In December 2006, Condé Nast Traveler's Patricia Storace trailed former president Bill Clinton on his health and disaster-relief campaign in Asia. Later, in his New York City headquarters, the two sat down to discuss Clinton's philanthropic work, the United States' global reputation, and travel's potential to do good.
Condé Nast Traveler: You've said that you woke up one morning and discovered you were an NGO. What motivated you to embark on philanthropic work?
Bill Clinton: I knew what I was doing, but I hadn't ever thought about it in those terms. But it happened somehow, sometime in 2001, that I realized that was what I was.
Well, first of all, I wanted to continue to be active on those things that I cared about when I was president where I could still have an impact. Like HIV/AIDS; economic opportunity for poor people in America; and all around the world, promoting reconciliation where I could. I had a pretty clear idea of what I could still make a difference doing and what I couldn't. And I didn't just want to make speeches. Although I think actually that the speech work I do is fine. It's important, because I try to help people think about what's going on and organize their lives accordingly. But I wanted to have an impact. And secondly, I felt obligated to do it. I knew I had to work hard, because when I got out, I had a wife in the Senate, and we had to have a home in Washington and a home here, and I was in debt. But I thought it would have been wrong for me to spend the rest of my life just trying to amass personal wealth, because of the gift I had been given. First by the people of my state, to be able to be governor for a dozen years, and to be able to be president for eight years. I think when you get that kind of life that's a gift of the people, you owe whatever time you have when you're finished. To try to give it back. And so I wanted to do it, and I felt obligated to do it, and finally I thought it would be more interesting and more fun for me than anything else I could do. And it's turned out to be.
CNT: What in your background and experience best fitted you for the work you're doing now?
Clinton: I think two things. First of all, when I go into a situation I always think about—I always have, all my life—I think about, How could we make this better? What could we do differently that would be even better? And I'm pretty good at seeing like a lot of different things happening at once and putting them in a pattern and figuring out how you can rearrange it so it might have a better outcome. The second thing is that I think, because of my background, I never thought of political endeavors primarily in terms of power and prestige, and I never thought of economic endeavors primarily in terms of wealth and position. I always thought about how all this affected ordinary people. Because I came from fairly modest circumstances, and I saw the impact of political decisions and economic arrangements on ordinary people's lives. I knew it made a difference what decisions were made and how they were carried out. And I think that really that made this a comfortable transition for me. It didn't matter to me very much that I didn't have a political office any more. All I knew was that I still had the ability to affect other people's lives in a positive way based on my own experience before I ever got into politics.
CNT: Your friend, King Abdullah of Jordan, said in a recent interview with Condé Nast Traveler that it surprises him that Americans lack knowledge about the international world and that "one of the problems I've found with American politicians is the small numbers of senators who have traveled." How do you account for this incuriosity about the world?
Clinton: I don't know. Except that historically, except for wartime, we have felt relatively insulated. We have land borders only with Canada and Mexico. We have these two massive oceans that separate us from most of the rest of the world and, we often thought, from their problems. But I think that's changing quite a lot, partly because 9/11 reminded us that we can't escape from the troubles of the world. And also because of international economic competition, outsourcing, stagnant wages, all the economic challenges we face.
And I think the other thing that's changed it is the increasing diversity of American society, which is no longer just the province of the East and West coasts and the big cities like Chicago and Detroit in the middle, which have always been diverse and have grown even more diverse. But you know in Arkansas, in my native state, in the northwest part of the state, which was overwhelmingly white Protestant, the fastest-growing group of citizens there are Hispanics, and many of the Catholic churches in northwest Ark now have two masses. They have a Spanish mass as well as an English mass. If you go to North Carolina, where there were always a lot of African-Americans, the others were basically Scots-Irish white people, and now they have a huge Hispanic population. If you go to Queens, in New York City, which used to be primarily an Irish-Italian borough, and then the African-Americans came in, now there's a massive infusion of Asians, both from East Asia and from South Asia. I went to an event for Hillary the other night. It was an Asian event, and everybody was from Queens. There's a whole culture center there. There are different Asian shops and a shopping center and a big restaurant and a big public-events room, and all that kind of stuff. You just see that now, all over America. So I'd say that 9/11, plus awareness of the international economy, plus the growing diversity of America, has really changed that.
