The First Rule of CGI Is: Don't Talk About CGI!

Heather Hurlburt:

I've been away for a week working as a table facilitator at this year's Clinton Global Initiative. Sadly, we sign a non-disclosure agreement as a condition of participation, so I can't blog about it. Instead, I'm going to recommend a few books and presentations from the most impressive speakers I heard -- all focused around poverty alleviation, the track I worked in. Think of it as your chance to get the CGI experience in your own home, without the risk of running into Richard Branson in the men's room.

This seems to me to have been part-and-parcel of one of the most oddly executed PR strategies I've ever seen. The CGI managed to segregate the journalists out away from the action, essentially guaranteeing that we'd get bored and start thinking of things to complain about since they'd made it really hard to get any interesting stories. Meanwhile, why would you make participants sign non-disclosure agreements? Nothing secret was happening -- the working group stuff was all shown on TV constantly in the press room. Meanwhile, all the journalists there seemed perpetually confused by what the event was all about, since lots of the "commitments" names at the meeting didn't really seem to be charitable in nature. I, of course, had read Jonathan Rauch's Atlantic cover story whose headlilne is "This is Not Charity" taken from something Ira Magaziner told him for the piece:

The climate initiative, in typical Magaziner style, has many moving parts, including technical assistance to cities, networks for sharing best practices, software to measure progress, financial support, and a full-time foundation staff member assigned to each city. But the make-or-break component is a plan to re-equilibrate the market for energy conservation. “What we’re doing is jump-starting— accelerating—market forces,” Magaziner told me.

Cities own public buildings: offices, schools, police stations, hospitals, fire stations. They set codes for private buildings. They buy and run fleets of vehicles: buses, garbage trucks, police cars, ambulances. They handle water and waste. No city by itself can make a deep dent in carbon emissions or reorganize a global market, but together cities can pool their demand for leading-edge conservation technologies, such as LEDs for traffic lights, systems that capture and burn garbage dumps’ waste methane (a potent greenhouse gas), and alternative-fuel engines for city vehicles. Predictable demand would let suppliers scale up their operations, bringing prices down and creating footholds for technologies on the cusp of commercialization.

That would be step one. Step two, in Magaziner’s vision, is to channel a Niagara of private capital into the effort. Energy-saving technologies typically cost more up front but less over time. “So what we’re going to be doing is setting up a financing mechanism,” he told me. The foundation would help cities borrow in the securities markets against future energy savings. “The whole thing is bankable,” Magaziner said. “It’s a commercial proposition. This is not charity. The whole concept of this is that the market itself over some period of time is going to deploy all these energy-saving things. The problem is it will happen slowly and gradually.” The foundation hopes to reduce decades to years, and years to months.

In short, some of the stuff there didn't seem like charity because it's not supposed to be charity, but I didn't see that explained anywhere. It was puzzling because everything about the operation seemed really slick and media-savvy. They just couldn't seem to communicate what it was they were actually doing.