Bill Clinton: Financial Crisis Is 'Cramping' Charity

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At the University of Texas in Austin this weekend, former President Bill Clinton will bring together a diverse group of luminaries to help address some of the most daunting challenges of the age: education, climate change, poverty and global health.

It's a three-day conference put on by the Clinton Global Initiative. This year, about 80 university presidents, political activists and celebrities like Matthew McConaughey and Natalie Portman are expected to attend.

In an interview with NPR, Clinton says that so far this year, the initiative has more than 1,000 commitments from students to engage in activities related to education, health care, poverty, human rights and energy. One student organized a way to capture grease at student dining halls to make biodiesel fuel to use in small cars and lawn mowers on the campus. Clinton also says he has commitments from about 75 universities and national youth organizations.

But Clinton says what is "cramping" the initiative is the global financial crisis. He said because the world has lost trillions of dollars in wealth in the last five months that means those who contribute to charitable causes are giving less.

"I think all of us will have to go back to the drawing boards and broaden our donor bases and be competitive with smaller grants," Clinton tells NPR's Robert Siegel.

When Hillary Clinton was appointed Obama's secretary of state, Bill Clinton agreed that his initiative wouldn't solicit foreign governments and would run its international donations through the State Department ethics office. But he said he would have done those things on his own because of her position.

"The agreement I made with the Obama administration, I thought, was a very sound agreement," Clinton says. "It just requires us to be more transparent. And to make sure we vet anything that we have even the remotest question about so there can be no question of the appearance of anything wrong."

With Obama in office, Clinton says he hopes that the government will do more in the area of foreign assistance. With more money, organizations like Clinton's can target their efforts to help create infrastructures, such as health care systems.

"The greater activity that I hope will come out of the Obama administration, out of the state departments overseas, should create more opportunities for people to try to fill in the gaps as citizens," he says.

As for Obama's first month in office, Clinton says, "I think he's off to a great start."

"He's got a good team; they're making the right decisions," Clinton says. "There are going to be some inevitable glitches as there were in the appointment process that he faced, that I faced. Those things just happen. The only advice that I have is to get up every day and keep thinking about the future, keep staying on your game plan, even as you respond to conditions.

"You have to realize you could work 24 hours a day and still leave work on the table. There has to be some time carved out for your family, your friends, for some balance in life, and he seems to be adapting to that very well. I think he's doing just fine without my advice, and he's off to a really good start and I think we all wish him well."

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