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Inspiring Action: President Clinton's Lifetime of Service

By Paul Farmer

The Huffington Post
November 20, 2013

(Click here to view the original article.)

Nearly thirteen years after leaving office, President Bill Clinton will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama today. While his accomplishments as the 42nd President of the United States were extraordinary, the work he's done since then as a private citizen has had as profound an impact on millions more around the world.

President Clinton views his post-presidency work as part of the continuum of the work he has done throughout his life. In establishing the Clinton Foundation, the President has focused on filling the gap between what the private sector can produce and what government can provide. And he has, in the process, emerged as a vital force in addressing the most urgent and complex problems of our time.

In 2002, when the Clinton HIV/AIDS Initiative confronted the international AIDS crisis, antiretroviral drugs were prohibitively expensive for millions of people in the most vulnerable countries who desperately needed them. President Clinton brokered historic agreements with drug companies, helping to change the business model for HIV drugs and dramatically increase their availability around the world. The price of antiretroviral drugs ultimately dropped significantly -- by up to 90 percent in some categories.

With this single intervention, the Clinton Foundation brought HIV treatment within reach for many who had been denied access, and helped to enable the extraordinary work of the Global Fund, PEPFAR, and many other partners, as well as the efforts of many ministries of health to provide universal access to HIV treatment in their countries. A diagnosis of HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was, and today more than 6.8 million people around the world, including 630,000 children, are receiving the life-saving medicines they need.

This is just one example of what he has been able to accomplish. The implications of this work for a whole range of ailments besetting the poor are astonishing. I could tell many similar stories, all demonstrating President Clinton's unique ability to inspire people to act for a common goal. Whether working with beverage companies to reduce by 90 percent the calories of drinks shipped to schools, or working with municipal governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 248 million tons by the year 2020, the Clinton Foundation fosters unique partnerships to achieve breakthroughs on critical issues.

Disaster recovery has been another focus of his work. After the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia, in addition to serving as the UN's Special Envoy for affected countries, President Clinton set up a fund through his Foundation to support UNICEF's work in bringing safe drinking water and sanitation systems to the region. After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Clinton Foundation stepped in to advance the recovery and rebuilding efforts. To date, they've raised a total of $34 million to support relief work and investments in energy, tourism, agriculture, and apparel and manufacturing. By working on several fronts, and attracting and coordinating the efforts of a wide range of partners, President Clinton is bringing about positive change that will last, helping to rebuild Haiti to be stronger than ever before. As the severity and impact of natural disasters increase, this aspect of the Foundation's goodwill and know-how becomes an ever more precious global resource.

I have had the privilege of working with President Clinton in Haiti, Rwanda, Lesotho, Malawi, and other places in the world where he has focused his considerable energy and attention. What distinguishes his approach is the insistence on making every step of implementation connect to the following step. Between a donor government's declaration of intent and the moment when pills are put in a patient's hand or roofing is nailed down on a new house, hundreds of steps intervene, each of which can be an occasion for failure, waste or delay.

Listening to beneficiaries, reconciling divergent interests, achieving maximal positive outcomes, and seeing implementation through to the end: what President Clinton has done stands as an example of what works and what we need more of in our world. So I congratulate President Clinton on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom and thank him for his continued leadership.