Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly identified the woman who chairs the Global Philanthropy Forum and directs the Bill Clinton conference's poverty program as Jane Wells. Her name is Jane Wales. This version has been corrected.

On Eve of Philanthropy Forum, Clinton Worries About Economy

Former president Bill Clinton is calling on businesses, foundations and other benefactors to give more.
Former president Bill Clinton is calling on businesses, foundations and other benefactors to give more. (By Mannie Garcia -- Associated Press)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

NEW YORK, Sept. 22 -- Preparing to open his annual philanthropy gathering here against the backdrop of historic upheaval on Wall Street, former president Bill Clinton expressed concern Monday that the economic downturn could undermine major charitable investments around the world just when help is particularly needed.

Clinton called on businesses, foundations and other benefactors to increase their giving to combat climate change, alleviate poverty and expand access to education and health care in the developing world, saying that philanthropy "is even more important over the next two or three years than it would otherwise have been."

"Around the world, the thing that I worry most about with other stock markets going down and the American market here is that it will reduce the availability of capital . . . to do things that otherwise make good sense," Clinton said in an interview with national philanthropy reporters.

Clinton's comments came at the start of a significant week for philanthropy. The fourth annual Clinton Global Initiative opens Tuesday, bringing together hundreds of corporate chiefs, heads of state, humanitarians and celebrities such as U2 singer Bono. Participants must pledge at least $20,000 each to a charitable commitment to attend.

With the economy weighing heavily on their minds, attendees are expected to announce commitments to renewable energy, as well as international health-care, education and anti-poverty initiatives.

Meanwhile, Microsoft founder Bill Gates will address a special session of the U.N. General Assembly and announce new initiatives by his philanthropic foundation to help eradicate extreme poverty, hunger and disease.

At the Clinton gathering, more than 200 charitable commitments could be announced this week, including significant programs in the areas of energy and the environment, said Robert Harrison, the conference's chief executive and a former partner at Goldman Sachs.

"A lot of these guys are looking at this as long-term," Harrison said. "It's not the case that we only developed wonderful commitments six months ago and in the last three weeks it's frozen. People have continued to develop excellent commitments."

The conference's agenda shifted in recent days to add a panel featuring former Treasury secretary Robert Rubin, now chairman of Citigroup, to examine the long-term economic trends and their impact on foreign aid, said Jane Wales, who chairs the Global Philanthropy Forum and directs the Clinton conference's poverty program.

Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation, said the U.S. financial crisis will affect not only the economies of countries that American philanthropists are working to develop but also the capacity of foreign governments such as Great Britain's to assist.

"Philanthropy's value is quite significant at these moments," Rodin said, "not because we can replace the aid dollars that governments give, but because philanthropy tends to be more risk-taking, more innovative."

Concerned about the effect of the weakening economy on the social safety net for U.S. workers, the Rockefeller Foundation in July announced a $70 million effort, the Campaign for American Workers, to award grants aimed at developing affordable health coverage and increasing retirement savings.

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