skip to content
Empowering Individuals in the Global Community Through Entrepreneurship
Wall Street Journal, Philip Berber
I have always wondered if the Clinton Global Initiative is more publicity than philanthropy. Do people really give or do more because of CGI? Or do the rich and powerful spend four days in Manhattan discussing well-worn social issues and patting themselves on the back for things they would have done anyway?
At this year’s philanthrofest, which kicked off today and runs through Friday, one of the stars is Philip Berber. Some readers might remember him from “Richistan.” He is the hyper-driven, Jewish Irishman in Texas who is spending tens of millions of dollars to fight poverty in Ethopia. (And all because of the Live Aid rock concert he and his wife saw in England back in the 1980s).
The Berbers’ Glimmer of Hope Foundation has built hundreds of schools, water wells, animal clinics and other facilities in the poorest, most remote villages of Ethopia. It has become a model for high-engagement philanthropy in Africa, and indeed the world.
On Thursday, Mr. Berber takes center stage as one of three speakers who are talking about meeting their pledged targets. In his case, he will talk about his recent work with microfinance.
I asked him whether the Initiative really mattered.
“Most definitely,” he said. For instance, at the 2006 conference, he pledged to spend $1 million over three years on microfinance programs in Ethopia. He reached the target in just two years, since philanthropists Ted and Vada Stanley met Mr. Berber at the Initiative meeting and contributed $200,000. Michael Dell and his wife Susan (who are friends of the Berbers) also chipped in $200,000.
“We would never have met the Stanleys if it weren’t for the initiative,” Mr. Berber told me.
Last year, the Berbers set a new goal of $1.25 million and reached it in less than a year, thanks in part to the Whole Planet Foundation (of Whole Foods) and the Huber Charitable Trust, run by a British family. They too met in part through the Initiative.
Now, Mr. Berber has another $500,000 and will seek to attract more to fund a third program, to fund microirrigation and microbusiness programs.
“I’d like to get to $1 million this year,” Mr. Berber said. “But the truth is we don’t know what kind of reception we’ll get this year.”
So from Mr. Berber’s perspective, the CGI does tangible good. Just how much good will depend on this year’s crowd and, of course, on the economy.