Home » Blog » Africa » Jehane’s dream… and Bill’s, too…

Jehane’s dream… and Bill’s, too…

Jehane Noujaim‘s dream for a global day where the world watches a film together, has blossomed into an amazingly ambitious idea – a global contest to find films, which will be showcased in a live television event and a Live Aid-like performance with global leaders and musicians. The event is scheduled for May 10, 2008. (More from this morning’s notes.)

Noujaim was certainly celebrated for her work on films like Control Room and Encounter Point, but not neccesarily widely known outside the artistic community. The TED prize has given her a chance to use the resources of a vastly larger network to accomplish this goal. The final prize recipient tonight comes to the prize from a very different background and situation – it’s hard to beat the rolodex of the 42nd president of the United States.

Bill Clinton starts his remarks by honoring his co-winners, mentioning that he’s worked – with some success and some failure – in the places where Nachtwey has worked, and has read with interest Wilson’s books, especially his recent book urging scientists and evangelicals to work together to preserve the planet.

Clinton tries to give us a perspective on “what it is I do.” He describes the world as “interdependent but insufficient”. He points out that the world is profoundly unequal, unstable and unsustainable, citing statistics on poverty, global health and concerns about terror and climate change.

His goal is a world that moves towards “integrated communities, locally, nationally, globally, with a shared sense of responsibility and a genuine sense of belonging.” He cites the shock of the terror attacks in the UK as a profound example of Britons who felt more disconnected than connected from their society.

“People like us, who are not in public office, have more power than at any other time in history,” he tells us. The power of the Internet means that “people of modest means can assemble vast sums of money and create public goods.” He points to the giving in the wake of the southeast Asian tsunami, where 30% of American households gave, half of them through the internet. He also points to the rise of NGOs, especially in China and India, giving power to otherwise dispersed individuals.

Clintons’s foundation works on these issues – alleviating poverty, fighting disease and climate change and bridging religious and cultural divides. He talks at length about one of the key tools to accomplish these goals – radically reducing pharmecutical prices. He talks about negotiations for the prices for AIDS drugs in the Carribean, where successive rounds of negotiation lowered the cost of treatment for an individual from $2500 to $500 to close to $100 per year. Some of this negotiation has focused on getting drugmakers to change their business model – “from a jewelrey store to a grocery store”, from low volume high margin, to high volume, low margin with guaranteed payments.

After “organizing” these markets, the next task is developing an infrastructure for medical service and drug delivery. Clinton offers his observation that incapacity is a larger problem than corruption. By building systems to deliver drugs and lowering costs, it’s realistic to talk about giving everyone who needs it treatment for AIDS.

The testbed for these efforts is Rwanda, where he’s working with Paul Farmer and his organization, Partners in Health. Their model involves paid community health workers who diagnose illnesses, provide training in health, sanitation, send out nutritional supplements and intervene in child health. The results have been amazing, so strong that they’ve inspired the Rwandan government to adopt the model nationwide. The system is very cost efficient – the estimate is that it could be covered with 5-6% of Rwanda’s GDP, rather than the 9-10% healthcare costs in most developing nations (and the 16% it costs in the US.)

Clinton has chosen Rwanda for a reason – it’s a very poor country, so if it can be done there, it can be done anywhere. But there’s another reason – “It’s a country that almost slaughtered itself out of existence” while “none of us, most of all me, did anything to help while they were destroying each other.” Clinton tells us that “they are so over it” and ready to move towards a future of reconcilliation, a focus on tomorrow and quality, sustainable healthcare. (I’m very glad to hear him acknowledge the consequences of his inaction years ago and the impact it had on that country, but my experiences there suggest it’s a long, long time before people will be “so over it.”)

His wish is that TED can help Rwanda have a sustainable health system – that the TED community can contribute to his work with Paul Farmer and others, and that this model will serve as a model for other poor countries.

The selection of President Clinton to receive the TED prize caused some controversy a few months back when it was announced. It’s not clear to me that TED’s involvement is going to fulfill President Clinton’s wish any more rapidly than it would have otherwise been accomplished by his existing initiative. If the TED prize allows more people from this community to be involved in that important work, it’s a good thing. But I confess some disappointment that we didn’t meet new, up and coming, inspiring figures like Cameron Sinclair and Jehane Noujaim through this year’s prize winners…

In general, I recommend checking my twinblogger Bruno Giussani’s blog to triangulate and get a fuller picture of the conference. This is a particular talk where it’s very much worthwhile checking his notes as well as mine, as we drew different things from President Clinton’s speech.