I gave a speech in Kansas State the other day. Heartland of the country. Nine thousand five hundred kids came, and I got several questions about Darfur. So I think it's changing. I'm as likely to get a question about Darfur in Kansas or in Idaho as I am in Liberia, where I talk to university students. So I believe it's changing. But to go back to your specific question about politicians—for many years there were always a few people in the House and a few people in the Senate, in both parties, who were really interested in international affairs, and the rest of the members sort of delegated it over to them because they knew they would never be defeated at home for going one way or the other on most international issues, because they weren't the voting issues for their people. And I think that's changing too.
I gave the commencement speech at the University of Michigan this week and that's a big, sophisticated place. But just in Michigan, people would ask me, for the last ten years, only what they could do to keep from losing their manufacturing base in the auto industry. Now they still ask that, but they also want to know how we can restore America's standing in the world, how we can have more friends again, more allies again. So I do think it's changing. King Abdullah is right, but I think it's changing. I also believe that those of us who have had the benefit of lots of foreign travel, lots of foreign experience, have an obligation to try to share what we think we know with our fellow citizens. And that's basically one reason that I give as many speeches as I do. I always try to say to people, here's how I look at the world. And you need to have a way of looking at the world. You don't necessarily have to agree with me, but you have to have a theory of how the world works and how it should work in order to evaluate all these issues that are coming at us. But we're getting there. America is getting there. Our citizens are becoming more worldly, in a positive way.
CNT: Did it mean something special to you to be educated abroad?
Clinton: Oh, it made a big difference, sure. I had a lot of advantages even though I grew up in Arkansas in the middle of the country. But when I was a young man, I was really influenced by the fact that my senator, Bill Fulbright, was chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. Before I'd ever been abroad, I enrolled in the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, never intending to be a Foreign Service officer but thinking that in my lifetime foreign affairs would assume a bigger and bigger part of our nation's life. Which it has. And then I had a chance to go study in England and travel the world from there as a student, which was invaluable and had an enormous impact on the whole rest of my life.
CNT: Both American and international thinkers are concerned that American fear of terrorism has contributed to a kind of xenophobia, which is helping shut down precisely the kind of international exchange of ideas that would be of the greatest benefit to both the U.S. and the world. The U.S. has lost a substantial percentage of the foreign students it used to attract, with a significant diminishing among Saudi students: Marjane Satrapi, the Iranian author of best-selling graphic novels, was harassed at immigration while entering the U.S. for a book tour; Tariq Ramadan, a champion of progressive Islam, was refused a U.S. visa, though he had a faculty appointment from Notre Dame and had already packed up his family's possessions, which were waiting for them to arrive at the university. Is the U.S. in danger of becoming a kind of intellectual ghetto?
Clinton: I don't think so. I agree that we made a mistake after 9/11, at least in my view, in making it too difficult for foreign students to continue to come here and study. Might one of them have learned something that they'd go home and put to a destructive use? Yes. But the cost of what we did far outweighed any benefits that national security could have accrued, and since we're not out of our own population presently educating enough scientists and technologists and engineers, just in those fields alone, there's an economic price to pay too, quite apart from the cultural and political price. So I agree that we had some errors. But I think some of it was due more to the philosophy [of those] that were in government positions at the time, rather than the population as a whole. And some of it was due to an understandable tendency to overreact in the aftermath of 9/11.
That is, it only takes one bad decision to make 99 good ones go away. So the people who were making these decisions, these visa decisions and the airport-inspection decisions, student-quota decisions, and all of those decisions after we went through the trauma of 9/11 felt, understandably, that they would never get in trouble for saying no, because of what we'd been through. And I just ask for the rest of the world to give us a little bit of understanding. It took us a couple of years to regain our bearings, and I think we have now. And I think you'll see America reaching out more. I noticed that after this last election, the Bush administration did something that didn't get a lot of publicity, but I thought it was very important: They restored cooperation, military cooperation, with the Latin American countries with which they had suspended that cooperation because those countries refused to let us out of the International Criminal Court. And I didn't agree with the decision to try to get out of the court, because our soldiers were protected from political prosecution. And I didn't agree with the decision to suspend cooperation, but that's what happened in the aftermath of 9/11, that sort of decision. Well, earlier this year they reversed that decision. As I said, it may seem like a very small thing here, but it was a very big deal to the Latin American countries that wondered why we were withdrawing from them, our best allies, just because we had a difference of opinion over Iraq and over the ICC. So I think that we're getting our balance back.
