Bill Clinton @ Microsoft

On Friday, I attended a speech given by former president Bill Clinton when he visited the Microsoft campus in Redmond, WA. 

Here’s my terribly grainy cell phone picture of Steve Ballmer introducing Clinton.

Steve Ballmer introducing Bill Clinton to Microsoft employees

He spoke about his new book, Giving, and the impact that individual donors can have on global problems.  His remarks were not nearly as polished as Hillary’s were a week ago at the same venue, but he has far greater warmth and charisma.  He was relaxed, good-humored, and for the most part non-partisan.  He even joked about having to be careful not to say anything that would get Hilary in trouble.  And his command of detail is as strong as ever. 

It’s funny; as President, I think Clinton was a real disappointment, but as a person it’s impossible not to like him.

Here are some of the more interesting points Clinton made in his speech. 

Most of the world’s conflicts today arise from three causes:

  • Inequality — in income, education, health care, etc
  • Unsustainability — in consumption & production
  • Identity — in people identifying and caring more about the things that set them apart than the things they have in common

Solutions to global problems such as poverty, disease, etc. will rest on a "three legged stool" consisting of

  • A strong economy
  • Strong civil society, including NGO’s such as Clinton’s own
  • Good, competent government

The Internet makes it possible for even people of modest means to have substantial impact through their giving.  On the one hand the Internet makes it possible to aggregate large numbers of relatively small donations quickly and efficiently.  For example, Americans donated over a billion dollars to the South Asian tsunami relief effort.  The average donation was $270 but the median was only $65 (I might be off a little on these numbers).  On the other hand, the Internet also makes it possible for individuals to target their donations to very specific causes or even individuals.  He cited as one example of this.

Clinton made the brilliant distinction between philosophical vs. ideological viewpoints.  Those who take a philosophical approach enquire about the truth: those who follow an ideological approach think they already possess it.   

Asked what characteristics distinguish a great leader from a merely good one, Clinton said that great leaders:

  • Understand the sweep of history and their country’s current position within it
  • Have a vision of what a better future could look like
  • Have the charisma to articulate that vision to their people
  • Are willing to spend their lives, even lay down their lives if necessary, to achieve that vision. 

He named Yitzhak Rabin and Nelson Mandela as examples.

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