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How Chelsea Clinton May Leave a Lasting Impact on Global Philanthropy

In the popular mind, the name Chelsea Clinton conjures up images of a shy-looking 12 year old girl with early 90s curly hair and braces, standing in the shadows of her powerful mother and father. Not so anymore. At the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) last month in New York City, Chelsea Clinton came across as smart, confident, cool and approachable – someone many of her peers would probably like to be friends with. In an hour-long sit-down with a group of bloggers during CGI, Clinton opened up and shared her views on a variety of topics, focusing primarily on investing in and empowering young people in America, but also chiming on issues related to women and girls, civic education and her new role in the Clinton Foundation.

Indeed, she begins the conversation by saying how she is “deeply passionate” about creating opportunities for youth. She discusses how she believes that Americorps – which is about to celebrate 20 years – is  an important program allowing young people to find a meaningful path in the face of difficult economic prospects in America. Chelsea steers clear of politics when a bloggers mentions that there is a right-wing political blockage on Capitol Hill as far as legislation targeted towards job creation for youth by responding that all sectors of society have a role to play in creating the right environment for job growth to occur. She  linked this topic back to the work of the Clinton Global Initiative, mentioning how she was on a panel with John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco: “he’s a real leader on this [providing work/skills development opportunities for youth]” noting that Chambers has set up a series of Network Academies across the world which have trained 1.2 million people over the last 12 years. “The more people like you can highlight people like John and companies like Cisco who are doing really smart things for today and tomorrow, hopefully that puts a little pressure on other CEOs to think and act similarly”.

Beyond a discussion of issues, it was particularly interesting to see how Clinton has already had a strong impact on the work of the Clinton Foundation – now officially called the “Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.” It bodes well for the future of the Foundation that Clinton is embracing some of the cutting-edge thinking on how to run an effective, relevant NGO. When asked about girls and women, and the apparent slowdown in progress in dealing with inequality, she talks about how a lot of the work of the Clinton Foundation is focused on narrowing this gender gap “however it manifests” itself. She explained how CGI did away with the specific “Women and Girls” track, and instead mainstreamed gender issues through CGI commitments. “Two-thirds of new commitments have a gender angle,” Clinton notes. She then goes on to explain how the Clinton Foundation’s work in agriculture, for example, is not necessarily specifically linked to women and girls but that, through the empowerment of smallholder farmers – who are primarily women – more girls are being sent to school. “[Agriculture] may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about gender, but it’s intimately connected.”

Chelsea embodies some of the qualities that define both her parents. In her manner of speaking, she reminds us of her mother – authoritative without being arrogant. Much like her father, she is able to fire off statistics and analysis points about a wide range of issues – on civic engagement, for example, she tells us that “the single biggest predictor of whether or not someone is going to show up and vote is whether or not they’re registered.” And while Chelsea Clinton – who is working on finishing her PhD at Oxford – is still growing into her role and finding her footing as a leader, she is also clearly her own person – a modern young woman with her own views, beliefs, and issues she cares about.

Photo credit: Barbara Kinney/Clinton Global Initiative


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