CNT: In March, the Pew Research Center presented its most recent findings on the United States' image in the world to Congress, concluding from its polls that the U.S. image had declined not just in the Middle East or Europe but worldwide. Peter Goldmark, former president of the Rockefeller Foundation and, of course, a participant in the Clinton Global Initiative, has written recently, "Those seeking to establish global cooperation on the environment and on weapons of mass destruction, and to extend the international rule of respect for individual liberties, and a level playing field—values which the U.S. government in its domestic political rhetoric swears it will defend to the death—often find that in the international arena, the United States is their biggest opponent." What can the U.S. do to regain the trust and respect of the world, not just in image but in action?
Clinton: Well, first of all, Goldmark's quote and your question reveal a very important point that I think all Americans need to be aware of. Our standing in the world has suffered from more than Iraq. This is not just about Iraq. If it were, the whole world could say okay, America made a mistake, but we get why they made it. Because since Saddam was deposed the United Nations' position has been that we should all try to figure out a way to make this work. We're just debating what's the best way to try to help the country stay together and not become a hotbed of exportable terrorism and, you know, reward those courageous 70-plus percent of people who did vote. But this is about way more than Iraq. It's about withdrawing from nonproliferation efforts; it's about withdrawing from Kyoto climate change; it's about withdrawing from the International Criminal Court. It's about a sense that, you know, we would be unilateral whenever we could and cooperate only when we had to. And before, I think, when I was there, in the words of my secretary of state, Madeline Albright, people thought we would cooperate whenever we could and act alone only when we were forced to. It's a very important difference, this sense that people get that you value other people's opinions, that you're willing to abide by international norms, that you realize that the United States is in a very unusual position right now and may on occasion have to do something the rest of the world disagrees with, but you need to act like when you do it you really don't like doing it, and you would far prefer to be in cooperative arrangements and you're not ashamed to hold this country accountable to international rules. So I think that we could recover our position fairly quickly if we sent that message to the world. In other words, the world hasn't necessarily given up on America; they just disagree with our policies. And I think that we have to change those policies. I think, for example, President Bush may have—he may or may not be able to recover the position of America, because people are already fixed in their views of him. But if you just look at—he has done three things that I think the world generally approved of: restoring cooperation with the Latin American countries, making a diplomatic agreement with North Korea instead of continuing to have a frigid standoff, and sending Americans to the conference to discuss the future of Iraq with the Iranians and the Syrians. Those are, all three, things that signify that we're trying to do better in the world. There's a fourth thing he's doing for which he doesn't even have enough support in my own party yet—but I'm for it—which is to change the way America distributes its food aid. You know, today, with certain rare exceptions , all of our food aid to starving people around the world has to be food grown in America and delivered on American flag ships. He wants to say 25 percent of the aid can be given by food bought in the next nearest country, which helps farmers in Africa and elsewhere where there's hunger, and you get more food and you get it delivered more quickly. It's not a big thing, maybe, compared to Iraq, but it shows that we're pushing. I think the fact that he's pushing really, really hard through the diplomatic channels on Darfur is a plus. People see that we're pushing harder than some of the other countries are to try to get an acceptable UN force in there that will save more lives. So if we could send a signal that that was the dominant thread of American foreign policy, that we were interested in diplomacy, we were interested in cooperation, that we never wanted to use force except as a last resort, and we certainly didn't want to have to do it alone, I think the image of America would change rather quickly.
CNT: One of the five pillars of Islam is the practice of philanthropy. Do you see a possibility for the United States to find more common ground with Muslim countries through shared humanitarian endeavors?
