Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Sheraton Midtown Hotel
New York City
September 22, 2011

PRESIDENT CLINTON: That’s great. Let’s give them all another hand, that’s terrific. (Applause.) We are now going to proceed to have a conversation between the Secretary of State and her daughter. (Laughter.)

And let me say, I am very grateful for all of those who participated in this Clean Cookstove announcement. Because all along, the premise of CGI has been that the private sector, the NGOs, the philanthropists, the grassroots organizations should be working with government to try to reinforce the strengths of all.

And I’m very proud of the fact that Hillary has spent a lifetime as virtually a self-generated NGO before she got into public life, and so I think that the work she’s done as Secretary of State has served to reinforce this. And in a difficult budget period, I think the American people sometimes don’t sufficiently appreciate just how much good can be done in making a world with more friends and fewer adversaries with the spending of just a little money that amplifies all the efforts that all the rest of you are making.

So with that, I would like to introduce what, until 14 months ago, was two-thirds of my family, when I acquired a son-in-law, who is also here. And I want to thank him for giving me even odds for the first time in three decades. (Laughter.) And I hope you enjoy the conversation. Thank you very much. (Applause.)

MS. CLINTON: Well, thank you, Dad, and thank you all for joining us this afternoon. A particular thank you to my mother, who trekked across mid-town in what we all know is unenviable traffic. And I think we should just start where Dad left off, in talking about what in the 21st century is the appropriate role of government and what is the appropriate role of civil society. What can and should government do and what can and should civil society do?

And I think it would be really a good starting place if you could articulate for us what you did last week in San Francisco in laying out your vision for participation age as a metaphor for how we should do that moving forward.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first, I’m delighted to be back here at CGI. It’s somewhat maddening to be on the other side of town, going to the United Nations General Assembly and not be able to participate as much as I would like. So, I thank Bill and Chelsea for giving me this opportunity to come and see a lot of familiar faces, to thank CGI, to celebrate the accomplishments of the work we’ve done in just one year for the alliance, the Global Alliance for Cookstoves.

But I am really pleased that I have this chance to talk about some of the trends and the forces at work that we deal with all the time from the perspective of the United States Government, from multilateral organizations such as the UN, where I am this week, and last week at an event for APEC, the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization, that brings together countries on both the western and the eastern sides of the Pacific to further economic integration. I talked specifically about including more women in economic growth, because when you liberate women’s economic potential, you elevate the economic growth of nations and indeed regions in the world.

And in thinking about it, it struck me that we really are in a new age. We are in the age of participation. It is inevitable. It is linked to the Arab Spring; it is linked to what we are doing today. Through technology, the voices of everyone can be now, at least registered, if not heard. And the challenge, not only for governments, but for businesses and for NGOs, is to figure out how to be responsive, to help catalyze, unleash, channel the kind of participatory eagerness that is there.

And for me, certainly, including those who have historically been marginalized, like women, like people whose voices have been dismissed because of the ethnic, or the religious, or the tribal, or any other background that defined them in the eyes of majority – majorities in their societies, then our task is made both more challenging but ultimately more rewarding.

So part of what I do now as Secretary – as your Secretary of State, for the Americans who are here, and working with every other country that is represented in this CGI plenary, is to look for ways that we maximize the positive impact that governments can have, while at the same time forming partnerships on a level like the Global Alliance or – this morning I co-chaired a new group, along with the Turkish foreign minister, to focus on best practices to counter terrorism and to look for more effective ways at ending radicalization and extremism.

Because people are going to participate. They’re either going to participate positively or negatively. We’re either going to get the benefits of their talents, or we’re going to lose out on them. And I want to see us moving toward a world when we do try to maximize the God-given potential of every person. It’s a lofty goal, but I think it’s a good organizing principle to guide us. And it puts a lot more strains and presents a lot more challenges to governments, but we have to be up to it, and we have to try to figure out how to make this existing trend into one that produces positive results.

