Reflections on CGI 2014 – from vision to reality


I first attended The Clinton Global Initiative in 2006, in its second year. I was there as a volunteer and heard John Prendergast and Don Cheadle give an impassioned presentation on the situation in Darfur and vowed to see what could be done to help as an individual.

I returned in 2007 as Founder of The Darfur Project, which put together a group of individuals, primarily from the financial world, to send immediate life saving aid to Darfur and the surrounding regions. It was during a working session “Filling the Financing Gap” that I caught my first glimpse of the vision of Rockflower, as a long term, high risk investment fund that would seek untapped and underutilized funding for the expansion and development of women and girls’ programs worldwide.

2014 was my seventh CGI and I think in many ways my favorite. Much progress has been made since the early years of CGI in regards to its grand vision to create greater cohesion and collaboration amongst those working to solve some of the world’s biggest problems. At this year’s CGI, what once seemed lofty future goals were now realizable truths.

The focus on women and girls has definitely been one of those successes. The Girls and Women strategy session on Monday morning was designed to look back at the progress of the last five years and decide how to build on that for future success. The topic - “5 years on: engaging men as allies to promote women’s empowerment” brought some good discussion and healthy debate.

Secretary Clinton spoke forcefully for the need to keep producing and analyzing data. Through increasing the demand for sophisticated data we will have the tools to back up the moral theories that will inspire governments to implement change.

Kennedy Odede, Founder and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities, credited his mother for teaching him the value of girls at an early age, by insisting he do his share of the housework and never letting it fall to his sisters. Kennedy went from working 10 hours for a $1 a day, to transforming the slums of Kibera, in Nairobi, Kenya, and the person he thanked was his mother.

Tim Hanstad, CEO of Landesa, was raised with six sisters and understands a thing or two about working with women. But he was honest enough to admit that when they first started working on land rights, they did not specifically target women. However, he soon realized the intrinsic value of equal rights for women in owning land and property, by seeing firsthand that when a woman's name is on the property document, the rate of domestic violence falls.

At the Global Citizen Awards on Sunday evening, there were several worthy honorees, but the recipient of the Civil Society Award, Hayat Sindi, Founder and CEO of i2 Institute for Imagination and Ingenuity, caught my attention. With her quiet demeanor yet determined and resolute approach, Hayat Sindi epitomizes why educating girls is the key to greater global security and progress. Not knowing a word of English, she persuaded her father to let her study in London, and then went on to become the first Saudi woman to study biotechnology at Cambridge University. She never gave up on her vision to create i2 and kept going until she saw that vision become a reality.

At Tuesday’s plenary, “ Valuing what matters; reimagining how businesses, civil society and governments can redefine value”, Jack Ma, radiated a lightness of being and a childlike innocence that was hard not to be inspired by. His description of the fifteen year struggle to bring internet commerce to China revealed perseverance and a commitment to what he knew to be possible, against all odds.  Whilst Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, cautioned against the dark side of the internet, he agreed as a self described “Radical Optimist” that many have vision but few have the humility and resilience to bring that vision to life. Rockflower’s tag-line “radical idealism, practically realized” reflects the bold intention to harness both of these qualities.

One of the final plenaries – “Equality for Girls and Women – 2034 instead of 2134” reflected on the progress of the last twenty years since the Beijing conference and projected forward to what can be expected in the next twenty years. Whilst much progress has been made, so much more still needs to be done.

From the beginning Rockflower has believed that a successful strategy in resolving some of the world’s more complex problems lies in involving women and girls directly in solving the problem - for example, alleviating poverty by providing adequate access to financial tools and capital for women entrepreneurs. The Global Banking Alliance is making this a priority. Providing such access should continue to be one of the main goals for commercial banks over the next twenty years.

On the issue of peace and security, involving women and girls in peace agreements from the outset, will dictate the success of these agreements. This is about transforming communities by listening to the voices of the women in those communities, finding out what they actually need, rather than assuming the solution will come from systems imposed upon them. It also involves consistently and diligently working to bring un-sourced and untapped capital to fund the implementation of  - what sometimes seem like radical solutions - within areas of potential change and growth.

Rockflower’s place within this evolving reality is working as a gardener, looking for those seeds that need fertilizer, tools or simply some water to realize the dream of health, peace and prosperity for women and their families.

Leymah Gbowee, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, when asked by Katie Couric how she remained fearless in the face of such terror during the war in Liberia, replied that it wasn’t that she wasn’t frightened, she just refused to give in to the voice for fear. She listened to the other voice, the voice for truth, the voice for peace that would propel her and others like her to make the changes needed within her country for women and their families to live a life of peace and prosperity.

Lets throw all our weight into listening to THAT voice.