Clinton: Yes. You know that the Koran has a very specific set of obligations. There's mandatory giving, which is more or less two percent of cash income, and then if you have jewelry and other things. It actually prescribes how much you're supposed to give every year of the value of your physical possessions, which goes up above two percent. And then there is, over and above that, voluntary but morally compulsory giving for people who are more fortunate, once they've taken care of their own families, when there are community needs that are not met. So there has been a huge tradition of charity. It has been underappreciated in America, because some of the charities have been conduits for transfer of funds which have been used for terrorist activity; so we have underappreciated what is a very legitimate and big part of being a devout Muslim. And I see it because we have so many Islamic organizations and Muslims who participate in the Clinton Global Initiative every year, who come here and make commitments. I see it when I look in the Middle East and I see in the Gulf all these new universities being built in partnership with American universities. Or the young Arab leaders going out there and training people to try to be successful businesspeople so they'll sell products instead of hate ideology, and I think it could be a basis of genuine cooperation. I see it in America: A lot of the mosques in America have charitable outreach programs that benefit not just Muslims but other people in their community, so I see this as something we ought to try to do more of together.
CNT: In light of that, what steps is the Clinton Global Initiative taking to encourage philanthropic commitments conceived and directed by Muslims, especially at the grassroots community level?
Clinton: I can give you a couple of examples. You know we have Ibi Patel, an Indian-American Muslim who has an NGO that has worked with Queen Rania in Jordan to bring young Jordanians together with American Jews, Christians, and Muslims—do a lot of travel back and forth, get together, work together, be together. It's called the Interfaith Core. It's the idea that the core of your being can be faith-based, but it doesn't have to be exclusive. We've just had our midyear meeting kind of see how we're doing, on people coming next time, how we're doing on people keeping their commitments from last time. And Ibi brought to this meeting a young American Jewish woman and a young Jordanian man, and they talked about how wary they were of each other in the beginning, and how they got to know one another. And then the young Jewish woman talked about how she'd gotten sick in Jordan and how she'd been taken in by a Muslim family and how desperately sick she was.
And then after a day she felt better. And they asked her, when she felt better, if she'd come back the next night and come to dinner, because they felt that because they'd allowed her the privilege of tending her when she was sick, she'd almost become like a member of their family. And it was a totally shocking thing to her. She couldn't imagine being treated in that way, because bad events are more highly publicized than good ones. We tend to identify each other by extremes unless we actually know each another. That's one example. There's a program called Playing for Peace where an American has gotten together boys and girls, Palestinian-Arabs, Israeli-Arabs, and Israeli-Jews, to play in mixed basketball teams. They had a Desert Classic last year, and all these kids played together. And then they elaborated. They built other programs on it, and they've taken in more and more age-groups, with the idea that the more people were actually doing things together in a way that they could form a different identity (not to reject their ethnic or religious identity but to layer it with other kinds of things—in this case, being on a team), that it would give them a basis on which they could have positive rather than negative relations.
And of course, my favorite old standby, which has also participated in the Clinton Global Initiative, is the Seeds of Peace program, which I've supported for years. I had the Seeds of Peace kids on the White House Lawn in September of '93; they were Israel-Arabs, Palestinian-Arabs, Muslims, Jordanians, Egyptians, there were Israeli-Jews, together. They go to summer camp together; they have a meeting place now in the Middle East on the border near the Arab's Crossing; they do things together. One of the young Palestinians who was killed in the second intifada by an errant shell, was killed wearing his Seeds of Peace T-shirt. And he had twelve underneath the bed; he was trying to convince other Palestinians to go and make friends with the Israelis, and they buried him in his T-shirt. So those are three examples I think are very important.
CNT: Anything yet along the lines yet of a shared institution, like a hospital?
Clinton: Well, the main thing that's being done—there's always been a lot of care across religious lines in the Middle East: Palestinian doctors working in Israel, Jewish-Israeli medical physicians taking care of wounded Palestinians even if they were wounded by Israeli soldiers. There's a lot of that. There's a new photography book just out that you ought to get—I'm trying to remember the name of it—where an American Jewish woman went to Israel, into the territories, and photographed people who've been scarred by the intifada and the constant conflict. It's breathtaking. I'm embarrassed—it's right on my ... We could call Oscar. He could find it—the title of it. It's right on my counter in the kitchen. I showed it to Hillary when she got home last night. So you open it to any page and here's a young Israeli who is in the IDF who got his leg blown off, and here is a beautiful young Palestinian family who lost two limbs or something. And you go to the next page and you see the same thing. There's a tradition there that health care will not be denied because of faith or politics. There are a lot of hospitals where you have both Muslim and Jewish people working together. I would like to see more of it. I think it's a good thing to do. My mother, who had not a lot of formal education, was always very liberal on civil rights. She wasn't even political until I got interested in politics. I once asked her why she was an intuitive—why she favored all these human rights movements and integration, and she said, "Once you've seen people bleed, you know that our blood is the same." She said it has an incredible impact. She said, "I don't know anyone in my hospital who's a racist." It's an interesting insight. So I think we could probably do more there.
