 1,200 people, including 77 heads of state, the last several Nobel Peace Prize winners, athletes, celebrities, titans of industry and media, policy wonks, and leaders of nongovernmental organizations have jammed into the Sheraton Towers in Manhattan. The idea is substantive, nonpartisan discussion and problem-solving centered on urgent global challenges. The price of admission is making a commitment to do something new.

By Paul Wellman

Thomas Tighe

Overall, it’s an attempt to create energy and then channel it.

I’m here because of the Orfaleas, who’ve been working with the Clinton Foundation and CGI and who suggested Direct Relief would be a good fit. Lots of familiar faces here, from People magazine types to those more comfortable at a nerdy global health conference. Somehow it all works. To give you a sense of the event, allow me to describe Wednesday morning’s first session.

U2 frontman Bono and former vice president Al Gore were letting it rip on the same panel where Queen Rania of Jordan was dissecting barriers to education and return on investment on educational investments in Arab countries.

Neville Isdell, the chairman of Coca-Cola, was explaining the business-social calculus, and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was calmly offering an analysis of the incredible turnaround of what had been a failed state.

Bono riffed on global health and financial facts with easy familiarity and flips to rock star candor without missing a beat. “Bankruptcy is serious. I know people who lost their jobs, and so do you. But $700 billion to bail out Wall Street but not $25 billion to save 25,000 children a day is moral bankruptcy,” he said.

Gore did the same two step, less cool but more intense, reciting scary facts about having lost ground in the past year on climate change and then offering that not including the carbon costs in calculating companies’ value amounted to stock fraud that he hoped would be prosecuted.

Cyclist Lance Armstrong announced with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg a $100 million pledge to spread the LiveStrong message internationally to fight cancer, particularly that caused by cigarettes.

And that was just the first one-hour session.

Direct Relief is part of a global health working group that has attracted a similarly eclectic group - Direct Relief has worked to varying degrees of partnership with about a third of them. The group included Sakena Yacoobi, executive director of Direct Relief partner Afghan Institute of Learning (AIL). Her intensity about her work in Afghanistan training midwives and educating girls and women trumps Gore’s by a mile. Since Direct Relief’s CGI commitment is a $3 million project to help AIL expand, we’ve been conspiring on how to attract potential funders. Dr. Paul Farmer, whose Partners in Health hospitals in Haiti we support and who visited Santa Barbara last year, is here too. The head of the Seva Foundation, the vision nonprofit based in the Bay Area we’ve worked with for years, is also here.

Our tables at lunch were tasked with how to accelerate the “girl effect,” the demonstrably strong social and economic ripple generated by girls and young women receiving education and access to health services. Actress Ashley Judd and other women involved in different approaches to involving girls and young women in health and economic ventures shared their perspectives.

Our self-selected table included Santa Barbaran actor Anthony Edwards of ER and Direct Relief public service announcement fame; presidential niece Lauren Bush, who started a nonprofit to raise funds for the World Food Program’s school feeding efforts, and her cofounder Scott Jackson of the health research and invention lab PATH; and the woman who chairs Sierra Leone’s elections commission. The ideas were posted and dissected: “Why not a ‘fair-girl’ designation for employers, akin to a fair trade designation?” “Subsidize families to offset the economic loss of girls attending school (loss of household labor like collecting water, for instance).” “Use media to promote girls’ achievement and school attendance.”

Navigating huge meetings is always helped by knowing the staff folk running it. As it turns out, four current students from UCSB’s graduate program in Global and International Studies - which was kick-started with $500,000 in funding from the Montecito-based Orfalea Foundation - are interning at the Clinton Foundation and also staffing CGI, and a graduate of the first M.A. cohort, Amanda Chen, was recently hired by CGI. I’m teaching in the program and, thankfully, all my four students received an “A” in my class.

Related Links

Check in again at independent.com to see Tighe's follow up report after the conference ends.

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