Clinton Global Initiative scales back on programs

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton Global Initiative annual meeting has been discontinued and some of its other high-visibility operations have been scaled back, but at least one key event will continue, Clinton Foundation officials say.

Reports that the initiative is shutting down completely are inaccurate, according to foundation spokesman Brian Cookstra.

"The Clinton Global Initiative continues its work. This fall, we will hold our tenth CGI University meeting, and we plan to announce details on this meeting soon. In addition, CGI staff continue to support ongoing commitments to action that are making a difference in the lives of millions of people around the world," he said in a written statement.

The foundation, which oversees both programs, plans to announce the date and location later this week for CGI University 2017.

The three-day gatherings attract students from the United States and around the world.

More than 1,000 student leaders are expected to attend this year's meeting, and they'll discuss climate change, the environment, education, public health, poverty, peace and human rights.

Students make commitments to complete specific projects aimed at addressing one of the areas. They also spend one day completing a community service project.

Sixty schools, including the University of Arkansas and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, are members of the CGI University Network, sending students to the events and participating in its programs.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton announced last summer, in the midst of the presidential campaign in which his wife was a candidate, that the initiative would be scaling back considerably. The marquee event, which attracted world leaders to Manhattan, N.Y., was eliminated, and dozens of employees learned they would be laid off in the coming months.

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Clinton also closed CGI America, an annual meeting that focused on promoting a stronger economy in the United States.

But the program for students remained one of his priorities.

In an open letter to supporters in August, he wrote: "I hope and believe we can and should preserve CGI University (CGI U), our meeting that brings university students together to develop innovative solutions to important challenges in the U.S. and around the world."

Since then, CGI's staff has shrunk considerably, with many employees taking other jobs or being reassigned to other Clinton Foundation positions.

The downsizing is continuing as the initiative wraps up some of its signature programs.

Earlier this month, the Clinton Foundation informed the New York Department of Labor that it would be laying off 22 employees effective April 15.

Although the department's website refers to the "discontinuation of the Clinton Global Initiative," it's only a portion of the programs that is being discontinued, foundation officials say.

Reports that CGI University will continue are good news, Arkansans with ties to the organization say.

"I'm ecstatic. ... To me that's great news," said Brandon Mathews, 25, a University of Arkansas graduate and Little Rock resident who attended the event in 2013.

"I found it to be incredible. I was blown away by the magnitude of it," the Arkansas Foodbank major gifts officer said.

John Kester, who earned a doctorate in Arkansas in 2015, said CGI University gives students the opportunity to meet astronauts and Nobel Prize recipients as well as world-renowned comedians, including Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Conan O'Brien.

Clinton; his wife, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and presidential candidate; and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton are active participants each year, Kester said.

The 29-year-old Fayetteville resident attended the event five times and gives it high marks.

"I always left inspired and empowered," he said.

A Section on 01/26/2017

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