CNT: The Clinton Foundation concerns itself with four main aims: climate, HIV/AIDS, childhood obesity, and one focus of interest that changes every year. Can you draw a picture of the foundation for us?
Clinton: There's my foundation, and there's the CGI [Clinton Global Initiative], where we try to get other people to come together and make their commitments. For three years, we have had a focus on climate change and empowering people to escape poverty. The first year, we dealt with governance—which is a huge problem in developing countries, just having the capacity to do this—and religious and racial reconciliation. Last year, we added health care, explicitly, and then talked about the governing challenges in these four areas. This year, we're going to have some special panels on reconciliation, but we're going to add education, because I think that these educational venues are the best way to promote reconciliation. At least that's been my experience. We've got 130 million kids in the world who never go to school and others who go to schools without adequate educational materials or without trained teachers and facilities, and it would be really inexpensive compared to any war you can name to put all these kids in school and give them teachers and materials and do what needs to be done. In a poor country, even one year of schooling adds ten percent per year to one's earning capacity. So that's how we do it.
In my foundation, we have some core projects: We work on HIV and AIDS. In 25 countries, we work on setting up the health systems and helping train people to run them. And now in 38 other countries, we sell our medicine for the lowest prices in the world. Then we have a development initiative that operates in Rwanda and Malawi. We are trying to go into very poor rural areas and figure out whether we can set up mechanisms that will allow people to double per-capita income in a shorter amount of time. If so, we hope to have a model that we can just basically impart to other places, either directly through my foundation or others can take it up, but we'll have a proven comprehensive model for helping people to work themselves out of poverty. Then we have a climate-change initiative, which involves some American cities and 40 of the largest cities around the world, plus some partner cities where we're going to use the kinds of things we did in the AIDS project and in the development project to help cities quickly reduce their greenhouse gas emissions in a way that is profitable and creates jobs, instead of being burdensome. Those are the main things we're doing around the world.
At home, our major initiatives [concern] childhood obesity and its attendant consequences of exploding rates of diabetes. I'm very excited about what we're doing; we're pretty active there. Then, there's an urban enterprise initiative, where we try to help small businesses in Harlem. And we try to help all the people we can to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit for lower-income working people. We're now starting an initiative that I'm really excited about to try to help the 28 million Americans who actually earn a check every two weeks but don't have a bank account, so they're not in the financial mainstream of America. They go with these paste-up places; they borrow money at exorbitant interest rates. There are now more of these places in America than there are McDonald's franchises. So we're going to try to lead a movement, a national movement, to integrate lower-income working people into the banking system in positive, not negative, ways. So those are the things we do here. I do other kinds of things as they come up, like I did the tsunami project with former president Bush, and the Katrina project. We're still active in the Katrina area; Laura is particularly active there. We've saved a little of our money, and we're still trying to help New Orleans, in particular.
In 2001, when the earthquake hit the Indian state of Gujarat, I was asked by the prime minister to organize American Indians to help rebuild hundreds of villages, which I did do. We set up a separate foundation called the America-India Foundation, which I still serve on the board of but only in an honorary capacity. They've done wonderful work. They've gotten thousands of Indian-Americans to contribute money to rebuild schools and homes and hospitals and to promote livelihoods, [money] for development for great Indian crafts people [who then sell their work] in American department stores. They have internet marketing, and they send young Indian Americans over there to do internships, and they've got their own AIDS projects there. They've really done a great job.
But I take stuff as it comes up. I try to keep enough space. When 9/11 happened, Bob Dole and I raised money to try to guarantee college scholarships for the children and spouses of everyone who was killed and disabled. But my core projects are the obesity and urban enterprise projects in America and the AIDS project and the development project and the climate-change project in the world. And the Global Initiative, which I like because it enables me to get other people into doing what I'm doing in a systematic way.
CNT: How did you arrive at these objectives?
