Q&A with Kevin Thurm, Acting Chief Executive Officer of the Clinton Foundation.
In this week’s episode of The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman, we explore what it means to hold power in societies around the world. Morgan Freeman interviews an African woman who has created a society free of men and explores how the rise of the internet may fundamentally change how democracy works. One special guest from the episode includes the 42nd President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton.
We were able to chat briefly with Kevin Thurm, acting chief executive officer of the Clinton Foundation. Prior to his work with the Clinton Foundation, Kevin served as a senior counselor at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), where he worked with Secretary Sylvia Burwell and senior leadership on a number of cross-cutting strategic initiatives, including continuing implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
For more than 16 years, the Clinton Foundation has worked to improve lives and expand opportunities for people to build a better future for themselves, their families, and their communities. Kevin shares that when President Clinton left the White House, he wanted to spend his life as a private citizen working in the areas where he knew he could make a meaningful and measurable difference. “What started in 2001 with the groundbreaking of his library, the Clinton Presidential Center in Little Rock, has grown into a global organization that has transformed modern philanthropy,” says Kevin.
For those who only know the Clinton Foundation by name, can you share with us a little bit about the foundation’s mission?
The Clinton Foundation implements programs and develops strategic partnerships to promote economic empowerment, improve public health, and inspire civic engagement and service. Together with businesses, nonprofits, foundations, governments, and individuals across the country and around the globe, we work to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be, tomorrow.
Whether it’s helping farmers negotiate better prices for their crops, teaching parents and caregivers the best ways to support their children’s health and early development, or making lifesaving medications more affordable for people who need them—our work is linked by a sense of purpose and the knowledge that we can make a difference to improve people’s lives.
And we’ve kept score. Members of the Clinton Global Initiative community have made more than 3,600 Commitments to Action, which have improved the lives of over 435 million people in more than 180 countries.
As an organization, your work is affecting people and causes all over the world. How does the Clinton Foundation decide who or what it’s going to help?
President Clinton’s long career in public service inspires everything we do. It’s at the heart of our Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) program, which brings together annually over a thousand college students to discuss and develop solutions to the challenges they face in their communities. It’s also a centerpiece of the Presidential Leadership Scholars Program, which is jointly hosted by the libraries of President Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Lyndon Baines Johnson to create a one-of-a-kind network of exemplary professionals who learn the leadership lessons of these administrations and apply them in their service projects and lives.
At the urging of Nelson Mandela, President Clinton launched the Clinton Health Access Initiative, to lower the cost and increase access to life-saving HIV/AIDS medications. To date, more than 11.5 million people across 70 countries have gained access to CHAI-negotiated HIV/AIDS drugs.
The Clinton Foundation also applies a similar model to address the opioid epidemic and childhood obesity here in the United States. Our Clinton Health Matters Initiative works with partners, such as Adapt Pharma Inc., to lower the cost of life-saving naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid-overdose, and make it more accessible to first responders on the ground. And, as childhood obesity rates were soaring across the United States, we launched the Alliance for a Healthier Generation with the American Heart Association. Through the years, the Alliance has negotiated agreements with the American Beverage Association to get sodas and sugars out of schools and healthy options back in.
In Malawi, Rwanda and Tanzania, we’re working to train local farmers with modern techniques to improve their crop yields – empowering them with more economic opportunities. And, members who have participated in the Clinton Global Initiative have made thousands of Commitments to Action to improve the lives of millions around the world.
You mentioned the Foundation’s work with the opioid crisis — can you share with us a little more on what that entails?
The Clinton Foundation's Health Matters Initiative (CHMI) has worked since 2012 to address the opioid epidemic as a public health issue and with a focus on prevention. In 2016, more than 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in the U.S., the most of any year on record and a 19% increase from 2015, according to initial estimates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of these were opioid-related, with especially large increases in deaths from heroin and illicit fentanyl.
We believe deaths from opioid abuse are preventable — and that we can use our power of bringing people together to make a difference. That’s why over the years we’ve worked to build support for substance abuse prevention programs on college campuses; expand access to life-saving naloxone – an opioid overdose reversal drug – that can be used by first responders in overdose emergencies; advance evidence-based research and policy recommendations with our partner, Johns Hopkins University; and provide people and organizations working on the ground in local communities with evidence-based support to enhance their impact.
In The Story of Us with Morgan Freeman: The Power of Us episode, Morgan unpacks the topic of power. As an executive at a massive NGO helping people all over the world, what are the positive and negative effects of power when it comes to you or organization’s desire to make a difference?
The Clinton Foundation’s greatest strength is our unique ability to bring people together to tackle the world’s most pressing challenges. We believe the future belongs to the cooperators, and that by bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, perspectives, ideologies, and beliefs, we can turn ideas into action that will make a meaningful and measurable difference in people’s lives.
Partnership is at the heart of everything we do at the Foundation – and it’s a place where we know we can uniquely make a difference. For example, most recently, we helped coordinate the largest airlift of medical supplies to Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria struck. Over 75 tons of medical aid, valued at over $21 million wholesale, were loaded onto an MD-11 chartered by Direct Relief.
It's not easy to always get it right, and that’s why we continue to measure our impact – evaluating what works and what doesn’t – aiming to be more efficient and effective, and ready to improve the lives of others each and every day. This means 35,000 schools who will have healthier food options and increased physical activity; more than 150,000 farmers in Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania are benefiting from climate-smart agronomic training, higher yields, and increased market access; working with partners, more than 8.5 million trees and tree seedlings have been planted to strengthen ecosystems and livelihoods; over 600,000 people have been impacted through market opportunities created by social enterprises and health and wellbeing programs in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa; 840,000 more books in the hands of children and families in underserved communities across the United States; and so much more.
As someone who has worked closely with the Clintons for many years, can you tell us a little about their personal passions and how their stories affect the causes that the foundation pursues helping?
"Intelligence is evenly distributed but opportunity is not."
President Clinton started the Foundation with strongly held beliefs: everyone counts, everyone deserves a chance, everyone has a role to play, and we all do better when we work together. These ideals have been a focal point of his long career in public service – from the governorship, to the presidency, to his work today with the Clinton Foundation.
One thing that President Clinton often says that strikes me is that intelligence is evenly distributed but opportunity is not – and we can’t help to build our own best futures without helping others to build theirs. That’s why, since it was first founded in 2001, the Clinton Foundation has worked to expand opportunity and improve the lives of people, families, and communities across the country and around the world.
To learn more about the Clinton Foundation, visit https://www.clintonfoundation.org/.