MS. CLINTON: And, since you mentioned the Arab Spring, thinking about one of our most iconic moments of participation this year – Tahrir Square – and then thinking about today, we reopened our Embassy in Tripoli. Could you talk a little about sort of what happened from the beginning of the year to today, and where you see us as a global community moving forward, and what you think the role of United States is to support that movement as appropriate?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ve spent a lot of my time on this particular question and all that is related to it. And, as Chelsea said, we did raise our flag again in Tripoli – our prior Embassy was destroyed, but we found a new place to put up the flagpole, and we’re very proud to do that. And it is a great affirmation of the extraordinary courage and resilience of the Libyan people to try to take hold of their own futures. And earlier today, I signed an agreement of economic participation and support with the Tunisian foreign minister. And I have to urge people in the audience to really pay attention to Tunisia, which has a terrific opportunity, holding elections in October, to really manage this transition successfully.

So, I think it’s fair to say that, certainly, many people knew that at some point there had to be a collision between repressive, autocratic regimes, and people’s aspirations and their universal right to freedom, dignity, to be heard. I don’t know anyone who predicted it. I gave a speech in early January in Doha, where I said that the foundations of the governments in the region were sinking into the sand, because in this participation age, people were not going to be ignored. They were not going to be repressed; their voices were going to be heard. It would either be done peacefully, or it would be taken with a struggle that eventually would lead to a new future, unpredictable as to the outcome.

In Libya, itself, what was so remarkable about that particular revolution, is that after 42 years of Qadhafi’s rule and the demonstrations that began in Tripoli and Benghazi and Misrata, Qadhafi was determined to crush them, as we see happening in Syria today, with Asad’s regime. And he was very threatening in his language. He called his own people cockroaches and rats; he said they would be hunted down and destroyed. And it was a moment for decision, but it was also a moment for caution because no one was quite sure the best way to respond to what was getting ready to happen, which I am absolutely convinced would have been a very serious loss of life. Some have even posited a massacre in Benghazi.

What happened then was remarkable. It was the Arab League that asked for intervention, something that had never happened before. The United Nations passed, first, one resolution and then another. And I have to just underscore how critically important it was for the United Nations to say we cannot let this happen – and they didn’t need to add “again,” because there were those who remembered when the international community did not intervene and we saw Rwanda; we saw Srebrenica. And then we put together this coalition of NATO and of Arab League members. That may be one of the most historically significant developments during the Arab Spring.

And it wasn’t just a coalition in name. We had NATO members who helped to install a no-fly zone. Of course, the United States played an absolutely essential role. We have more assets; we have more experience. But then when it became clear we had to do more to protect civilians, it was both NATO members, European and Canadian, along with Arab, who were flying missions, who were there in the midst of the fight.

So we have seen the rebellion successfully liberate Benghazi to Tripoli. Today, we got word that a major city in the south, Sabha, was also liberated. And we are turning our attention to work with the Transitional National Council to help them understand what it means to run a government, because, as you know, Qadhafi had destroyed the institutions. But it’s been a very rewarding and very satisfying kind of partnership.

I will hasten to add, I cannot, sitting here today, tell you what Libya’s going to look like in one year, five years, ten years. I can’t tell you the same about Egypt. I can’t tell you about Tunisia. I don’t know. But what I do know is that we’ve made the right decision to support the aspirations of people and to do so in a way that recognizes and respects their right to have a government that is based on participation and which, hopefully, will make the right decisions to maximize prosperity and opportunity for people in the future.

MS. CLINTON: And do you think that new dynamic of partnership between different multilateral organizations will precipitate a new norm of cooperation in the future, when confronting similar situations?

SECRETARY CLINTON: I hope so. I mean this was – I mean, we have a lot of regional cooperation on many issues, but this was unique. I’m not yet sure how replicable it is, because every situation is different. You may have noticed we can’t get a resolution condemning Syria out of the Security Council, but we’re still working on it. But I think that regional organizations have to serve as the base of both articulating and enforcing a rules-based order.