Clinton: I talked to people, but I decided among them myself. The Clinton Global Initiative was totally sort of an inside job. One of the people who works for me suggested it, because we go to Davos every year. We try to go every year—I do—and some of our people go, and we try to support them, and it's really big. I think it's done a lot of good in terms of educating global business leaders about the challenges facing the world. But I've found people get really frustrated at those things if they're really serious people, because they want to do something. So this friend of mine—I mean this young man who works for me—he says, well, you ought to have one of these meetings at the opening of the UN, because we could do a shorter one, but we have a unique ability to attract world leaders because they'd be here for the UN, and then we could bring other people to New York successfully. I said no, I don't want to do that. What I want to do is have a meeting where everybody who comes knows before they come that they have to make a commitment to do something by the time they leave. And I want us to help them find something they feel good doing. And then I want us to keep score. I said, if we did this, let's just plan to do this for a decade and see what happens after that if I'm still alive. But I think if you can actually get high-powered people to come together—wealthy individuals, foundations, NGOs for developing countries, political leaders—and you'd have this mix of people to really work on figuring out what you could do about these problems. Then you'd ask people to make a commitment, and you'd hold them to it but also help them to meet their commitment. I think we could make a huge difference if we did it for ten years. That conversation led to everything that's happened since.
On the AIDS thing, I was active in something called the International AIDS Trust with Nelson Mandela. It was important for the first couple of years after I left office, because we went around and drummed up support for more money for AIDS from basically bilateral donors. But by 2003, you had the Bush AIDS program passing, and you had the Global Fund on AIDS, TB, and malaria. The biggest problem was not so much money as the cost of the medicine and the absence of the health infrastructure. So I was asked to deal with that. And the minute I was asked, I knew it was something that needed to be done, because I could see that the money was going to come in at greater levels but it wouldn't be enough unless we had health infrastructure and affordable medicine.
The childhood-obesity initiative came because of my heart problems. The American Heart Association asked me to do something, and I had to decide what I wanted to do. I thought that the childhood obesity slash diabetes epidemic in America was the worst problem we had on the health-care front. So that's how I fell into that.
The development initiative happened because I met a Scottish billionaire named Tom Hunter who was interested in doing something in Africa. I was frustrated going into these countries where I was helping with AIDS and I couldn't help them with economic development, and I thought I knew a lot about it. And I knew he did. So we got into that because we wanted to see—since we knew we'd never be as big as the Gates Foundation or anything like that—so we wanted to see if we could develop a replicable model that would help people work their way out of poverty.
So that's how I got into each one. The story's slightly different how I entered into each one. The urban enterprise initiative I got into by interviewing small-business people in Harlem because I wanted to be a good neighbor. I said, what do you need? And we worked on getting people qualified for the Earned Income Tax Credit in America because I had doubled it when I was president. I knew how many kids—it had taken millions of children out of poverty. But I was appalled by how hard it was to qualify for. I realized that every year, even in New York City alone, there were over a hundred thousand people who were eligible for it but didn't claim it because they couldn't figure out how to work their way through the tax system. So that's one I decided on my own to do.
The banking initiative is one that Trooper Sanders, who works for me, had urged me to take out because he's out there in the community with the people and he sees what a problem this is all over America.
But we try not to do everything. There's a lot of things we're asked to do that we don't do, because I don't want to be like an army that outruns its supply line. Basically, we try to tax ourselves to the maximum every year, so I have to work like crazy to finance these things and to get the talent necessary to do it. But we try not to go over the line. So no matter how hard we work, we'll still fail, because we're trying to do more than we can do. That's the sort of knife edge we try to operate on, with greater or lesser degrees of success.
CNT: But no professional group counseled the Clinton Foundation? Are you advised, for example, as the Gates Foundation is, by the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisers?
Clinton: No, no, no, no, nothing like that. But in all fairness, I should know what needs to be done; I've spent a lifetime doing this. When I was president, we gave the first federal assistance ever to micro-credit in America. We set up a community development bank in Los Angeles. We had 95 percent of all the lending ever done under the American community investment act, which requires banks to put money in the areas where they serve and take deposits. We made two million micro-credit loans a year in poor countries all over the world.
Hillary and I both have been interested in a lot of these issues for way over 20 years, and so we had a pretty good knowledge base going in, and I didn't need to be counseled as much on what to do. It was really a question of what do you want to do where you can make an impact, and can you put together and fund a project and staff it properly so you have a reasonable chance of success? And if it doesn't work, at least you know it didn't work because of factors other than not making sufficient effort. That's the test we have to apply every time we're asked to do something, because there's a lot of stuff we're asked to do that we can't.
