Clinton was speaking yesterday to a packed audience at the festival in conjunction with the 10th anniversary of Latin America’s largest communications group, Grupo ABC.
“The great thing is, there are more private citizens seeking to do public good than ever before," Clinton said, citing the rise of non-governmental organisations, small donors and people with limited amounts of time giving to a common cause. “It’s one of the greatest phenomena of the century and it’s happening all over the world,” he said.
But at the same time, he continued, the world has a lot of problems because global interdependence comes with negatives as well as positives. “Despite our interdependence, we are not producing shared prosperity, within and across national borders wealth inequality has dramatically increased.
“There is also too much instability, the global downturn, cross-border terrorism, politics of repression and the reaction to it, all these things are exacerbated by the rapid information spread around the world,” said the former president. “A good outcome can be exceedingly challenging.”
Furthermore, the growth pattern the world is on is unsustainable because of climate change, which if left unchecked could impact the most productive nations.
The role for advertisers in all of this is to help build “cooperative networks of communication” around the world by getting the facts out in a manner that cannot be ignored, he said. “People who do what you do can have a major impact, first, by telling the facts to a world obsessed with the trivial, fleeting and shallow,” Clinton said.
Advertisers are skilled at putting facts together in a way that explains what the issue at hand is about and what the viewer can do about it. “It’s what citizens of the world need,” he added.
Greece, for example, is now being perceived as a sort of “basket case”. Victims of poor politics rooted in conflict and a dishonest and ineffective tax system, they are losing hope and starting to adopt the world’s negative opinion of them, Clinton pointed out. “But Greeks work longer work weeks than most Europeans. They are not lazy. There is a need to change the self-image of the Greeks, to break them out of the shackles of perception that they can’t cut it. It’s absurd. They can.”
The world needs advertisers to empower people and give them a sense of hope. “We need people like you to fire our imagination and fill our brains as well as our hearts,” he implored. “Overcoming inherent resistance to hearing information that people don’t believe is the advertiser’s stock and trade, after all.”
As the world will increasingly be one built on consent, communicators will have a “profound influence” on the next 30 years. “I want to leave this earth knowing that my daughter and the grandkids I hope to have will live in a world of shared prosperity and humanity,” he said.
People, even those in wealthy countries, are unsure that they can make a difference. But when after the earthquake hit Haiti, the US donated US$1 billion—a sum which averaged out to just US$26 per donor. “Getting a million people to give $5 to $10 to solve a problem makes a difference,” he said.
“There is a need for an empowerment ethic that tells people they can make a difference, explain that it’s worth trying because of who they are trying to help, that they are not worthless and they should not fear getting up everyday because they believe nothing good will happen,” Clinton concluded. “You can do that. You can make people feel they can create positive change.”