I’ll give you another example. We have put a lot of energy into our relations in the Asia Pacific. Fairly or not, there was a feeling at the beginning of the Obama Administration that the United States was receding from Asia. And that was certainly not what we thought should happen, so I made my first trip there. The President’s been there. We’ve worked very hard to make clear that the United States is both a Pacific and an Atlantic power.

But I also thought it was important for us to embed ourselves in the regional organizations that are working to help set the norms in the Asia Pacific region. So ASEAN – the Association of Southeast Asian Nations – we decided to sign the treaty to become a more active member. We have just joined something called the East Asia Summit, and President Obama will travel to Indonesia as the first American president to be there.

Now why is that important? Well, because the Asian economies are growing very quickly, as we all know. But we also have to be sure that nothing undermines the balance within the region so that the South China Sea, for example, stays open for commerce and navigation, that countries are able to exploit their own economic zones for potential economic benefits, like drilling for oil or gas.

Similarly in the Arctic, I decided we’d be an active member of the Arctic Council. Even though it had been an idea that we supported, we were not very fully participating again. And I went to Greenland. Why? Because unfortunately, with global warming, the Arctic is going to be open for transit much more during the year than it ever has been before. There’s going to be drilling, there’s going to be exploration. The United States needs to be at the table as those decisions are made, and we can’t do it if we’re not participating.

So kind of rounding back to Chelsea’s first question, participation is not just about individuals and citizens; it also is about governments, it’s about regional and international organizations, it’s about finding the best ideas and the best practices, and it’s about trying to enforce a rules-based order in a very challenging time in the world.

MS. CLINTON: Well, staying in Asia and kind of turning to someone who’s been trying to participate in her government for a very long time, those of us who were here yesterday morning had the incredible privilege of seeing Aung San Suu Kyi give her first public interview since she was released from house arrest late last year.

And in response to something Archbishop Tutu said, she said that democracy, though a Western word, was not a Western ideal, that the ideal of having a balance between security and freedom was something that everyone wants. And I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the role of democracy in Asia, in the Middle East, and in places where there is not yet a democracy in any way that we as Americans would tend to recognize.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I heard about Aung San Suu Kyi’s interview, and she is someone whom I admire greatly, and I’m sure all of you had a similar feeling when she finished speaking to you. And I particularly liked what she said, because she’s right. I mean, democracy goes back to Demos, it goes back to ancient Athens, it is an idea and a word, certainly, that was developed throughout Western civilization, but it does not in any way confine itself in its underlying values to any culture. It is a universal idea. All of the Declaration of Human Rights embodied in the – one of the founding documents of the United Nations makes that very clear. So I’ve always believed that freedom of speech, freedom of religion, all of the freedoms that we think are part of a true functioning democracy are the province and the right of everyone.

Having said that, there are different ways of defining and structuring and institutionalizing a democracy, and it is important for us to be conscious of the need to promote democracy and freedom but the humility to recognize that different countries have different backgrounds, different cultures, different histories. It’s also important that we make very clear, democracy is not just elections. That was an idea that began to be kind of hidden behind where groups of people said, well, we had an election, and in fact some people define democracy as one election one time, and then their side gets in and then there’s no more democracy.

So part of our challenge is to embed democratic ideals and democratic institutions and values into the cultures that are still seeking to maximize participation. We see some very vigorous democracies around the world, including in Asia. We see other countries experimenting with various forms of democratic activities like local elections and opening up more to the internet, more freedom of expression or assembly. But this is a long-term project for the world’s people, and it’s not just, again, a governmental imperative. And the only other point I would make is democracy is hard, it doesn’t seem to get any easier, it is often not very efficient, as we certainly have seen in our own country in recent times. And so how do we keep focused on and committed to and participating in our own democracies when all too often, it’s messy, it’s not something that seems to work as well as you wish it would?

