The Clinton Foundation is Alive and Well and Looking to Expand Some Programs

Donna Shalala, Chelsea Clinton and the Clinton Foundation staff at a Day of Action that brought diapers and books to the South Bronx, in partnership with Penguin Book and Huggies. This is the 33rd Day of Action for the Clinton Foundation since Chelsea Clinton started the program in response to Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Last Friday, I participated in  a media roundtable hosted by The Clinton Foundation to discuss the future direction of their work.

Related: “Empowering Girls and Women Across All Our Programs”: Where is The Clinton Foundation Going in 2017?

At the roundtable, President Shalala said that the level of future involvement for Mrs. Clinton at the foundation is unclear, but that former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton have both re-upped their commitment and are ready to take the foundation in some new directions.

“Stage one is the letter from President Clinton,” said Shalala, and that they are now planning to follow up with a fundraising effort. What exactly that fundraising effort will look like is not yet entirely clear, but Shalala said it would likely involve both direct mailing to increase the base of support and reaching out for new partnerships with other foundations and nonprofits.

Regarding the process of spinning off the Clinton Global Initiative, a process that began in the fall of 2016, Shalala said, “We lost about 100 people in the downsizing. Almost all of it is related to CGI. We announced 80 early in the fall, and then another dozen or so, maybe more than that, recently. We don’t have any more plans for downsizing of that scale.”

Megan O’Neil asked about the future for President Shalala at the Clinton Foundation, noting that Shalala is now 75 years old and also works part-time as a college professor in Miami.

Shalala responded that she expects to stay on staff for the foreseeable future. “I am teaching in Miami, but I also taught all of last year, so that’s not unusual. I haven’t  had a chance to sit down and talk to the Presdient, Chelsea and the board, but it’s pretty exciting now,” she added.

She regarded the last year at the foundation as a “really painful year,” but said that, like Michelle Obama, they take the approach of “When they go low, we go high.” She said the foundation remained focused on their work and did some of the most effective collaborating and partnering to date, such as establishing the $70 million dollar commitment from nonprofits and businesses to address gender equality.

Shalala also spoke confidently about the coming year. “I have been talking with staff. It was difficult to eliminate CGI, one of our most exciting programs, but I believe this year, the best is yet to come, because we do see a clear path ahead, even though there are going to be challenges in international, global work for everyone that isn’t related to the Clinton Foundation but more related to the world economy and the refugee crisis going on all over the place.”

Shalala described the past 18 months at The Clinton Foundation as “intense” and added, “I’m used to being pounded on, but everybody else is not, so I think the challenge of the last 18 months was to keep the organization together and focused. That’s not easy when you don’t have control over the political environment or the environment in which you’re working. And I don’t think we really missed a beat.”

Shalala talked about how finding partners in other foundations and nonprofits is a big part of the Clinton Foundation’s strategy going forward. “We’re always looking for expertise. We see ourselves as an incubator. One of the amazing things over the past year has been the support from other foundations who urged us to continue to do our good work. But I think diversifying your funding base is always a good thing.”

Where else is the Clinton Foundation looking make contributions? Shalala said the foundation will be “looking at our programs to see where they could be refocused.”

Too Small to Fail can have a dramatic impact and it could use more resources. We want to be able to do that.” Shalala also said the foundation wants to remain nimble, so that if there is a medical crisis like the Ebola crisis, “if the President wants to bring together partnerships,” they are able to do that.

“We can play a convening role and the president is anxious to do that on specific subjects,” said Shalala. She referenced the opioid epidemic in the country and said that that specific subjects “needs some attention,” due to the lack of systematic response in this country.

Shalala quickly defended the foundation’s intent to remain involved in global affairs, saying that she expects the foundation to continue in Africa and the Caribbean Islands, as well as addressing global issues like climate and energy. “Just because we’re spinning one of our mature international programs off, doesn’t mean we won’t continue to be interested, particularly in Africa and Latin America.”

Shalala said the foundation is definitely thinking of starting another international program, but they are looking carefully to make sure they are filling a niche that no else is filling. “We have a combination of fundraising and we work with other foundations, so it’s not just individual. We also put together an endowment that will help us in the long run and we haven’t touched that endowment yet. We made a deliberate decision over the last two years not to touch the endowment.”

“I don’t anticipate fundraising to slack off,” said Shalala. “Private donations will continue to play a very significant role to help people around the world.”

With regard to the work of No Ceilings, Clinton Foundation staff noted that the program will continue. The Full Participation Report, created in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will also continue to serve as a resource on the global progress of women and girls. In addition, the Clinton Foundation will provide technical assistance to support the Girls, Women, and Global Goals CGI commitments made at last year’s CGI meeting, as well as the CHARGE commitment announced in 2014.

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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