And then sometimes I just go help other people, because they're doing stuff that I really believe in. And I try to give them a night a year—a fund-raiser—or do something else, just because I believe in what they're doing.
I hope in the years ahead we'll be able to do more of this development work, because it requires you to do health care and education and deal with the energy challenges of climate change and all of this. But basically, if you're going to do a comprehensive development project, you have to not have a big mismatch between your resources and the area you're working in, and you must have the support of the government. Whether they can help you a lot or not, it's impossible to conceive of succeeding if they're not for you. You can't go in unless you get the ground rules clear, unless they really want you.
The same thing is true of AIDS. The biggest thing we've done in terms of the impact on human life by far since I've been out of office is on the AIDS front, because I have over half a million people getting medicine under these contracts. About a third of all the people in the world who have been added to the rolls of anti-retrovirals since 2003, when we started, are getting the medicine off these contracts. And the impact has actually been bigger, because when we cut the price from $500 to $139 for us for adult medicine, and then from $600 to $190 all the way down to $60 for the children's medicine—adult medicine down now about $100—it collapsed the whole price structure for the generic AIDS drugs, so that nearly anybody in the world buying these drugs now can get them within 25 percent of our ceiling price. To be fair, what made that possible is not just our efforts but the availability of more money, because then you can order at higher volumes. Then the manufacturers will take lower margins on each unit because they get much higher volumes and they know they're going to get paid on time, which is a good deal.
CNT: You've described the work of the Clinton Foundation as having business management as its model, and in your speech to the Slate Conference on Philanthropy on November 13, 2006, you spoke enthusiastically about the current trend of narrowing the boundaries between investment and giving. Yet, powerful businesses have often sacrificed the interests of the poor to their own ends. What can be done to safeguard vulnerable communities from exploitation and corporate malpractice?
Clinton: A lot of what has to be done to safeguard them has to be done by the political systems involved. But more and more businesspeople are seeing this as an economic opportunity. You know that book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid? Have you seen that book? I think [the author] is a professor at Michigan or someplace. It's a great book. Mohammed Yunus made money out of the Grameen Bank and won the Nobel Prize because he proved that you could loan money to poor people and they'd pay it back—over 98 percent of them have. So what I try to do, since I'm not in government, is to persuade more people in business that they can do well and do good. And persuade more donors to support me because they think I'm using business practices.
For example, the main contribution we've made to the fight against AIDS is reorganizing the drug market, going from a high-margin, low-volume, uncertain-payment business to a high-volume, low-margin, absolutely certain-payment business. We also run on very low overhead, which donors like. They know we're sort of bleeding-heart cheapskates around here. We don't spend their money if we don't have to, and we try to maximize the dollars that go directly to benefit the cause that they fund, whatever it is.
I believe that there is, in many cases, particularly in this whole energy area—I look at it as a public goods market, clean energy and-energy efficient technologies. Right now, at current oil prices, nearly everything we need to do in the world to combat climate change is already reasonably economical. But the reason you need legislation is to organize and energize the market and focus it, because the old energy economy is highly organized and well capitalized and politically influential, but the new energy economy will pay big dividends if you can just expand it. So since I'm not in government, what I'm working on in this climate-change thing is to try and organize the market. It's a business strategy, really. And to persuade others to do the same thing. You look at Wal-Mart: There's a conservative, big company, not unionized. Just by cutting their packaging five percent between now and 2013 they're going to save their supply chain three and a half billion dollars. It will have the effect of taking off the road 203 diesel-powered trucks that are highly polluting and only get six miles to the gallon. They're selling a hundred million compact fluorescent lightbulbs. If people buy them and screw them in and use them, it'll have the effect of taking 700,000 cars off the road. And it's all good business.
So what I try to do is get businesses and foundations and wealthy donors to give me money because I run in a businesslike fashion. And in turn, to argue that in the private sector, particularly in the energy area, there are business strategies that can be adopted that will involve more poor people. I don't want any of these banks to lose money. I'm trying to get them to give bank accounts to the 28 million poor people who don't have them. I just want them to make money in a different way. And I want to prove that they can do it. So I never ask any business to lose money. I ask them to imagine making it in a different way that will do more social good.