And I don’t think there is any easy answer to this. I spend a lot of my time with people from very different backgrounds who come to the table with me with a really – an approach toward problems we’re talking about that is totally at variance with where I’m starting. And I have to remind myself there’s a reason for that. People see the world differently. Well, in a democracy, where you can vote and you can run and you can serve, people see the world differently, too. So part of our challenge is how do we improve the functioning of the existing democracies, how do we plant the seeds – and then nurture them – of democracy in countries, particularly those in transitions, and how do we continue to make the case that despite the inefficiencies, despite all the other problems, there truly isn’t any better way for people to maximize their own God-given potential?

So it’s a big order, but I think we’ve righted the argument so that, as Aung San Suu Kyi said, yes, it’s a Western word, but it reflects universal aspirations and rights, and therefore, people everywhere should be able to work toward its realization, and the United States, as the oldest existing democracy, should be working to help people achieve that.

MS. CLINTON: I’d like to go back to technology, partly because, as your daughter, I remember when I helped you send your first text message.



SECRETARY CLINTON: That wasn’t very long ago, I have to tell you.

MS. CLINTON: And I also remember, even before you became so identified for your vigorous support of, kind of, the internet and social media as a way for people to participate virtually, when you were first emailing, you would self-identify as Techno Mom.


MS. CLINTON: So you clearly have an affinity in our own family for technology, but also sort of in our global community. So in what way do you think technology can help people not only participate in the world in which they find themselves today but also to build the world that they want to see for their tomorrow?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean, Chelsea’s being much too kind and gentle, because both Bill and I – I mean, if you don’t tell anybody, I’ll tell you, we are primitive. (Laughter.)

MS. CLINTON: My father still refers to the internet as the World Wide Web.

SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) We are. We are, unfortunately, somewhat of a different generation. But I think technology is a tool. It’s no better or worse than any tool. It depends upon how it’s used, what its ends are meant to be, who is manipulating it. And in the work that I do in the State Department, one of the commitments we made early on was that we were going to dive head-first into technology, particularly social connective means of getting people the tools and the access that they require to communicate for all kinds of purposes, some of which we knew of and others we didn’t. And so we now train people to be able to use technology to get around efforts by governments to block them. We have all kinds of ways of helping to break embargoes, open up the internet again for people.

So we are absolutely committed to this as a part of what we call 21st Century Statecraft. But I will say to you that with the opening of communication, we’ve seen some very positive developments by governments using e-government tools to try to attack corruption. I mean, if you can go online and register your business or get your driver’s license, you don’t have to pay off so many people who are standing in line to give you the privilege of opening a business or having a license. So we’ve seen governments doing more on e-commerce, we’ve seen them doing more on mobile technology for agriculture and health. So we’ve seen governments really understand the potential for positive interactions and service delivery with their own people.

And at the same time, we’ve seen governments engage in brutally repressive actions on the internet to shut it down, to track people down, to target people, to strip information off of it so that it can’t be broadly available. We’re in a race, and we rely heavily on the experts and technology – those who are not only constantly inventing new products, but who are helping us try to stay one step ahead of the repressive use of technology or the repression of those who are engaged in it for political purposes or even just for expression.

I mean, some countries imprison bloggers who talk about music or art because they consider it to be subversive. Some countries are deathly afraid of having sites like Facebook because of what they saw happen in Tahrir Square. So we just have to be aware that as important a contribution as technology has made, there are people trying to use it against freedom of expression, against participation. And like any other struggle we’ve had over the last 235 years, we just have to keep trying to outsmart those who are on the wrong side of history and on the wrong side of freedom.

