Bill Clinton & Jimmy Carter: Presidential Social Responsibility

Bill Clinton made another visit to Vancouver, this time on October 17th to address the Business Council of British Columbia’s one-day conference on corporate responsibility. He was also in Vancouver last November when hosted by the Vancouver Board of Trade.

Clinton’s stock in trade these days is social responsibility. The world has changed and Clinton is at the front of it, and applying his star power to gather corporate titans to the cause. There is “corporate social responsibility” and now there is “presidential social responsibility.” He didn’t start it—but he is elevating it.

Whether some may suspect his motives, and presumably there are many diehard Republicans in his backyard who do, Clinton is mobilizing much money and manpower to socially responsible causes.

And, in today’s environment, he is using the web to aid his cause. Clinton focuses on three key issues facing humanity. First, there is “persistent inequality” resulting from the lack of a globalized social compact. The gap between the rich and the poor has widened considerably in the last few decades and those better off are generally content with the arrangement.

Second, there is the concept of “unsustainability.” Newly and rapidly developing countries such as China cannot pursue the same policies in their economic development as did Western countries previously without catastrophic consequences for the environment. Why? There is global warming. There is also a depletion of natural resources. In addition, there is rapid population growth; the world population is estimated at 9 billion people by 2050.

A third issue is “identity crisis.” There are ongoing disputes among ethnic groups which results in terrorism, ethnic clashes. The most famous of these is the seemingly intractable Israel-Palestine festering.

Clinton’s call is to focus on our “common humanity.” How will this change? Clinton suggests that it requires three things: good economy; good government and a civil society that encourages individual involvement.

Clinton suggests that giving needs to be part of 21st Century citizenship. Further, he argues that giving should be part of the curriculum in schools and universities.

Clinton’s conclusion is that people should support giving efforts in whichever way you can and they should change the way they make money—try to do it with sustainability and still make money at the same time.

But long before social responsibility became a popular phrase, another ex-President, Jimmy Carter, was working in the trenches. Carter had what is regarded as one of the worst presidencies (he can thank George W. Bush for taking the mantle, though), followed by one of the most successful post-presidencies. He was been waging a one-man crusade against human rights abuses, unfair elections and eradicatable diseases.

I heard Carter address the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship last March in Oxford. His presentation was one of the most moving presentations many in the room had ever heard as he presented from heart, in his genuinely humble manner, the various causes he had been involved in. The depth of character and the life-long convictions which motivated his actions made his talk riveting.

There are diseases that exist in Africa, but not anywhere else in the world, simply because people in Africa don’t have the money to cure themselves. Carter set out to eradicate those diseases, such as the River Worm Disease. He is getting more frail with age, but he will clearly keep giving until his last breath.

In the end, both Presidents have taken “corporate social responsibility” and turned it into “Presidential Social Responsibility.” For today’s crowd, Carter was out of office as of 28 years ago; Clinton is for another week the most recent previous president. Carter showed the clout and value of an post-Presidency; Clinton has added his star power to take it to the next level.