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CGI 2009, Day 1

It has been a crazy first day at CGI – some familiar faces from last year, great energy, awesome kick off to focus on girls & women, of course highlights of Bill & Barack, and exciting preparation for our new 2009 Commitment (news coming tomorrow!). Unfortunately, I’m not getting service in the plenary room (maybe it was Obama’s security today – will try again tomorrow), so I wasn’t able to update from the Opening. But I jotted down some highlights the old school way that I share below. The Girls & Women dinner tonight was great, topped off by the star performer by far: Ann Cotton of Camfed. I did manage to tweet highlights of that session.

After Matt Damon announced a new commitment for water.org, a panel of 4 spoke, moderated by President Clinton. The Turkish CEO of Coca Cola talked about their micro-distribution program for women, which seems pretty great, as well as their efforts to become water neutral by 2020. He also announced a new bottle that they plan to produce 7 million of in 2010, which is made 30% of plant (sugar cane) products, and is 100% recyclable. President Clinton pointed out the significance of these efforts since 80% of the casualties in the world related to water issues are children under 5 years of age.

While waiting for Obama to navigate New York traffic, President Clinton cited a phrase coined by George W. Bush, that the President is really the ‘decider-in-chief’. He added that most decisions are not really to be made, but simply signed off on after reading a one-page memo. Just those decisions that are really ‘horrible’ are left to the Decider-in-Chief. Clinton’s warm intelligence and dedication were as evident as ever during the session. He pointed out the value of having a ‘decider-in-chief’ and Secretary of State with long backgrounds in the NGO world, where there is no choice but to take action.

When Obama did arrive, he had several good points to make, building on this NGO experience as a community organizer in Chicago, which he said taught him that real progress doesn’t come from the top down, but from the bottom up. He added that ‘to bring real change, you have to step up, you have to serve,’ and echoed this call to action several times throughout his address.

He suggested that this transformative moment in our twenty-first century interconnected world offers both great promise and great peril, which calls for a new spirit of global partnership. He commended the Clinton Global Initiative for embodying and facilitating exactly such a spirit, and acknowledged that his administration aspires to the same.

President Obama acknowledged having, ‘with friends from across the Muslim world, launched new beginnings based on mutual interests and mutual respect.’ He also alluded to a new initiative of Secretary Clinton’s that will engage businesses, non-profit organizations and faith groups – will listen for more details in coming days.

The President concluded by suggesting that ‘we can leave this world even better, even more hopeful than we found it,’ perhaps trying to summon some of the original hope inspired by his candidacy just a year ago.

Overall, the address was certainly eloquent and positive, but to me, the challenge of our times was tangible. Nonetheless, the stage was set for what I hope will be an educational and productive three days!

We start early tomorrow morning – downstairs at 8 am, but the result will be more than worth it. Stay tuned for more details and photos here tomorrow!

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