Bill Clinton has a message to all those autocrats, petro-billionaires, compromised television journalists, and corporate titans who have been tied to a series of devastating exposes about the Clinton Foundation and its finances: I feel your pain. And we still need your money.
In a letter sent today to Clinton Foundation supporters, the former president writes, “As you all know, it’s the political season in America, so the purpose and impact of the efforts your support makes possible has largely been ignored in recent coverage of the Foundation. But we are and always have been a non-partisan, inclusive foundation with lots of support from and involvement by people across the political spectrum and governments from right to left, all committed to our creative solutions-centered work.”
Speculation has swirled around the Clinton Foundation in recent years about how the global philanthropy, which now ranks as one the nation’s largest in terms of annual fundraising, will continue to operate should Hillary Clinton win the presidency in 2016.
At times, the letter reads like a Clinton State of the Union speech of old, with him citing example after example of people who have been helped by the foundation’s work. One can almost imagine the “smallholder farmers in Africa” or the “women entrepreneurs in Latin America” or Wazia Chawala, a farmer and single mother in Tanzania participating in the Clinton Development Initiative’s Anchor Farm program standing up on the House balcony to receive applause.
The letter also comes as the foundation launches a public relations blitz to defend the work that it does. Hillary Clinton aides have been frustrated at the developing narrative about the foundation—one which largely ignores the work the charity does to combat global poverty. In recent days, a number of Clinton supporters, including Lady Lynn Forester de Rothschild and former New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, have spoken out publicly in defense of the foundation’s work.
Yesterday, President Clinton appeared before the United Nations to speak about the foundation’s role in improving global public health.
In the letter Clinton cites the work that the foundation has accomplished, including offering to 9.9 million people globally access to HIV/AIDS medicine, 16 million in kids in the U.S with access to healthier food, and 3,200 commitments orchestrated by the Clinton Global Initiative “that have already improved 430 million lives in more than 180 countries.”
“That's the real story of the Clinton Foundation—people coming together across traditional divides to help others live up to their full potential,” Clinton continues. “We are grateful that you have been a part of it.”
The foundation has also been accused of mismanagement internally, with longtime Clinton family friends put on the organization’s payroll without clear duties, and it has been discovered that the organization has not properly filed the necessary tax paperwork with the federal government.
Next week, Donna Shalala, a former Clinton administration cabinet official, will take over as the group’s president. Along with her hiring, Clinton writes, “We will continue to look for ways to improve our reporting systems so that we can operate as accurately, efficiently and transparently as possible—a goal to which we have been committed to since day one.”
The full letter is below:
Chelsea and I recently returned from a trip to Africa where we saw the results of the work that you support through the Clinton Foundation. We make this trip almost every year to see the work our Foundation, the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI), and CGI partners do, and the people we're able to help.
As you all know, it’s the political season in America, so the purpose and impact of the efforts your support makes possible has largely been ignored in recent coverage of the Foundation. But we are and always have been a non-partisan, inclusive foundation with lots of support from and involvement by people across the political spectrum and governments from right to left, all committed to our creative solutions-centered work. That's why I am writing to you and our hundreds of thousands of other supporters in the U.S. and around the world to let you know how grateful I am for your support, and for our staff and our partners, and how determined I am that our work will continue.
Next week, Donna Shalala will join the Foundation as President and CEO. She will inherit a senior leadership who have years of experience in the NGO and private sectors, and a talented, dedicated, diverse staff, all deeply committed to keep doing the kind of inspiring work we saw in Africa. We will also continue to look for ways to improve our reporting systems so that we can operate as accurately, efficiently, and transparently as possible – a goal to which we have been committed since day one.
I started the Clinton Foundation when I left the White House to continue working on issues I had long cared about, where I believed I could still make an impact. I grew up believing that if I worked hard enough I could build a rewarding life, and entered public service to create more opportunities for others and to empower them to seize those opportunities – or as we say, to have better life stories. That same purpose has driven our work at the Clinton Foundation – whether we’re helping smallholder farmers in Africa increase their yields or supporting women entrepreneurs in Latin America as they build better lives for their families.
