Chelsea Clinton offers US-centered vision for Clinton Foundation

Chelsea Clinton speaking at Galvanize, in downtown New York City, Wednesday evening. Photo: Amy Lieberman

Chelsea Clinton plotted a way forward Wednesday for the Clinton Foundation — outlining a vision for health programming that has personal roots in the United States.

Childhood obesity, early childhood education, juvenile justice and the opioid epidemic were all the focus of a speech Clinton, the vice president of the board of the foundation delivered to a group of mostly young professionals in New York City, part of the “20/30” membership team the foundation hosts.

The Clinton Foundation, launched in 2001, has health programs and partnerships globally, and up until last year, convened different organizations and world leaders to commit to tackle some of the world’s toughest health and development problems at the annual Clinton Global Initiative. The last CGI was held in September 2016, shortly before Hillary Clinton lost her bid for president.  

In 2015, the foundation had more than $298 million in revenue.

“We know how many words kids hear each year is fundamental to the development of our brains. Kids who come from two-parent households hear about 30 million more words than kids who come from single family households by the time they are four. What we tried to do is help empower caregivers, parents, grandparents, older siblings with the knowledge that just bathing your kids in words make a big, big difference,” said Clinton.

One way this is happening is through a partnership that offers books and other educational materials in laundromats — a place where parents regularly come, with their children, and pass the time as they wait for their laundry — in low-income areas across the U.S.  

As a child in Arkansas, Clinton said, she had recess twice a day, and also had physical education class daily. Today, less than 10 percent of children in the U.S. have physical education class each day.

After President Bill Clinton had emergency bypass heart surgery in 2004, his family asked the American Heart Association how they could assist their work. The answer? Supporting childhood obesity, a condition held by more than 1 in 5 U.S. schoolchildren. The foundation is supporting nearly 35,000 schools with healthy food options and other services.

Kevin Thurm, the acting chief executive officer of the organization, told Devex that the Clinton Foundation is “sustaining its work internationally,” as it also pursues domestic U.S. programming.

“We, as Chelsea talked about, with our international work, support or partner with the Clinton Health Access Initiative … among the other work we sustain is working with farmers in East Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania and Malawi,” he told Devex after the speech. “We have a balance of work with respect to the programs in the United States and we will sustain that perspective in the United States and internationally as we go forward. A mix of those programs may change slightly, but we will be in both places.”

There is also a focus on looking at “how we can have a bigger impact” on work in Haiti, the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership and the opioid epidemic in the U.S.

The driving question is, “How do we enhance the work we are doing?” he said.

In some cases that may mean determining that a foundation program is better off as an independent entity. Earlier this year, Mark Gunton, the CEO of the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership, told Devex that it will spin off to form an independent organization, a process which he said at the time should be completed by July 1. The foundation has spun off programs before, most notably the Clinton Health Access Initiative.

Yet much of Clinton’s focus seemed centered on the issues close to home.

Opioid deaths in the U.S. are on the rise, and most likely topped 59,000 last year. Clinton cited a new public health study that shows more than 500,000 Americans could die from opioid-related deaths within the next 20 years.

The Clinton Foundation is now partnering with schools to carry Naloxone, an antidote for people overdosing. The nasal spray can be administered without specialized training. This ongoing work, including decreasing stigma around drug addiction, could provide a basis for international programming, Clinton wrote in an op-ed this spring for the BBC.

“We are working with 24,000 high schools and we think that's a good starting point. It is not enough,” Clinton said.

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About the author

  • Amy Lieberman

    Amy Lieberman is the U.N. Correspondent for Devex. She covers the United Nations and reports on global development and politics. Amy previously worked as a freelance reporter, covering the environment, human rights, immigration, and health across the U.S. and in more than 10 countries, including Colombia, Mexico, Nepal, and Cambodia. Her coverage has appeared in the Guardian, the Atlantic, Slate, and the Los Angeles Times. A native New Yorker, Amy received her master’s degree in politics and government from Columbia’s School of Journalism.