With a focus on the gap between the American Dream and what is, for the majority of people, the American Reality, the third-annual meeting of Clinton Global Initiative America kicks off today in Chicago. It features big names like Hillary Clinton, Rahm Emanuel and J.B. Pritzker and equally big goals to promote high-growth entrepreneurship and small-business development.
"In order to unleash the talents of the American people, we understand that you can't look to government to solve all our problems; you can't trust the market," says Hillary Clinton as she takes the stage in her first appearance as a principal of the recently renamed Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, while speculation about her 2016 presidential run continues to swirl. "You need the partnerships that bring public servants and private leaders together."
CGI America is the U.S. arm of the foundation's Clinton Global Initiative, which convenes each September in New York City at the same time as the U.N. General Assembly. Unlike CGI's annual meeting, which is angled toward global development, CGI America focuses specifically on job creation and economic growth in the U.S., employing their trademark, goal-oriented approach.
To that end, today and tomorrow roughly 1,000 participants will divide into 12 working groups of between 60 and 100 people. Each meet for a total of six hours to build partnerships and offer suggestions for solving the problems within their individual topic areas, which include high-growth entrepreneurship, small business, early childhood education and community investing. The organization calls the commitments generated within these working groups "turning ideas into action," by creating clearly articulated, concrete goals to solve a problem in a measurable way.
This year's high-growth entrepreneurship working group counts Scott Case, chief executive of Startup America, among its advisors and will cover topics such as crowdfunding, entrepreneurial ecosystems and universities. The small-business working group will examine issues including access to capital, diversifying supply chains and leveraging technology. It will be advised by Gina Harman, president and chief executive of ACCION USA, and Katherine Jollon, who leads Goldman Sachs's 10,000 Small Businesses initiative.
The impact of CGI America is charted over time by what they call "progress reports," which track how talk at the meeting turns into partnerships, programs, funding and jobs on the ground. For example, a pledge made at CGI America last year by Detroit business incubator TechTown to help second-stage companies successfully transition from startups to sustainable businesses has raised $278,750 in funds, pulled in five new partners (including Kiva Detroit), and served more than 40 local entrepreneurs since June 2012.
Membership to the Clinton Global Initiative comes at a steep price of $20,000 a year, yet participants deem the exposure a worthy investment. Before the meeting closes tomorrow with a conversation on leadership between President Bill Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a "lightening round" series of new commitments will be announced.
Among them is a two-year, $3.7 million pledge by the National Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation (NCEI) to foster interest in entrepreneurship. It includes plans to construct an exhibition space celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that is expected to open in 2024. In the meantime, NCEI will partner with schools, exhibits and events such as the Maker Faire in D.C. next year, with a goal of reaching about 50,000 students making class trips to the area over the next three years.
"We looked across the country and thought about the places that we could launch, and we loved the CGI model and their notion of making commitments to act," says NCEI's chief executive Laurie Westley. "There are very few places where we can do that quite so publicly, with the same kind of affection for new ideas and respect for the actions that it takes to bring them to fruition."
Sarah J. Robbins is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor and the co-author of Keeping Hope Alive: One Woman -- 90,000 Lives Changed (Grand Central, 2013).