CNT: If you could bring back something from your travels as a gift to your own country's culture, what would it be?
Clinton: That's hard to say. You know, I love to travel. I mean, I think one of the things that's made me halfway good at this is that I love to go places and see things. But I would—I wish I could have a basket made in Rwanda in the home of every American—made by Rwandans that are part of these reconciliation cooperatives, where the Hutus and Tutsis who've slaughtered each other are now living together, working together, and making their baskets together. I think it would be a great gift to America's culture—to our rancorous politics and our tough-talking talk shows and all this stuff—to just see that here are people who've been through things that no American will ever go through, and they have concluded after being humbled by their own rage and the pain of their losses that what we have in common is much more important than our differences. I think that would be the greatest gift you could ever give to America.
You know, this is a great country, and we are so blessed. Just here in this city, we have people from somewhere between 160 and 180 different national and different ethnic groups. I was in Detroit yesterday, and there are 150. In Los Angeles, 160. We are becoming a microcosm of the world everywhere, and if we can figure out how to make the most of our differences, our lives would be so much more interesting than they were just a few years ago. Our ability to live together would be greater, and our ability to get along with people throughout the world—to resolve things and get them to turn away from their own hatreds and blindness—would be greater.
So if I had to give one gift, that's one I'd do. I'd put that basket—with an explanation of what it is and who made it and why and what the history was—I'd put one in every home in America.
CNT: You know, the Greeks call you the "Planetarchis," the ruler of the planet.
Clinton: I didn't know that. I've got a piece of marble that broke out of a wall in Athens when there were riots there when I was there when I was president. They weren't rioting against me. I just happened to be there on the weekend they always riot about their political issues.
CNT: When you travel in a country like one of the countries we visited—say, India—what do you see? What, having been president of the United States, do you see that only you can perceive because of that unique perspective?
Clinton: I don't know if I see it because I was president, but I always think about—I can imagine, when I'm driving in a place, what their lives are like.
CNT: You can?
Clinton: I do. That's what I do. I used to love to go to Rajasthan. There's a beautiful place to stay called Rajvilas, which has a beautiful Hindu shrine. It's just a beautiful place, and it's like an oasis in the middle of a quite poor area. You drive up there, and there are people on the side of the road with camels and goats and cows, and I never didn't pay attention to them on the way to the place where I was going to stay. I always thought about what their lives are like. I've got a picture in my house of dancing with Indian women in a little place called Nila, and they were throwing thousands of colored flower petals at me. I always try to literally go into a state of mind where I am one of them, where I feel and see the world as they do, because I think it gives me a great sense of peace and reassurance. It gives me the sense that, you know, there are ways we can do this.
When I was in Senegal, I asked to go to the mosque. When I was in Indonesia, I went to the biggest mosque in the country and took my shoes off and went in and tried to grasp and feel exactly how the world was real to those people. That's what I try to do. I think it's maybe easier for me because I was president. just because I've been to more places and talked to more people and listened to more people than almost anybody else could.
Once after I left office, I was in Ghana, and outside of Akkra, there's this market for the kente cloth and other things. It looks like a barn, like an old barn. Everybody's got a little stall where they've got their wares. It looked like there were about a hundred people in there. All of a sudden there were a thousand or more people in this tiny little place. You couldn't move. The Secret Service was panicked. Doug was there that day. And I turned around and I said, "I'm safer here than I am at home in bed. These people are my friends. A million of them came to see me last time I was here. We're going to be fine. They just want to see. We're going to be fine. You know, everything's going to be fine."
I knew what was in their heads. That was a great gift, from having lived the life I have. That's why I never get tired of traveling: because I'm always learning something new. And I know that when I'm there, I'll be thinking about it.
I was walking on the street in Hanoi recently and all the Vietnamese people were coming up on their little scooters. They were all on their little scooters, saying, "Welcome back" and everything. And I was in—went and visited Ho Chi Minh's house. I was trying to imagine what it was like for him during the Vietnam War, sitting there. I looked at the books that he read and the things that he did. And I thought about how we were killing his people and he was killing ours.
I think that's the great gift that my life has given me, being able to see things from another person's point of view. Even when I disagree, just to know. We all have to develop that if we're going to make it through the next couple of decades.