24 September 2012

Designing for Impact, Jobs and Education at CGI

"Design for Impact" reads the tagline for the 2012 Clinton Global Initiative. Bill Clinton defined the phrase in the broadest terms possible while delivering the opening remarks for the three-day event on Sunday morning by stressing the need for greater cooperation to take on the greatest development challenges.

The former US president was joined on stage by Queen Rania of Jordan, World Bank President Jim Kim, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the odd man out Walmart CEO Michael Duke. Clinton was kind enough to include Duke at the beginning and the end of the conversation. The opening was an opportunity for Duke to promote the sustainability efforts of Walmart. The other panel members took over the rest of the discussion, but Duke was brought back into the fray when Clinton asked him whether Walmart would be willing to try to open stores in Tripoli if invited.

The Walmart chief gave a diplomatic and long response that amounted to a yes without every explicitly saying that Walmart would welcome the invitation. While Duke served as a bit of a side show, the main event was the inclusion of Kim and Ki-moon.

Clinton awkwardly joked, as he arrived to the two of them, "That brings me to what I affectionately call the 'Korean Block,'" noting that the two were speaking Korean to each other backstage. Following some laughs of disbelief from the audience, Clinton dug in to learn how the two saw their roles in realizing development.

Kim made interesting remarks that seemed to indicate the direction that he hopes to lead the World Bank. He explained that the World Bank has long been seen as a 'knowledge bank' and signaled that he hoped for it to become a solutions bank. The same phrase was repeated at least twice during the session by Kim, though he did not explain how he saw the shift taking place.

One hint was the issue of scale. "Designing for impact means taking seriously the problem of scale," said Kim. Clinton earlier discussed the issue of scale in his opening remarks and an interview proceeding the panel with Tim Brown of IDEO also focused on the idea of scaling ideas through design, innovation and the private sector.

Ban Ki-moon, always looking and sounding cheerful as he delivers what at times is troubling information, bounced about between ideas. He called for a clear development agenda in a bit wink to the panel who will soon meet to determine the post-2015 agenda while making it clear that it had to be done through partnerships. There was a mention about keeping an eye on the sustainable development prize and an allusion to the hard lessons learned from the Rwandan genocide.

The meat of the conversation turned to jobs and education. Clinton remarked, "We are good at acting we know how to do it, but we are not good at creating education and employment." Queen Rania hit onto all of the major talking points about the importance of education without a hint of irony considering that she is in the unique position to deliver major education reform in her home of Jordan. She pushed further saying that education was behind the times. "We are teaching yesterday's skills," she said and added, "The gap between out education outputs and the market needs is getting wider."

All the panel members agreed with the needs for education reforms and on the issue of creating jobs. Kim offered some agreement with Clinton that the challenge is trying to figure out how to share and apply the lessons of development between countries. As the focus in the US election hones in on the issue of jobs, it is evident that jobs are a universal concern that some of the most important leaders in the world are not sure how to address.