President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Join in Crusade Against Inequality

President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality offers coverage of Clinton’s PanIIT keynote, espouses entrepreneurial approach to vanquishing negatives of interdependence.

President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: openingPresident Bill Clinton addressed 2,500 alumni of the Indian Institutes of Technology in Chicago on Saturday at PanIIT 2009 with the message: You can make an impact as an individual, and all of us have to take responsibility for creating a more equitable, stable world. Speaking at the three-day global confab, Clinton pointed out that interdependence had positive and negative consequences because it brought people together in unprecedented ways. Through actual and media contact, people start seeing how everyone else lives around the world, and startling differences are difficult to understand and accept. Overshadowing this are a slew of global challenges like disease and climate change, problems that demand unprecedented collaboration. I will both summarize his remarks and provide my analysis and conclusions.

PanIIT and the Indian Institutes of Technology

PanIIT represents the crème de la crème of India’s educational system, and it’s well known that many of the system’s alums are well represented in global corporations and start-ups. Clinton pointed out that Indian immigrants (in the U.S.) produce more economic value than any other group.

President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: introductionHe called on the audience to put their brains and hearts to work to solve some of the world’s thorniest problems. IIT is in the epicenter of India’s demand for an educational system to propel an ever larger portion of the country into the Knowledge Economy. It is trying to expand capacity while retaining quality. Mr. Gupta, who introduced Bill Clinton, acknowledged Clinton for forgoing his usual speaking fee.

Big Problems, Small Solutions

A raspy-voiced Bill Clinton delivered a message that was challenging but actionable for the audience and completely consistent with Web 2.0, which enables people to collaborate at a lower cost through digital platforms and tools. His message also signals a shift from “big is beautiful” to “small is beautiful” solutions. We are accustomed to the idea that intractable problems like world hunger should be met by large, global programs that take millions just to administer and years to organize. Clinton had other ideas: focus on tipping points, which may seem small, but they are poignant and and wreak more change than first meets the eye. Here are two examples for which he had props:

  • President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: examples of inventionsA $10 lamp that looks like a flashlight and is rechargeable during the following day via its solar panel; it enables families in rural areas (with no electricity) to study and work at night, significantly increasing their productivity. One battery can perform for 750 cycles (2 years) before replacement.
  • Deforestation is destructive in many parts of the world, and it affects us all directly due to climate change. People cut trees out of desperation. In Haiti, where Clinton spends considerable time, trees are cut to make charcoal for home stoves. An entrepreneur invented a simple, affordable mechanical device that presses paper and wood waste into disks (they look like particle board, about the size of a bagel) that burn for about two hours and cost a few cents. Less than charcoal. Less deforestation, and people spend less money.

Clinton’s platform was largely driven by his personal experience at the Bill Clinton Foundation, which seeks to solve problems in these areas:

  • HIV/AIDS (Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative)—Drugs are too expensive, even generic drug programs. AIDS is rampant in Africa, where some families live on less than $1/day; Clinton negotiated large deals with generics companies and decreased their costs by assuring revenue streams, of course everyone has to make money, so we have to change the conditions in which companies and people make economic decisions.
  • President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: climate change innovationClimate change (Clinton Climate Initiative)—One message was that we need to create products and processes and tools that enable poor to get ahead by doing the right thing; for example, using the Haitian “briquettes” instead of charcoal.
  • Poverty in Africa (Clinton Hunter Development Initiative)—His message here was everyone may not know it, but everyone has a stake in poverty, even though the connection may not be obvious.
  • Healthy living (Alliance for a Healthier Generation)—He didn’t address this in detail.

Live Tweeting, 10 October 2009

I have cleaned up these tweets for typos and some of the more esoteric abbreviations; to see them in original form, see my Twitter stream.

