The Clinton Foundation has thrown its last Clinton Global Initiative, the star-studded conference on the margins of the United Nations annual General Assembly meeting. But the do-gooders, executives, heads of state, and other influencers who’ve flocked to the Clintons’ annual New York gabfest need not fear: There’s another conference happening in the same city in the same week and with a similar agenda. It’s even attracted a lot of the same people who’ve attended the Clinton event in the past, including Madeleine Albright, Cherie Blair, and George Soros.
The Clinton Global Initiative is being shut down by the foundation as part of a plan for “eliminating legitimate concerns about potential conflicts of interest” after Hillary Clinton became the Democratic nominee, Bill Clinton blogged on Aug. 22. Both the expiring Clinton enterprise and the up-and-coming Concordia Summit illustrate a deep truth of human nature: Famous people like to spend time around other famous people. Unfamous people also like to spend time around famous people. So if you can assemble a critical mass of famous people and keep them in one place for long enough, you have a chance of igniting a powerful chain reaction of fame and charity. Another example of successful ignition: the World Economic Forum, which overstuffs the Swiss ski village of Davos each January.
From the first Clinton Global Initiative meeting in 2005, it was no shock when people crowded the Clintons’ events. It’s more surprising that they’re turning out for the Concordia Summit, put on by a pair of near-nobodies. Co-founders Nicholas Logothetis, 28, and Matthew Swift, 30, became friends at Salisbury School, a boarding school in Connecticut, where they earned credit for taking over a campus burger joint. “They took it very seriously. It was a bustling business,” says Danielle Sinclair, the school’s communications director.
The school buddies moved on to Washington, where Logothetis went to George Washington University and Swift attended Georgetown. One year, Swift successfully bid at charity auctions for lunch dates with former Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and former Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar, both of whom were then teaching at Georgetown. Swift’s bids totaled less than $200. He brought along Logothetis. “They mentored us. It was the support of people like them that gave us some validation,” Swift says. “Also, we’re really annoying,” Logothetis adds.
With the two former world leaders as bait, Swift and Logothetis were able to reel in other A-list and B-list political types in 2011 for their first Concordia Summit—taking its name from the Roman goddess of harmony. Bill Clinton himself stopped by in 2012. This year the event featured the likes of Warren Buffett, T. Boone Pickens, and retired General David Petraeus, as well as Albright, Blair, and Soros. The early financing came from the Libra Group, which is owned by Logothetis’s family and is involved in aviation, energy, finance, hospitality, real estate, and shipping. Since then, Logothetis and Swift have added smaller monthly events and expanded their annual budget to about $4 million, with support from foundations, individuals, and corporations including JPMorgan Chase and Delta Air Lines.
Concordia isn’t just talk-talk-talk, Swift and Logothetis say. They have a research arm and aim to nurture partnerships between the public and private sectors. On Sept. 20 they announced a joint initiative with Winrock International, a charity founded by the late Winthrop Rockefeller, to end slave labor in the fishing industry, starting in Thailand. The plan is to exert influence through the supply chain. In a news release, Logothetis said he was “thrilled” by the effort: “While convening and research are important, our ultimate objective is on-the-ground impact.”
That’s what the Clintons say, too. “While this is the final year of CGI, we are incredibly proud of the work our members will continue to do for years to come as a result of their commitments to improving lives worldwide,” Ed Hughes, its deputy director, said in a written statement.
The bottom line: The Clinton Global Initiative is ending its run, giving social entrepreneurs an opening to attract power seekers and do-gooders.