By Idowu Ajibade (Sauvé Scholar 2008-2009)

Amidst growing fear and uncertainty over the current global financial crisis, hope was again renewed by the inspiring message of Former President William Jefferson Clinton at a day-long event organized by The Power Within Incorporated, on Tuesday November 25, 2008, at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal. This event, which was attended by about 5000 people, including Sauvé Scholars, was designed to unlock, motivate and re-invigorate the creative force of leadership within individuals and communities. The event was marked by fluctuating emotional tempos – from boisterous laughter kindled by Martin Sheen’s humorous jokes, to sober reflections about global challenges, such as poverty, food insecurity, humanitarian catastrophes and climate change. Motivational speakers at the event elaborated on the role of individuals in effecting positive change and promoting visions of a better world through active participation in philanthropy and volunteering services.

Transforming the atmosphere as he walked to the podium, Former President Bill Clinton began on an apologetic tone, as he addressed the current financial crisis which he labeled “the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression”. His apology was based on the fact that the financial crisis began in the United States with the stock market plummeting, followed by greater economic tumult, massive job loss and Wall Street bailout, all of which have reverberating effects on the economy of Canada, as a strategic trading partner of the U.S. Indeed, the economic crisis triggered by the United States best illustrates, more than any other issue, the negative effects of interdependency and globalization of capital markets, he said.

Mr. Clinton recapitulated the projections of economic analysts which suggest that the financial crisis may have brutal impacts on job security, financing for foreign aid and funding of charities. But he admonished the crowd not to give in to such pessimism. He stressed that this was not the time to abandon funding for poverty alleviation and life-saving projects in the poorest parts of the world like Africa; even with little, much can be achieved if people work together in solidarity to accomplish a common goal. Speaking passionately about how he was able to raise substantial amounts of money from the Canadian government and other donor organizations to pioneer and implement the Clinton Initiative against HIV/AIDS, he said the Initiative has had profound effects on the world and yielded tremendous benefits for millions of people, who hitherto had no access to anti-retroviral medication. Clinton emphasized the need for donor organizations and governments to live up to their promises, by contributing 0.7% of their GDP to aid the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals in developing countries. However, the job of making the world a better place cannot be left to governments or charities alone. If people of modest means care about something at the same time, they can change the world too, said President Clinton.

As he wrapped up his one-hour speech, the former President walked backstage to meet with the excited group of Sauvé Scholars, where a different mini-introductory conference ensued. The first few minutes with the former President of the United States were electrifying, as he delightfully engaged each scholar in a small pep-talk about their countries and the on-going Clinton initiative projects in some of those countries. President Clinton highlighted the HIV/AIDs projects in Kenya as he shook hands with Philip Osano (Sauvé Scholar 2006-2007). Then he turned to me with a friendly smile and spoke extensively about what the Clinton Foundation has been doing in the city of Lagos to combat climate change, elaborating that his project in Lagos is designed to recover methane gas released from decomposing trash and turn it into energy, plus composting and turning organic material in landfills to productive energy or fertilizers. I must add, he also mentioned his love for Nigeria.

He shared different insights with other scholars from Burma, Kyrgyzstan, Italy, England and Canada. While speaking to my colleague from Brazil, Clarice Reis, the congenial former president opened up on his love for Brazilian music, telling how he admires and greatly enjoy the melodious tunes of the Brazilian sensational singer Virginia Rodriguez. He also added that he has been urging Virginia for years to go on a sponsored musical tour across the world but she has yet to consent to such grand treatment.

After about ten minutes of chit-chat, the Clinton-Sauvé moment ended with nice paparazzi amidst smiles and admiration for the amiable man and one of United States most popular presidents.