Savannah, Ga.--Highlighting enormous impact that business owners can have, former President Bill Clinton challenged attendees of the 24th Inc. 500 Conference on Friday to apply classic American entrepreneurial know-how to broader social issues.
Speaking to a crowd of more than 1,000 at the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center, Clinton emphasized the entrepreneurial elements in everything from foreign aid to global warming and green technology, while promoting the rise of what he termed the social entrepreneurship movement.
Citing the growing influence of non-governmental organizations and private foundations, Clinton compelled business owners in the audience to use their hard-earned business acumen for the greater good.
"More than any time in history, because of the rise of democracy, the power of the Internet, and the sophistication and sheer numbers of the non-governmental organizations in rich and poor countries alike, private citizens have power to do public good," Clinton said.
During the speech, Clinton detailed the cost-savings techniques he has employed during global health initiatives run by the William J. Clinton Foundation and other humanitarian organizations.
"I try to run my foundation in an entrepreneurial way," Clinton said, noting that the organization initially struggled to find ways to effectively spend its humanitarian funds. As an example, Clinton cited his efforts to procure low cost HIV medication for citizens of the Bahamas.
"Essentially, they were running this business like a jewelry store," Clinton said of the Bahamian HIV drug program. "Basically, I invited them to go into the grocery business. I invited them to go for a high-volume, low-margin strategy." Clinton said his foundation's efforts enabled the Bahamas to receive the lowest prices for such medications in the world.
Clinton also highlighted his foundation's Urban Enterprise Initiative, which mentors inner-city entrepreneurs. About a dozen entrepreneurs from New York's Harlem neighborhood, where the foundation is based, also attended the conference.
While the speech was largely devoid of party politics, Clinton did lament the government's "stubborn refusal to deal with the challenge of global warming." Clinton also argued that environmentally friendly entrepreneurship will result in "greatest economic opportunity since at least the information the technology boom that powered so much of the growth during my presidency."
Although the former president's emphasis on social entrepreneurship came as little surprise to many business owners in the audience, others were taken aback by Clinton's environmental message.
"It was interesting that that the primary issue turned out to be the global warming issue and that terrorism is not as big of a threat in his view, which was pretty surprising," said Hans Hultgren of Evergreen, Colo.-based Loan.com. Hultrgren said he does not see the issue as the potential entrepreneurial windfall that Clinton predicted.
"The issue really rang true form a social responsibility aspect," Hultrgen said of Clinton's words on the environment and entrepreneurship. "I wasn't seeing the goldmine in it. I was seeing it as the right thing to do."
Jermaine Williamson, of Blue Bell, Penn.-based Empyrean Management Group, said Clinton's message of social entrepreneurship struck a chord with him.
"I think what he's doing is fantastic and amazing in regards to reaching out to under developed countries and offering assistance," Williamson said. "It's definitely something that's opened my eyes."