CGI America: Making Commitments Actionable

Last week, I participated in the Clinton Global Initiative America conference, (CGI America) in Chicago. Now in its second year, CGI America is an annual event focused on finding solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States.

If you haven’t heard of it, the Clinton Global Initiative is a pretty amazing organization. Its mission is to inspire, connect, and empower a community of global leaders to forge solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

Founded by President Bill Clinton in 2005 on the principal that fostering partnerships, providing strategic advice, and driving resources toward effective ideas would help maximize efforts to alleviate poverty, create a cleaner environment, and increase access to health care and education. CGI America brought together leaders from the private, government and nonprofit sectors to address unemployment, prepare Americans to be competitive global citizens, and rethink current models that shape our economy and society.

One can imagine that, with the backing and energy of a former U.S. president, an organization like CGI could put on a pretty good conference, and they did. But CGI goes far beyond hosting a good convergence—which these days are a dime a dozen.

Watch video of all the CGI America plenary sessions.

CGI is truly different in that it hosts actual working meetings that focus the energy of an incredible set of attendees to identify and act on promising solutions to a very complex set of problems. Importantly, they solicit real and very public commitments from attendees to take action and put resources to solutions. RMI has an ongoing commitment to expand our Reinventing Fire vision to action.

For my part, I participated in the “Energy and Efficiency” working group and spent two days digging deep into the challenges related to bringing scalable and efficient finance to both renewables and efficiency projects. Our group also addressed the lack of clean and reliable performance data that’s so critically necessary to overcome both real and perceived risks, and how to grow market demand and scale efficiency and renewables so we can eliminate the need for the incentives and mandates that support the industries today.

Our group was even lucky enough to spend some time with President Clinton himself, talking about ideas for partnering with the Native American nations in the central U.S. to deploy advanced energy and efficiency technologies in distributed energy system architectures.

The idea could have a hugely positive impact by bringing jobs, new businesses and new sources of income to tribal populations while simultaneously providing an opportunity for a controlled experiment using new technologies, system architectures and business models. This was a fascinating and uplifting process, and while we were not able to finalize a formal commitment in the two days, we sowed the seeds for one in the future and sparked a few new ideas now in the works at companies and communities around the country.

For many attendees the most impactful moment of the meeting came during the final plenary session: “What’s next? Towards a More Perfect Union.” The session was moderated by President Clinton and included Neil deGrasse Tyson from the Hayes Planetarium, Regina Dugan, the former head of DARPA and now an SVP at Motorola Mobility; Mark Vashon VP of GE’s EcoImagination; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; and Duncan Niederauer, director and CEO of NYSE Euronext, Inc. The panel explored many of the challenges we face as a country but highlighted the potential by providing great examples and inspiration for what we can do today to build a better future for our nation and the world.

All the panelists focused on the basic need to act now and for society to aspire for the future instead of preserving the past, to be excited about the things we can do—instead of cautiously preserving what we have today.