Q&A With President Sarah Degnan Kambou About Her Role As An Advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative

Article Date

18 September 2014

Media Contact

Anne McPherson

Vice President, Global Communications email [email protected]

Created by former President Bill Clinton in 2005, the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) brings together global leaders from a variety of sectors to tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges every September. Each year, CGI offers a new theme on which to focus, an innovative spirit and a rich dialogue. And each year, participants commit to specific actions to improve lives and communities worldwide.

As an official CGI advisor, ICRW President Sarah Kambou offers guidance on paths of action for CGI and brings expertise on gender and how to use research evidence to support efforts. Ahead of this year’s CGI meeting September 21 – 24, Kambou reflected on past CGI meetings, and what she hopes to see CGI accomplish in the coming years.

What has it been like to serve as an advisor to the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI)?

The driving idea behind CGI is to bring powerful people together and have them develop concrete “commitments to action” – from pledging money to promoting innovative approaches – that can spark change in the world.

It’s always an honor to be invited to attend, let alone help shape the agenda as an advisor, which I have been since 2012. As an advisor, CGI can call on me throughout the year to help conceptualize meeting topics and possible avenues for action, particularly as it relates to women and girls, which is an official area of focus of CGI programming.

For me, it’s wonderful to be able to contribute in a more formal setting with other advisors who bring different expertise and perspectives to the issue of global development. You’re able to reach across the entire CGI platform in a more integrated fashion and really harness the full power of CGI. In my case that means developing new and exciting ways to promote gender equality on a whole host of issues, from food security, to economic empowerment, to urban development, both at home and abroad.

What is it like to share a room with global leaders focusing on finding solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges?

You realize almost immediately just how important that space is. It is a powerful reminder of the tremendous opportunity ICRW has to shape, at an exclusive level, the global development dialogue through CGI.

After all, as representatives of the nongovernmental organization (NGO) community, CGI provides a platform to share our development expertise with emerging and established players and influence their thinking at an early stage. In some cases, that might mean identifying potential partnerships for collaboration down the road.

For instance, let’s say a major corporate CEO wants to move the needle on poverty for women and girls but isn’t sure how to go about it. ICRW can help guide efforts to economically empower women, as we have already done in partnership with Gap, Inc. through its P.A.C.E program. P.A.C.E is a groundbreaking effort that helps women garment factory workers advance in the workplace and grow on a personal level, too. In Time Magazine, President Clinton referred to P.A.C.E. as one of the five ideas that is changing the world.

That’s the kind of potential for change that springs from CGI. And that’s what always inspires me to quickly and effectively make an impression on the hundreds of busy people who’ve taken time out of their schedule to attend CGI and talk about development. There’s a small window to understand what these visionaries and leaders want to achieve and how they can contribute to the cause. Not to mention what it is that organizations like ICRW can offer them of value, and establish how there might be a mutually beneficial collaboration.

To what extent are women and girls part of CGI’s agenda?

I’m delighted to say that’s been a priority from the very start, and the women and girls track has had the fastest growth in terms of the number of commitments and the volume of dollars pledged through the CGI platform. There have been some fantastic commitments and a crescendo of interest in the area over the last several years. In fact, a joint Vital Voices and WEConnect effort announced during last year’s meeting I believe has been the largest commitment made towards women’s empowerment in the history of CGI. Corporations in particular are being exposed to and becoming interested in issues that affect girls and women. All of this motivated CGI to solidify gender as a core concern across all of its tracks.

That means if you look at any of CGI’s key areas of work, Resilient Cities or work on agricultural development in Haiti, for instance, an expert will be present to discuss the implications for girls and women. This takes place in every scenario, whether a plenary panel, breakout group or small session. It is now standard operating procedure at CGI.

What has been the most memorable experience for you?

There have been many, but there was perhaps nothing more moving than watching Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi participate in a panel discussion, “Conversations on Courage” at CGI in 2011. Aung San Suu Kyi couldn’t leave Myanmar so she was conferenced in by Skype. Archbishop Tutu was on stage and it was just electric to hear the two of them speak. And that’s when Archbishop Tutu compared the energy to end apartheid to the energy, momentum and desire to end child marriage. It was a particularly powerful moment for me, considering all we know from our work on child marriage, how this practice is one of the greatest impediments to global development goals.

What would you like to see included as part of the CGI agenda in the coming years?

It’s a mammoth task for CGI to track the commitments and learn about the outcomes of our collective action. To date, CGI members have made nearly 2,500 commitments. When fully funded and implemented, these will be valued at $87.9 billion. People are going to want to understand what this means and what difference it made. But we can’t talk about impact yet, because it’s too early for many of them.

A number of commitments have been fully achieved, which are to be celebrated. But some have encountered unforeseen challenges or even stalled. I think the CGI team needs to figure out what to do with those stalled commitments, and how to move forward.

Then there are others that are progressing as planned. It would be very useful to understand how have they evolved, how have they been modified over time and how have they adapted to new situations wherever they’re being implemented. That way, other current and future commitment-makers can benefit from those lessons. So I think they’re going to tackle that, which would be a good investment of time and resources, because CGI is its commitments.

CGI is also beginning to develop regional platforms. CGI America is now pretty well established, and last fall it launched one in Brazil. My challenge is to ensure that the important strides that have been made for girls and women’s track globally are manifested in regional programming as well.

Also I’m keen to expand the gender dialogue from an exclusive focus on women and girls to also recognize the kind of social pressures that men and boys are facing, which sometimes result in harmful patriarchal behaviors. If we are going to have a holistic approach to global development that necessarily involves men and boys and working together with women and girls.

It’s starting now. I could imagine that in the next five years we won’t be talking about girls and women track but a gender track, which would include girls and women, boys and men. This would be more holistic approach for people.