MS. CLINTON: One of the things that we’ve been talking a lot about at CGI is sustainable consumption, particularly as we approach 7 billion, how we think about sort of more equitably distributing a finite amount of resources among a growing denominator of people. And I know you are an inveterate recycler at home and clearly have been a strong supporter of the United States’s engagement in all of the climate change talks. How do you think about balancing responding to the crisis of the day – and you’ve had plenty – with kind of continuing the dialogue on the longer-horizon challenges that we face?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, that’s one of the most important questions that I face every day. I mean, I think if you look at what comes across my desk, there’s the urgent, there’s the important, and then there’s the long term. And sometimes –

MS. CLINTON: What’s the difference between the urgent and the important?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ll tell you, for example, if you get a call that an embassy is under attack, that’s urgent. (Laughter.) If you get a call that the decision by a governing authority in a country is to move toward shutting off NGOs, that’s important, but if --

MS. CLINTON: Shutting down the internet?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Shutting down the internet. If you get a call that, once again, we’re not making the progress we should make in the climate change talks, well, that’s probably all three, but it has for most people longer-term implications about sustainability. And there are – and there’s lots of overlap, too, so it’s not an easy categorization.

But we struggle because we’re living in a world of instantaneous communication, and people want reactions to everything right away, and you have to be responsive. And people are tied up in all the work that has to be done just to be responsive. And at the same time, you see all these trend lines. Your father often says there’s a difference between headlines and trend lines. We know what the headlines are, but oftentimes the trend lines, like we’re moving toward 7 billion people much earlier than we thought, that’s buried in a small piece somewhere that you may or may not even run across.

So trying to merge the headlines and the trend lines and to have enough brain power, whether it’s in the private sector with the pressure on quarterly returns, or it’s in the public sector, to have enough brain power focused on the longer-term, the trend lines, is a constant struggle. We see research being cut in the public sector and in the private sector. America has always been a leader in research. We don’t know always what it’s going to produce, but we know, for sure, that if we don’t do it, we’re not going to get anything. And there are so many short-term decisions that are made, some of them by necessity – you just have to respond – but some of them by choice. We just keep putting things off, and climate change is a perfect example of that.

MS. CLINTON: You talk about how you kind of navigate in triage what’s urgent versus what’s important. Are there any trends kind of beyond climate change that have gotten buried that you would like to elevate and talk about so that it’s more kind of top of mind for those of us at least in this room?

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I’ll just – I’ll mentioned three really quickly, because there are more, obviously, but food security – the world has got to produce more food. That’s a climate change problem, that is a government policy problem, that is an investment and research problem. But however one defines the problem, the fact is we’re not producing enough food, and we’re not getting enough food to be readily available at an affordable price in enough places where there are food shortages. And a lot of the food isn’t nutrient-rich enough, so that we have the double problem – we don’t have enough food and a lot of what we have is not nutritious enough to keep kids healthy, get them to develop well. And we know that’s an issue. We are working on that.

In our government, we have a new initiative that President Obama announced that we worked on and led in the State Department and USAID called Feed the Future. And two years ago, I talked about that here at CGI. And we now have a much bigger coalition of other countries.

And we – take the famine in the Horn of Africa. We have, yes, a drought. We have, yes, conflict, particularly in Somalia, and we have an organization called al-Shabaab that won’t let starving people get access to food. So it’s a problem that has real world implications right now and then longer-term ones.

Secondly, we have a great challenge when it comes to health surveillance. You know more about this than I do, Chels, but being – keeping up with new diseases – and it’s not just because of this movie Contagion – it’s something we worry a lot about. There are all --

MS. CLINTON: Those of us in the public health community are grateful for the movie Contagion.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Yeah, well, you might – I wish you’d say something about that because this is a big deal problem. There’s lots of germs and other kinds of deadly viruses of all sorts that are flooding across borders, our modern world, we move from place to place. It is a challenge. We had the flu, the swine flu variant just last year. That’s a long-term problem. We’re not doing enough. We don’t have enough countries that have built up their own capacity.

And then finally, I guess, another trend line is something that I’m particularly devoted to, and that’s women’s participation. It’s moving; it’s not moving fast enough. There are lots of backlashes and setbacks. The 21st century really is the time to see women move into their full participation.

