Why This Week New York Really Is the Capital of the World

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Why This Week New York Really Is the Capital of the World

New York is often described as the World’s Capital City, primarily because it is the headquarters of capitalism. Certainly this week, the last full week in September each year, as hundreds of leaders and thousands of their flunkeys gridlock Manhattan, it is easy to believe that this is the global capital – though what is bringing them to town is not capitalism so much as philanthrocapitalism.

Ten years ago, the annual September gridlock was due to a rather narrow, closed affair. Heads of state would deliver long, impotent speeches listened to by nobody at the United Nations General Assembly. Now, what happens in the UN HQ is a relatively small part of what Michael Green and I call Philanthrocapitalism Week. Since 2005, the annual meeting of theClinton Global Initiative has been a magnet for businesses and non-profits, a philanthrocapitalistic marketplace with an emphasis on making explicit commitments to take action to tackle global problems. This year, as we predicted, the CGI has been revitalised by the addition of the females of the species, Hillary and Chelsea, to leading roles alongside the former president. Barack Obama will be there, as will the other famous face of “Billanthropy“, Bill Gates.

More recently, the global public has been given a voice in New York through the Social Good Summit, the brainchild of my old friend and new power guru, Henry Timms. The highlights of this year’s sold-out Social Good Summit, which is being live-streamed here, include talks by Malala Yousafzi, shot by the Taliban because she dared to go to school, actress Charlize Theron, Melinda Gates, World Bank president Jim Kim, Lauren Bush Lauren, Kumi Naidoo of Greenpeace, former vice president Al Gore, Richard Branson and Paul Polman, the sustainability-crusader boss of Unilever, plus moderating by yours truly. (I will also be playing a similar role at CGI.)

And then there are a growing number of side events just in case the visiting leaders have left a few minutes of their day unfilled. Even before the week began, the UN Global Compact brought hundreds of corporate bosses to its Global Leaders Summit. Louise Blouin is hosting her always-stimulating Creative Leadership Summit. And if that isn’t enough, there is alsoClimate Week (fittingly, given the amount of hot air expected this week in Manhattan).

At the UN, the headlines are likely to be made by the continuing efforts to respond to the horrific events in Syria, as well as an expected post-Ahmadinejad charm offensive by Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran. But for most people involved in Philanthrocapitalism Week, top of the agenda will be figuring out what new global targets should be adopted to follow the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which expire in 2015. We are looking forward to hearing lots of good ideas, most of which we predict will involve partnerships between governments, multilaterals like the UN, business, non-profits and civil society. As Green and I have said before, this is the age of the posse, when global problems are tackled by ad hoc coalitions of the positive.

If this new approach is to work, for-profit companies and investors will have a big role to play. Hopefully, this week will see lots of practical discussion of how to make this happen. Two new reports suggest that this debate is at a critical juncture. The World Economic Forum has published an excellent study of how “impact investing” could play a huge role in funding a better world. On the other hand, a survey conducted every three years by Accenture of bosses of companies that have signed the Global Compact, found evidence of “sustainability fatigue” in corporate boardrooms.

I am confident that the leaders gathered this week in New York will talk the right talk. I will be watching closely for evidence that they are willing to take the hard steps necessary to walk the walk.

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