From the very beginning, the Clinton Foundation has intentionally taken a different approach to addressing global challenges. Except to spur recovery in the aftermath of disasters like the South Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and, over a longer period, in Haiti, we don’t primarily make grants to other organizations. Instead, we implement and organize projects ourselves by bringing partners together, including governments, businesses, labor unions, philanthropies, other NGOs, and the people we’re trying to help, and join them on the ground to solve problems faster, better, and at lower cost. We strive for innovative approaches to problem solving that are sustainable and yield strong results. With each of our initiatives, we try both to change lives today and offer a model for meaningful and replicable future action. The best way to do that usually starts with forming inclusive networks of all stakeholders. We incorporate data and metrics into the Foundation’s work and encourage others to help scale-up or replicate our successful projects wherever they can touch more lives.
My work with the Clinton Foundation over the past 14 years has been one of the most rewarding endeavors of my life, as every day I see how, with your support, our programs change lives. While in Africa, I met many of the people we’re helping build better futures, provide for their families, and strengthen their communities. Their lives tell the real stories of the Clinton Foundation, and they are worth hearing.
In Tanzania, I visited Wazia Chawala. She is a farmer and a single mother raising seven children. She is also one of 85,000 people in Tanzania, Malawi, and Rwanda participating in our Clinton Development Initiative’s Anchor Farm program. The program operates commercial farms and partners with local smallholder farmers to provide them with access to high-quality, low-cost seed and fertilizer, training in improved agricultural techniques, and transportation to market. Participants have more than doubled their yields on average, increased their incomes by even greater margins, and dramatically improved their quality of life. When I met Wazia, she told me how her increased productivity has helped her improve her home and keep her seven children in school. She is forging her own path out of poverty with a system that is life-changing, sustainable, and replicable. What is working for 85,000 farmers could work for millions.
In Tanzania, I also visited a dispensary run by CHAI that is helping to make life-saving vaccines more affordable and readily available to people in rural areas, where 70 percent of the country's people live. In addition to negotiating price reductions for the pneumonia and rotavirus vaccines, CHAI is using innovative solar-powered refrigerators to preserve the vaccines – which are only effective when stored in cool temperatures – in the remote areas of the country that lack electricity. I met with several mothers who have had their children vaccinated through the program, which is saving 11,000 lives annually, including one woman who walked twelve miles to get her baby vaccinated for the first time. Stories like that are why I started this work, and why I am more committed than ever to continuing it.
As I often say, there can be a big difference between the headlines and the trend lines. We mostly hear about the headlines – but the trend lines can tell us more about what is happening in most people's lives. When I look at what the Foundation has accomplished over the last 14 years, I believe we are helping to move the trend lines in the right direction. 9.9 million people in more than 70 countries now have access to low-cost, life-saving HIV/AIDS medicines through the Clinton Health Access Initiative; 16 million kids in more than 28,000 schools in the U.S. now have healthier food and more physical activity options; and members of the Clinton Global Initiative have made 3,200 commitments that have already improved 430 million lives in more than 180 countries.
That's the real story of the Clinton Foundation – people coming together across traditional divides to help others live up to their full potential. We are grateful that you have been a part of it.
We’ll keep trying to reach our goals faster, better, and in the most cost-effective way. Well continue to strive for accuracy and transparency and, most important, keep working on the mission and measuring our progress every step of the way. That commitment to impact, innovation, and efficiency is what you expect from us, and what we want to deliver for years to come.
Thank you for your support of the Clinton Foundation. Together, we can build a future we can all be proud to share.
I encourage you to visit clintonfoundation.org/our-work to learn more about the way the Clinton Foundation works and our life-changing programs around the world.