Foundation Voices: Why I Contributed $1.5 Million to the Clinton Foundation

By Jim Greenbaum

(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Facebook on August 29, 2016)

Mr. President. You once told me that you had received more music scholarships than academic scholarships. How do you think your life and the world would be different now had you taken one of the music scholarships?” I inquired.

“It depends on what you thought of me as President,” Bill Clinton quipped with a long steely stare and only a hint of a smile directed at me, likely the only Republican in the room. He then explained that despite his talents with the saxophone, there were several other sax players whose talents he didn’t believe he would ever match. “And being the best in the world at what I do,” he continued, “was important to me.”

Because Bill Clinton didn’t have the ability to be the best saxophone player in the world, he gave up the idea of being a professional musician and decided instead to pursue a career in politics with his goal of one day becoming President of the United States.

I first met President Clinton two years prior. The year, 2006, and I listened attentively as he explained his plan to tackle the AIDS epidemic that was sweeping the world unchecked. As a philanthropist, I had spent years looking for a viable approach to dealing with the issue, but everyone I spoke to had simply shaken their heads and noted that the issue was just too complex.

But here I sat, as this brilliant man passionately detailed his plan. In essence, the Clinton Foundation team had put together a coalition of the governments of the most affected countries to collectively negotiate with the pharmaceutical companies. The countries would commit to purchasing massive quantities of the antivirals, but at a greatly reduced price.

While at that time in the United States, the average annual cost for HIV antiviral treatment for one individual was nearly $20,000, the Clinton Foundation’s Pediatric AIDS Initiative brought that price down to around $150 for infected infants and children living in the developing world. All that was needed to save more lives was additional funding.

Without hesitation, I approached President Clinton, and committed to making the largest single grant I have ever made. One Million Dollars. A few months later I found myself meeting privately with President Clinton and asked what his motivation was for the humanitarian work he was now doing.

“I want to save as many lives as I can while I’m still capable of doing so,” President Clinton responded.

I continued my funding of the Clinton Foundation’s Pediatric AIDS Initiative for many years. While traveling in Africa and at various conferences, I met with numerous Clinton Foundation executives and staff. Never before had I encountered such capable, dedicated individuals. The Clinton Foundation had put together a vision to tackle some of the most pressing humanitarian problems facing the world, and they were executing their plan. No politics — just relentless, passionate obsessive determination to get the job done.

I also became a regular attendee at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), the once a year gathering that most attendees pay $20,000 to attend. What many people don’t know is that $19,000 of the fee is used to fund the ongoing projects of the Clinton Foundation — work related to Climate Change, Economic Development, Girls and Women, Global Health, and Health and Wellness, just to name a few. CGI isn’t the normal type of conference where there’s a lot of talk and little action. To the contrary, all attendees are expected to make public commitments about what work they are going to do to help make the world a better place. While some commitments might have taken place regardless as to whether or not there was a convening at CGI, the overwhelming majority of commitments are a direct result of this amazing conference where many of the best nonprofits in the world attend (at no cost) along with dedicated philanthropists, foundations, as well as corporate executives.

So what have I gained from my association with the Clinton Foundation and CGI? I have gained opportunity to connect to individuals I might not have otherwise met — people such as Molly Melching of Tostan, and Raj Panjabi of Last Mile Health. I have gained the privilege of donating millions of dollars to those nonprofits and countless others I’ve been fortunate enough to have been introduced to through my association with the Clinton Foundation, nonprofits that are tackling those impossible issues that others deemed too complex just like the AIDS epidemic.

The media has been abuzz as of late regarding the Clinton Foundation’s accepting of funds from numerous individuals and countries, including some that don’t have the best of relationships with the United States. The Foundation has also been accused of people having to “pay to play.” What’s missing from the dialogue has been the issues of intent and result. I believe the intent has always been an altruistic one of helping the most people possible. The result — the world is a much better place due to the existence and efforts of The Clinton Foundation.

About the Author

Jim Greenbaum is the founder and managing director of the Greenbaum Foundation.