But maybe you could say something about that second, because this has been an area of your particular interest.

MS. CLINTON: Sure. Well, I think what you talked about with women’s participation relates to one and two. In your – I learned a lot from your speech last week, but one of the things that I have not been able to sort of psychologically digest is that if women farmers around the world were as productive as their male counterparts, and currently they’re not as productive, not because of lack of effort or a lack of skills, but largely because of a lack of resources – insufficient access to fertilizer, insufficient access to seed. The access they have to seed, it’s often the lower-quality seed. Often this is exacerbated by the fact that they spend a lot of time at home cooking, because they’ve not yet gotten access to the clean cookstoves. And that if women farmers around the world were as productive as their male counterparts, we would be able to feed, in a nutritionally sensible way, 150 million more people, which is just shocking. And as we not only approach 7 billion, but gallop pretty quickly towards 8 and 9 billion, that’s something we all should be more focused on. And then to the point about surveillance, I think this also really relates to women. There are a lot of amazing programs in the world that rely on technology, particularly cell phone technology, to enable women to report, and to nationally standardize numbers, symptoms that they’re seeing in their children. And that, by far, is the best leading indicator of many diseases that start in children in our most vulnerable populations, but quickly indeed become contagious. So I’m grateful you brought that up.

Moving quickly, though, to a headline that certainly has dominated a lot of the coverage today, the global markets have suffered devastating losses from Asia to just downtown here in New York City. You have been an incredibly articulate – and yes, I am unabashedly biased – advocate for those of us who are committed to civil society, being tuned in not only what’s happening in our governments but also what’s happening in our macroeconomic environment. It would be great to hear you talk a little about that.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I mean, there are many people in this audience who know so much more about this than I ever will. But, I mean, we do see a lack of understanding and involvement in a lot of these economic issues in, shall I say, an evidence-based way because there are a lot of opinions that are totally untethered to facts. And I think the more that we could create an economically literate citizenry, not only in our country but elsewhere, the more you could perhaps see decisions being made in both the public and the private sector that were reflective of the kinds of choices and the right choices that lie ahead of us.

We are very worried in our government, as you, I’m sure, know, about Europe. We’re still worried about growth in our own country. We’re worried about the potential impact in the consuming countries like ours, but also in poor countries, because contagion is not just a health term; it’s also an economic term. And how we begin to think through and act in ways that are, honestly, politically difficult – and it’s not just here but Europe and elsewhere – these are politically difficult issues. We need a stronger voice coming from the private sector and civil society to support political leaders. And media often is driven by the most alarmist information, the most outrageous or certainly strongest voice, whether it’s based in evidence or not. And therefore, we need more educated people and more people willing to speak out in ways that will help us navigate through this current economic crisis.

I have no doubt that the United States and our resilience and our ability to rebound is absolute. But I also know that the slowdown in growth has real consequences for people. It’s not just unemployment, but it’s incredible pressure on those who remain employed but may not be able to get ahead. I saw a recent statistic that one-third of the people born into the middle class in the United States in the last generation have fallen out of it in the last eight years. So we have a lot to do together, and I would make the plea for more people with knowledge and more people willing to be educated to not stand on the sidelines and shrug or throw a shoe at the TV when the political discussions take place but to try to –

MS. CLINTON: Participate.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Try to participate, to play a productive role, and that goes full circle to what I believe is an age of participation whether we like it or not. I’m just calling on people who have educated opinions, who have a voice that should be heard, to participate and not just leave it to those who are – maybe have an axe to grind or a commercial or an ideological agenda to push, or are just not well-informed, because that doesn’t lead in a democracy or anywhere else to the best decisions.

MS. CLINTON: Well, thank you Mom. I’m, once again grateful that you’re my mom and my Secretary of State.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you, everyone.

MS. CLINTON: Thank you all. (Applause.)