Former President Bill Clinton is hardly taking it easy since leaving office in 2001. Much of his time these days is spent traveling the globe focusing on humanitarian work on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. This week the 42nd president is in New York City, hosting the group’s second a three-day event that unites some the world’s most influential people for solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Meredith Vieira, co-anchor of “Today,” caught up with Bill Clinton at the conference. Read an edited version of their taped conversation:
As this year’s Clinton Global Initiative convened, Bill Clinton greeted his special guest, first lady Laura Bush, who, in her opening address, pledged money for clean water in Africa. She said: “We invite other partners to join this alliance to install 4,000 pumps in schools and communities and provide clean drinking water to as many as 10 million sub-Saharan Africans.”
This year the foundation’s focus is global health, climate change, poverty, and ending religious conflict — problems Clinton believes this extraordinary gathering of statesmen, business leaders, and non-profits can help solve.
Bill Clinton: I think that private citizens working through these non-governmental groups have more power to do public good; to affect the future in a positive way than ever before.
Everyone who attends the conference must make a concrete pledge, or else....
Clinton: Last year, I thought it would be hard. I thought, I am going to have a meeting and tell them they can’t come to my meeting unless they promise to commit time or money. And if they come and promise and don’t do it, I won’t let them come back next year. I thought I might have an empty hotel to party in, it is not going to happen. But we had a big crowd last year, and a bigger demand this year.
Meredith Vieira: Do you ever look out and say, “Gee, I brought together sort of an odd bunch, a bunch of strange bedfellows ...
Clinton: Oh yeah, well, you know, one of the things our foundation works in is climate change. The two people who fund our participation are Rupert Murdoch and Barbra Streisand. I’m quite sure, talking about strange bedfellows, that they’ve never worked on anything [together] before. But I think they’re both pretty proud that they’re doing it.
Vieira: Everybody is calling you the genie because you grant all the wishes. But if you had a genie, what wish would you want granted?
Clinton: Well, I think it’s naive to want all the problems solved. If I could have one wish, I would have people accept the importance of our common humanity. If we did that, we would at least be stumbling in the right direction for the rest of my life and probably for the rest of the century.