Bill Clinton's VIP meeting generates $6 billion in commitments to tackle poverty, disease

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton's three-day conference for VIPs with deep pockets generated nearly 300 new commitments valued at $6 billion to tackle major global issues from poverty and disease to climate change.

The sixth Clinton Global Initiative, which wrapped up late Thursday, brought together 67 current and former heads of state, more than 600 business leaders, and more than 500 leaders from non-governmental and philanthropic organizations. The VIP attendees included President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the former president's wife, Queen Rania of Jordan and Bill Gates.

"I think it's the way they reinforce one another — it's the networking," the ex-president said in an interview during the conference, trying to explain its success. "They get pumped up on each other and start trying to really do something."

"For example, when we started the Global Initiative only about a third of our commitments came from companies, and this year the companies will be involved in 54 percent of them," Clinton said.

He explained that companies are either spending money on their own or teaming up with NGOs, sometimes from countries with very low incomes.

"Over the years," Clinton said, "the people that come here want to do something meaningful with their lives and with the mission of their companies, like Procter and Gamble's president saying their goal was to save one life an hour somewhere on the planet every hour of the day."

"I think people believe in this idea of the obligation of citizens to take action to do something about these problems," he said.

At the close of the conference, the former president said he was "proud" of the nearly 300 new commitments, a near-record number despite the fallout from the global economic crisis.

He said one of the most interesting things about the new commitments is that about half were made by people who made previous commitments — some that have been completed and some that have not.

"In total, more than 1,900 commitments have been made, worth $63 billion, and they have improved the lives of nearly 300 million people," Clinton said in a statement at the end of the conference.

Asked about the impact of the financial crisis, the former president said about 15 projects were dropped because people couldn't complete them, and about 35 others may have to abandon them for lack of financing.

"In general," he said, "we're doing pretty well."

The conference is similar to the World Economic Forum in Davos in its provocative panels and opportunities for networking, but Clinton said there is one major difference — any participant in the Clinton Global Initiative must make a financial commitment.

New commitments this year range from projects to help preserve the Amazon to getting medicine to the needy, producing science and technology kits for Mexican schools, providing Kenyan households with clean cookstoves and opening 100 neighborhood libraries in Jordan.