Bill Clinton's challenge: look beyond your own concerns

Bill Clinton's challenge: look beyond your own concerns

After a week in which every second word has been about the cloud, Bill Clinton's World Partner Conference 2010 presentation was refreshing in that it almost forgot to mention IT, let alone clouds.

And yet, in many ways, Clinton's keynote was of more intimate relevance to the future of IT than the cloud will ever be.

As a spokesperson, Clinton is almost without peer. Eloquent and genteel, he was a stark contrast to the previous speaker, Microsoft COO, Kevin Turner. Where Turner encouraged partner competitiveness through direct challenges to Apple, Oracle and VMware, Clinton at turns inspired, challenged, and criticised the very foundations of the IT industry.

As a humanitarian, it was expected that Clinton would open with Haiti, a project which he is particularly passionate, and he didn't disappoint.

Clinton used the country's horrific conditions to frame the three challenges he sees in the world - an unstable environment that it is fundamentally unequal, and a way of living that is simply not sustainable.

Wealthy or poor, the challenges are equally applicable, he said.

Clinton said that before the Global Financial Crisis, two-thirds of American families had after-inflation incomes lower that what they were when he took office.

Turning his attention to climate change, he said: "We need to find a way to reduce greenhouse emissions by 80 percent in the next four years. It can be done, but can and will are very different matters."

From there, the conversation turned to the systems on which the world is organised.

"Everybody has something that can be done to bridge these gaps that have occurred, and to bridge these gaps around the world," he said.

"We have to build systems that are flexible and modern... this is a big economic issue. You don't want to keep growing these businesses, and then find you have to stop because the other half [organisations in poorer nations] are so far behind that they can't contribute to the collective of human advancement."

On the other hand, advanced societies, such as the US, begin to get 'a little long in the tooth', Clinton said.

It is a recognised historical phenomenon that after a nation becomes great it is eventually inherited by people more interested in keeping the order than any further improvement.

To highlight this sociological trend in action, Clinton pointed to the ongoing headache US President, Barack Obama, has experienced with health reform. This is a policy that Clinton supports, for its ability to help restore the health of Americans and America. Importantly, economically, it would eliminate trillions of dollars of wastage, he said.

So the world is divided in two: the challenge of the poor is in getting systems in place; the challenge for the wealthy is breaking down the rigidity proofing against improvement.

It's a challenge Clinton firmly believes the public sector can play a role in, and so, with the passive tone of a father hoping his children can stand up and outdo themselves, he challenged the audience to be involved with looking beyond their immediate business concerns, and helping resolve the broader national challenges in the world.

"In the past, when we approached our big challenges through Government alone, we had two questions: what are we going to do and how much money are we going to spend on it?” he said.

"In my 35 years of politics, there was almost never any discussion about the third question: how do you propose to turn good intentions to positive experience?

"I predict to you for the next 20-40 years the 'how' question will be more important than the 'what' and 'how much' questions. If someone can answer these how questions, it's the only way to create a new consensus."

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