  • Clinton intro loves Indian food, spent 4 days in India, longest visit by U.S. president (when he was pres) #paniit3:44 PM Oct 10th from
  • Interdependence has mixed blessings; inequality, half of the people in the world live on less than $2day3:49 PM Oct 10th from
  • – Raspy Bill Clinton #paniit3:49 PM Oct 10th from TwitPic
  • USA declines in average household income, increase in wealth enjoyed by wealthy, inequality in India and USA, in the last boom, only finance, housing and credit grew, other problems of interdependence disease, terrorism #paniit3:52 PM Oct 10th from
  • President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: conference centerFinance crisis global, interdependence; China 35 million unemployed crisis due to western recession, we need to try to get the positive w/o the negative; now recapping his economic achievements as president #paniit3:55 PM Oct 10th from
  • India generic drugs are crucial to AIDS program, BC (Bill Clinton) convinced drug companies to change business model, BC certifies that (recipient) countries are using the drugs right (and he guarantees payments #paniit3:59 PM Oct 10th from
  • BC foundation highly involved in facilitating low cost drugs; they work on supply chain efficiency: no one loses money b/c they guarantee payment #paniit4:00 PM Oct 10th from
  • Tackling deforestation in Brazil, Congo and Indonesia, people need help. In Haiti, trees are cut for charcoal, simple things #paniit4:05 PM Oct 10th from
  • People need to make money doing the right thing; Hillary just called fr Zurich, tilapia farmg making more money w partnership started by U.S.-educated entrepreneur #paniit4:10 PM Oct 10th from
  • More on Haiti deforestation destroyed fishing and water, now fish farmg needed to feed people; 100% profit, citing entrepreneur who sells fish for $2/pound, 100% profit, need to scale businesses doing right thing, need to improve living conditions #paniit4:14 PM Oct 10th from
  • Now microcredit, President Clinton remarks sunnight lights for night, enable people to study and work, lights cost $10 and battery good for 750 nights, charges during the day via solar panel, great message #paniit4:16 PM Oct 10th from
  • Now water solution, water shortages increase disease in Africa, there are cheap solutions; think small it rolls up big U.S.-India foundation #paniit4:19 PM Oct 10th from
  • India can eliminate malnutrition; we can do things as entrepreneurs, don’t have to go thru govt, being good citizens is more required now, help people globally, it’s ont enough to vote and pay taxes and depend on govt to do the right thing #paniit4:21 PM Oct 10th from
  • President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: stage exitWe all need to take responsibility, we can make money by saving the earth, now GHG (greenhouse gas) message, equality brings wealth, We need innovation #paniit4:24 PM Oct 10th from
  • USA uncompetitive healthcare system, $900 million extra cost (above what we should pay, compared to OECD), Pennsylvania (Geisinger) is the only USA state with total transparency (costs/treatment online) need better delivery; now moving to education, we (U.S.) were #1 in college education participation, now #8 #paniit4:29 PM Oct 10th from
  • Indian American immigrants are #1 wealth creation, don’t fear china, focus on what you do, collaborate w Pakistani immigrants, get support to work together to reduce suspicion #paniit4:38 PM Oct 10th from
  • – Clinton address #paniit4:39 PM Oct 10th from TwitPic
  • India & Pakistan can work together look for nonzero sum games, U.S. mentality wants winner loser, but that can’t work in an interdependent world #paniit4:41 PM Oct 10th from
  • India and Pakistan could challenge China by working together, the suspicion now a huge cost, if you were to collaborate, it would serve as a great example for other parts of the world (i.e. Middle East) #paniit4:41 PM Oct 10th from
  • “Small” things make a difference; in Bangladesh, microcred huge, collaborate to scale the assistance and effect, India has more NGOs than any country, Haiti #2, #paniit4:45 PM Oct 10th from
  • – Whole room auto silent on Clinton #paniit4:50 PM Oct 10th from TwitPic

Analysis and Conclusions

  • President Bill Clinton Asks IIT Alumni to Crusade Against Inequality: standing ovationClinton’s presentation added a holistic, global element to the conference, and his message that attendees could use similar tools and processes to make a serious impact was refreshing and useful. The examples he used drove home the idea.
  • He argued that we are rapidly losing the luxury isolation once afforded; climate change, for example, doesn’t care where carbon is created or how “justified” it may have been. Carbon is carbon.
  • The Global Human Capital Journal is all about P2P connections and the differences they can make. I can’t say enough about his message that people like us, in the audience, can personally take the initiative and make a significant difference.
  • His approach felt quite personal, and it makes me wonder whether he might personally feel more empowered to make change happen, now that he is no longer president (and required to manage all the huge machinery that goes with being head of state).
  • The audience was deeply appreciative; it was really moving, after Clinton had left the stage, the crowd spontaneously remained standing after the applause, and the room was very still and silent for many seconds.

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