Clinton Global Initiative to make all commitments public

Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, daughter Chelsea Clinton and former U.S. President Bill Clinton on stage during the Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting in 2011. CGI announced Friday that it will be publishing all of its previously undisclosed, or private, commitments and that going forward all new commitments will be public. Photo by: U.S. State Department

The Clinton Global Initiative, part of the Clinton Foundation, has announced it will publish all of its previously undisclosed, or private, commitments and that all future commitments will be made public.

The policy change, announced Friday in a letter to CGI members and shared with Devex in advance, is part of an ongoing effort to improve effectiveness through learning and measurement, according to CGI leaders.

CGI has hosted or helped to broker 3,400 commitments, which are pledges made by corporations, nonprofit organizations, and governments to address major global challenges. About 90 percent of commitments are publicly listed on the initiative’s website. Most of the 300-plus previously unlisted commitments that will be disclosed as a result of this policy change are from individuals who asked to keep them private, or they represent pledges that failed to achieve their goals.

Some of those commitments are from CGI’s early days, when members were perhaps less comfortable with how commitments worked or were inclined to use them as a channel for philanthropic donations they preferred to keep private, said Elsa Palanza, CGI’s director of commitments.

“We believe that this practice [of making commitments public] will help to encourage our community to learn and adapt and to reflect on what’s worked and what hasn’t,” Palanza wrote in the letter.

CGI has been working on metrics and measurement since its inception a decade ago, eager to show its role has added impact and that the partnerships enshrined in commitments wouldn’t have just happened anyway. This latest announcement is part of that ongoing evolution, Ed Hughes, deputy director of CGI, told Devex.

Back in the early days of CGI — in 2004 or 2005, for example — it collected less information on new commitments, just enough to fill an index card with basic information about what the commitment proposed to do. Today, new commitments are documented in a lengthy form, which adds up to about 24 pages with its extensive appendix of suggested metrics for measurement, Hughes said.*

The new data will give CGI’s staff, partners and the development community at large a chance to ask why some commitments and partnerships did not work out. CGI sees this as a chance to share lessons, prevent future failures, and examine how they might better communicate common problems before they occur, Palanza said.

Roughly 6 percent of all CGI commitments have failed, according to information collected by CGI from commitment-makers. While CGI officials didn’t say how many of the commitments that will be made public have failed, they plan to release a report that will look to draw lessons from failed commitments along with the release of the data.

The policy change comes during a contentious U.S. primary election, in which former secretary of state and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has faced questions about transparency, some of which relate directly to the Clinton Foundation.

But CGI has been planning to release the unreported commitments since its 2014 portfolio review and has been working on it for the last several months — a process which has involved reaching out to former commitment members to secure their approval, Hughes said.

As to whether the timing of this decision was influenced by Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid and the heightened political pressure to disclose details, from tax records, to emails, to speech transcripts, Hughes said, not directly.

“But I think we are cognizant that the more we can disclose, the better off we are in terms of general environment,” he said.

Devex will continue to cover the work of the Clinton Global Initiative and will share our findings about the commitment data.

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*Update, April 29, 2016: This article was updated based on a correction from CGI to clarify that current documentation totals 24 pages.

About the author

  • Adva Saldinger

    Adva Saldinger is an Associate Editor at Devex, where she covers the intersection of business and international development, as well as U.S. foreign aid policy. From partnerships to trade and social entrepreneurship to impact investing, Adva explores the role the private sector and private capital play in development. A journalist with more than 10 years of experience, she has worked at several newspapers in the U.S. and lived in both Ghana and South Africa.