Skip to main site content.
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the Clinton Global Initiative 2014 (CGI) in New York, September 22, 2014. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Collective impact

As the Clinton Global Initiative opens its final annual meeting, Zainab Salbi lauds its vision

By Zainab Salbi on September 19, 2016

I am a first-hand witness to the impact that the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) has made in the world. It’s much easier to criticize institutions, pointing out their flaws from afar, than to run them. As someone dedicated to women’s rights, and who cares about the environment and education, I am grateful for the community CGI has built: for its trailblazing multi-sector collaborations; for its determination to push marginalized issues into the limelight; and for the platform its conference has provided for so many leaders at the grassroots level.  Though I am saddened that this year marks CGI’s last Annual Meeting, I trust that the community it has built and the impact of their work will endure.

I was invited to many conferences during my tenure as founder and CEO of Women for Women International.  Like many non-profit leaders, I took whatever opportunity I was offered to raise awareness and support for my organization. I have circulated in the global conference world quite a bit (and sometimes been jaded by it). But no organization has had as great an impact as CGI has on Women for Women International and women’s rights: I raised more funds for women survivors of wars while attending CGI than through any other initiatives — from an individual who contributed $25,000 for humanitarian work in Afghanistan to donors and companies that contributed more than a million dollars for women’s education in Rwanda.

Zainab Salbi, founder and CEO of Women for Women International, participates in a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 23, 2009. About 1,200 participants including heads of state, business leaders, humanitarians and celebrities will attend the fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) which started on Tuesday. REUTERS/Chip East (UNITED STATES POLITICS BUSINESS) - RTR286NG
Zainab Salbi, as founder and CEO of Women for Women International, participates in a panel discussion at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 23, 2009. (REUTERS/Chip East)

I am hardly the only witness to CGI’s impact. I’m joined by an entrepreneur helping women earn paychecks in rural Pakistan and an educational leader in the slums of Kenya, both in their 20s and doing amazing work at the grassroots level.  Not until CGI supported them were they given the opportunity to speak in front of world leaders and attract support for their work.

In promoting girls’ and women’s rights and access to education and resources, CGI has empowered a new cadre of players to join in promoting the issue. It was CGI that raised awareness of the fact that women are 90 percent of daily farmers in the world, responsible for 70 percent of global produce, yet are paid only 30 percent of the income from that production, and own less than 2 percent of the land. And companies have taken notice and are acting to make a difference, including Walmart who has a major program that buys produce directly from women farmers. This is just one of many examples of sectors coming together in the same room and exploring ways to push issues forward.

Over the years, CGI’s event became the marketplace for innovative solutions, for meeting inspiring people who are making real difference, and hammering out plans to effect tangible, measurable change in the world.  When a group of members wanted to help out in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CGI opened its doors, helped us connect to others from various sectors interested in the country, and facilitated forums to explore collaborations.  A year after our discussion started, more than 25 entities in this Action Network had made commitments to implement direct projects in DRC.  Now six years later, more than 120 commitments are directing efforts in Congo, impacting lives on the ground.

The diversity of this community is unique, and the tone of its gatherings has always been practical, to the point and always inspirational.  Those gatherings will be missed indeed, but the work and spirit of President Clinton’s mission will live on.


Zainab Salbi is an author and media commentator and the founder of Women for Women International — a grassroots humanitarian and development organization dedicated to serving women survivors of war. Salbi is an editor at large for Women in the World, reporting on the intersection of Middle Eastern and Western cultures. For more information on Salbi’s work visit