NEW YORK: The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), started by former President Clinton to spur actionable solutions to some of the world's biggest problems, has evolved into a launching pad for corporate social responsibility programs and a key opportunity for PR leaders to learn about social issues.
PepsiCo, Microsoft, and Procter & Gamble were among the dozens of companies that announced “commitments” to improve people's lives at the event. PR agency leaders also praised the CGI for its issue-driven agenda and networking potential.
“For me, this event tops my list along with the World Economic Forum for learning, the conversations, and for the partnerships that come from it,” says Melissa Waggener Zorkin, president and CEO of Waggener Edstrom Worldwide. “You meet people who you would never otherwise meet sitting in one of our offices or working with a client.”
Established in 2005, the CGI brings together heads of state, business leaders, philanthropists, and other VIPs in New York. The 2011 edition was focused on jobs, sustainable consumption, and empowering women and girls.
At this year's event, PepsiCo announced a public-private partnership to increase chickpea production in Ethiopia with the goal of promoting long-term nutritional and economic security in the country. Microsoft said it started a three-year program to ensure 1 million students from low-income US families have broadband Internet service and computer hardware and software.
Alan VanderMolen, president and CEO of Edelman's global practices and diversified insights businesses, says the event informs the agency's corporate counsel about opportunities with non-government organizations for sustainable development.
“Our view is that business has an important role to interact with civil society more broadly,” he says. “Right now, there is a real trust deficit in both government and business, while we face massive issues from a growing rich-poor divide to a lack of access to health care.”
That trust deficit is something the CGI has addressed in a two-pronged outreach strategy, says Craig Minassian, director of communications at the organization.
Clinton appeared on media programs like NBC's Today, where he spoke about the three key challenges being addressed at the CGI meeting. However, the group also generated news coverage about the real-world strategies behind the commitments and progress being made with the hope of inspiring people.
“There are more than 2,100 commitments that have been made throughout CGI meetings, and some of them are now coming to fruition,” he says. “We want to tell people about the strategies behind those commitments, so people understand work is being done and progress has been made.”
APCO Worldwide, the CGI's AOR, provides media relations support to the organization. “We worked with CGI to figure out what the compelling stories were, and how we could match those stories with the media on-site,” says James Robinson, VP of APCO Worldwide.
CGI has also adopted a more holistic, year-round communications effort that included the launch of CGI America, a meeting first held in June that focused solely on economic recovery and job growth in the US.
“When we started, the idea was to have this one annual meeting and the work of the members would continue throughout the year,” says Minassian, adding that CGI provides media relations training to NGOs and other groups to help them communicate their progress. “But as we've grown, generating new commitments while tracking commitments that have already been made, it really has become a year-round communications effort.”