In many ways it was just like any year at the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, where non-profit leaders, politicians, and executives gather to talk about solving the world’s hairiest problems, such as poverty, AIDS, the refugee crisis.
There were the frequent celebrity sightings: U2’s Bono spoke on stage, Rev. Jesse Jackson milled around the floor. There was the usual glut of dignitaries—the Prime Minister of Kosovo, the President of Namibia, the President of Sri Lanka—among the meeting’s 1,000 attendees. And there, introducing everyone, was former President Bill Clinton, who has served as the master of ceremonies since the event was founded in 2005.
But it was also unlike any other year, because it is the last Clinton Global Initiative meeting. As the Clintons move to disentangle themselves from their philanthropic group ahead of Hillary Clinton potentially clinching the presidency, the Clinton Foundation is winding down the event that has served as a victory lap for global do-gooders. This week’s meeting is the Clintons’ last chance to prove the Initiative’s worth to the world—and to undecided voters, too.
Donald Trump has been telling the American public a different story, repeating on the campaign trail that the Clinton Foundation is “the most corrupt enterprise in political history,” one that exists only to line the pockets of the Clinton family. But now, as questions swirl about Trump’s own Foundation, thanks to a series of investigative articles in The Washington Post that reveal Trump uses almost none of his own money to make donations, the Initiative’s annual meeting is an apt time for the Clintons to show off just how much good their Foundation has actually done.
And boy, did Bill bring the receipts.
Though the former president (and potential future First Husband) didn’t mention the election or Trump’s criticisms of the Foundation, he did spend the first first few minutes of his opening address at the Initiative, rattling off a stunning list of statistics about the Clinton Global Initiative’s impact. 3,600: That’s how many public commitments the Initiative’s attendees have made on stage over the last 12 years. 435 million: That’s how many people those commitments have helped. 52 million: That’s how many children have received access to education as a result of those commitments. 114 million: That’s how many people can drink clean water because of the Initiative. The list goes on.
One of the Foundation’s signature accomplishments, the Clinton Health Access Initiative, has provided low-cost AIDS medication to 11.5 million people since it launched in 2002.
“I believe it’s helped change the face of philanthropy,” President Clinton said of the Initiative.
He noted that in 2014, the Initiative partnered with the data-mining company Palantir, which was founded by noted Trump backer (and all around swell guy) Peter Thiel, to track progress on its first decade of commitments.
The study found that nearly 82 percent of the pledges made at CGI—which run the gamut from healthcare initiatives to education projects to data collection efforts—were either completed or underway. And of the ones that were completed, more than two-thirds had either hit or exceeded the number of people they set out to help. That may sound dry, but it’s important, given how difficult it is for non-profit organizations to track the long tail of their impact.
Defending Their Record in Haiti
President Clinton also defended the organization’s checkered history in Haiti, which has emerged as a particularly potent talking point for Trump on the trail. Trump has accused “the Clintons and their pals” of cashing in on the country’s suffering. One potential reason for that: Hillary’s brother, Tony Rodham’s ties to a gold mine in Haiti, which some in the country view as a cash cow only for foreign investors.
The Clintons face criticism for helping to get Michel Martelly, formerly known as the pop star Sweet Micky, elected as Haiti’s president. And some have admonished Clinton’s Haiti Action Network, led by billionaire Denis O’Brien, for focusing too much on promoting tourism and travel. But O’Brien noted that CGI has brought in some $500 million in commitments for Haiti, which will help fund 127 projects in total, including building schools and providing healthcare access, impacting some 1.4 million lives.
No, the Clinton Global Initiative hasn’t eradicated societal ills in countries like Haiti. But it has done measurable, demonstrable good. The Trump Foundation would have a hard time backing up its impact.
No Comparison to Trump Foundation
Today, the Washington Post reported that the Trump Foundation had used $258,000 that should have gone to charity to settle its own legal battles, for instance. The Post has also reported that Trump once spent $20,000 of foundation funds to buy a 6-foot painting of himself.
And just last week, Guidestar, an independent organization that keeps records on non-profit work, released a report comparing the Trump Foundation with Clinton’s, and while Guidestar didn’t come out and say it outright, there was no comparison. For starters, it found that the Clinton family has done the majority of its charitable giving through its foundation. Trump on the other hand, appears not to have donated to his own foundation since 2008, according to the Washington Post’s reports. The Clinton Foundation also dwarfs the Trump Foundation in both funding and staff. In 2014, the Clinton Foundation had assets of $354 million, compared with the Trump Foundation’s $1 million.
What’s more, while the Clinton Foundation tracks its impact down to the number of small farmers who have received supplies through its programs (it’s 50 million farmers, by the way), the Trump Foundation’s records reflect what Guidestar calls “an unfocused generosity,” with many small grants of similar amounts being donated to a variety of entities, from the Ronald McDonald House to the Palm Beach Opera.
“There is nothing inherently wrong with sprinkling many small grants in unrelated areas,” writes Guidestar CEO Jacob Harold in the report. “But the Trump Foundation’s approach would certainly not meet the standard of focused, proactive grantmaking commonly called ‘strategic philanthropy.’” And while the Clinton Foundation has provided Guidestar with enough data to receive the organization’s top transparency seal, the report shows, “the Trump Foundation provides no such metrics,” and thus, has not received a seal.
That lack of transparency is in stark contract to the Clintons, who are using this final Clinton Global Initiative meeting to prove exactly how much good their organization has done in the world. Still, questions remain. Whether the Clinton Global Initiative made any progress in Haiti is an important one. And whether the Clintons will be able to seamlessly extract themselves from the Foundation if she becomes president is critical, too.
But just as important is a question that seems to be asked far less often, and that is, has the Clinton Global Initiative—and the Clinton Foundation that runs it—actually done good for the world. The answer: It has.
Go Back to Top. Skip To: Start of Article.