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Making change on a global scale: 4 things I learned at my first and last CGI Annual Meeting

Last month I had the immense fortune to attend the Clinton Global Initiative’s (CGI) final Annual Meeting in New York. Thread joined CGI in January 2016 and our CEO, Ian Rosenberger publicly announced our commitment with partners HP, Timberland, Team Tassy, and ACOP to directly address instances of child labor in our supply chain.

The week was an inspiring, humbling, powerful blur. With CGI winding down, every hallway conversation, small group discussion, and most of the plenary speeches were underpinned with the question, “now what?

The Clinton Foundation’s reputation was called into question again this week, particularly in regards to their work in Haiti. I’ve been working in Haiti for the past five years, and have worked directly with CGI. The women and men who work there are some of the smartest people I’ve met and the work they do is substantial. As a growing but new business, the connections that CGI helped facilitate for Thread have been gamechanging for us. The impact that we will have on individuals collecting plastic in Haiti through our CGI Commitment is going to be enormous.

Below are some of the takeaways I left the CGI Annual Event experience with.

1. The model works.

It turns out that convening wealthy philanthropists, heads of state, celebrities, chairs of major corporations and nonprofit organizations and asking them to publicly commit to world-changing ideas results in some incredible impact and progress. Since its founding:

  • Members of CGI have collectively made more than 3,600 commitments which have improved the lives of over 435 million people in more than 180 countries
  • More than 11.5 million people in over 70 countries have access to lifesaving HIV/AIDS drugs at 90% lower cost
  • 11 Million women and girls have been empowered through CGI Commitments
  • More than 2.7 billion metric tons of CO2 were cut or abated
  • More than $313 million in research and development funds have been spent on new vaccines, medicines, and diagnostics

While The Clinton Foundation’s  investment in portrait work is lacking when compared to other politically relevant foundations, their impact is impressive. Regardless of how you may feel about the Clintons, the above numbers show that the world is a better place because of the work CGI has done over the past 15 years.

2. No one agrees on metrics for tracking progress.

One of the breakout sessions I attended was entitled ‘Social Enterprise: Measuring Impact in an Emerging Sector.’ The discussion, while illuminating, focused almost exclusively on the tension between nonprofit organizations and funding entities when it comes to metrics. NGO’s think Foundations ask for too many metrics, or that the metrics they’re asking for aren’t the ones that matter. Foundations are looking for ways to track the impact their spending is having and metrics is the best answer they have for this.

While impact measurement has certainly improved over the last decade, there is still little to no standardization, and certainly no universally accepted measures for telling if we’re making people’s lives better on a per dollar basis. NGOs and Foundations have to negotiate amongst themselves on what gets measured, while those of us running triple bottom line businesses are left to determine our own metrics, set our own standards, and determine the best methodology for reporting out our impact.

The set of standards most agreed upon in this audience were the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, which were released this past January. These overarching targets seem to be accepted across Nonprofit, corporate, and governmental agencies so I suspect that they will be used as a guiding force for impact measurement in coming years.

3. Partners outside of CGI are essential.

The CGI members are very aware of the barriers to entry to this community. In addition to publicly committing to make the world a better place, membership comes with a $20,000 annual fee. Each year, a number of complimentary memberships are available for small enterprises and nonprofit organizations through a competitive application process. This is how Thread was able to participate in 2016. Numerous times throughout the week I was involved in conversations around how to include and encourage participation outside of the members.

One of the aspects I am most proud of in Thread’s CGI commitment is that 2 of the 5 partners are not CGI members. We knew that success would be dependent on partners both within and outside of CGI. As is the case in all of our supply chain improvement initiatives, we rely on local associations and organizations to successfully implement projects. Just as Thread focuses on asking questions rather than prescribing solutions, we also ensure that initiatives are owned and run at a local level in the communities we work in.

Thread’s Clinton Global Initiative commitment involves working with local associates like Nadine Philippe in Haiti to improve supply chain initiatives.

4. The work goes on.

Despite being a top ranked foundation and not spending more than $250,000 of donor money to pay off lawsuits, the scope of The Clinton Foundation is changing dramatically to avoid political conflict of interest as we approach a new administration. Begrudgingly, I accept that this strategy makes sense.

Throughout the annual meeting, there was a very clear resolve that while the Clinton Global Initiative is ending, the work will not. After 15 years and 3,600 commitments, too many world leaders, influencers, and deep pockets know that this model of philanthropy works. We stood and applauded as new world-changing commitments, including Thread’s, were announced throughout the week.

CGI had 15 years to teach us a new way of getting things done, and it’s now on us to continue the model of partnership, inclusion, and making bold promises out loud so that we are held to them. I’m grateful for the hard work, enthusiasm, and optimism of the CGI staff and other members. It’s time to get to work.

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