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.

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

Photo of the Clinton Foundation’s playground work, enhancing learning in playgrounds across the country.

Clinton Foundation President Donna Shalala headlined the phone conference roundtable with this quote from Mark Twain: “Rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated.”

In fact, said Shalala, “We’re alive and well and thriving.”

Shalala said former President Bill Clinton’s letter, which charts the Foundation’s path forward, depicts a “re-energized foundation, better positioned for the brave new world we’re going into.”

The plan going forward, in broad terms, said Shalala is to “build on what we know works,” while also “spinning off some of the programs that have grown to maturity.”

After reading over the President’s letter, I asked Shalala about the foundation’s future priority of empowering girls and women “across all of our programs.” I asked Shalala what that was going to look like for The Clinton Foundation going forward.

“We’ve been working it already,” she said, and described how programs across the foundation, from the Haiti work to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation all have special sessions and strategies for women and girls.  “Too Small to Fail is particularly focused on women because they are the major caregivers for children,” said Shalala.

With regard to the foundation’s work on empowerment for women and girls going forward, Shalala stated, “We want to go places where others don’t go in recognizing and empowering women’s lives.”

Shalala described some of the changes coming down the pike for The Clinton Foundation’s programs that are focused on women and girls. “The No Ceilings program is going to partner with Brookings and Vital Voices,” said Shalala. The letter from President Clinton provides background on what these partnerships are doing already:

“No Ceilings continued its work to advance the full participation of girls and women. This year, with Vital Voices Global Partnership and WEConnect International, No Ceilings launched a new coalition of 30 partners from the public and private sectors that seeks to increase women’s economic participation, address violence against girls and women, and promote women’s leadership. The group announced 24 new Commitments to Action at the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative Annual Meeting. The projects will invest more than $70 million to help nearly 900,000 people across six continents, promoting gender equality which is key to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”

Next up, Megan O’Neil of the Chronicle of Philanthropy asked Shalala what the plans were for the three Clinton family members involved with the Foundation.  Shalala described how both President Clinton and Chelsea remain involved and helped to prepare the transition plan with the foundation’s board. But with regard to the Clinton family member last seen running for President?

“I don’t have an answer on Mrs. Clinton,” said Shalala. “She has not made any kind of announcement other than her announcement about the book she is going to work on.”

Megan O’Neil then asked Shalala about how fundraising went for The Clinton Foundation in 2016.

“As you would expect, we didn’t have the participation of the Clintons for fundraising,” due to the election, said Shalala, but she stated that the foundation did meet its goals in terms of bringing in $20 million. “We exceeded that,” she said, and mentioned that there were several donations received on December 31 from donors previously unknown to the foundation.

Regarding fundraising for the coming year, Shalala said, “I think we’ll be fine in 2017. Both Chelsea and the President are back, and the President has been in at least twice. They are certainly re-engaged with the Foundation. And we’re thinking of different strategies for fundraising. The President has a lot of friends out there, and people want to support the foundation.”

One Monday: More from the Clinton Foundation’s Media Roundtable, including plans for new initiatives, the scoop on how they didn’t touch their endowment for the past two years, and whether President Shalala sees herself continuing on with the Foundation.

Here is a recap of the Clinton Foundation’s goals spelled out in President Clinton’s letter:

  • Continue our efforts to combat childhood obesity and improve health across the country. This includes continued support for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, our partnership with the American Heart Association, and increased efforts by the Clinton Health Matters Initiative that includes launching new community health work in San Diego and expanding our work to fight the opioid epidemic.
  • Expand our work to improve early learning through Too Small to Fail, launching a new effort to engage dads and grandparents in early learning.
    Increase our focus on leadership development and public service through programs like the Presidential Leadership Scholars and CGI University (CGI U).
  • Continue our successful economic development work in Rwanda and Malawi and our efforts to improve the lives of smallholder farmers through the Clinton Development Initiative (CDI). As part of a routine review of the efficiency of our programs, we found that we could maximize our impact in Tanzania by refocusing our programmatic efforts on those farmers closest to our commercial farm who will continue to receive support including fertilizer, pesticides, and training.
  • Do more to support communities on the front lines of climate change through the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI).
  • Keep empowering girls and women a priority across all of our programs. 
  • And maintain The Clinton Presidential Center and Library’s ability to provide educational and cultural opportunities to Arkansas and beyond, and manifest our belief in the value of service – whether by private citizens or public figures.