Former President Bill Clinton walked onstage at the Arlington Theatre amid thunderous applause Friday afternoon, sat down in one of two oversized brown chairs and tried to recline.
Retired life for Clinton, six years out of the Oval Office, is anything but relaxed with the Clinton Foundation’s ambitious worldwide humanitarian mission and his numerous speaking engagements – he also spoke at UCLA on Friday. He did, however, use retirement as an excuse to tell the talk’s moderator Thomas Tighe, CEO and president of Direct Relief International, that he had enough time to exceed the promised hour conversation and answer all of the prewritten student questions and the random questions posed by Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s.
The afternoon event, “Leadership in the Global Future,” was structured as a conversation between Clinton and Orfalea, a visiting professor in the Global & International Studies Dept. at UCSB, with occasional interjections and questions by moderator Tighe. The pair covered topics ranging from non-governmental organizations and education to ideological separations and even optimism.
“When you get up you have to make a choice,” Clinton said. “Life is always going to be full of problems, but it’s part of our lives.”
The conversation was the inaugural event for the Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, an Orfalea Family Foundation-funded organization that promotes global-minded events on campus and provides support for this year’s new global studies graduate program.
Clinton and Orfalea began their discussion by considering the private citizen’s role in addressing and helping to solve the problems of the world.
“There’s always going to be a gap between where we are and where we ought to be,” Clinton said. “Private citizens have more power to do public good.”
In addition to individual citizens, Clinton said non-governmental organizations – NGOs – are essential to funding and structuring viable solutions to problems that governments cannot address. In a short film shown before the talk, grooming students to become leaders at NGOs was listed as one of the Global & International Studies Dept.’s goals.
“Non-governmental centers deal with challenges not addressed by governmental policy or the ordinary operations of the marketplace,” Clinton said.
When asked by Tighe whether or not “NGOs can pull it off” in the face of all the faith placed in them, Clinton suggested he reformulate the question. The major problem that plagues NGOs, Clinton said, was setting goals that are not quantifiable.
“NGOs need to define their objectives so they can always make it,” Clinton said. “They need to keep score.”
Clinton used his AIDS campaign as an example, giving the audience various statistics to prove what he has been doing to provide medical treatment to 415,000 people living in the areas of Africa most in need.
Orfalea was more wary about goal setting because he said it has the effect of limiting initiative in people who are working onsite. Orfalea suggested employing entrepreneur-types to solve problems that come up in the day-to-day operation of a campaign or a business.
“Goal setting is a tricky subject,” Orfalea said. “The more goals, the less initiative people in the field take. … It’s difficult to set goals and leave room for initiative and rule-breaking.”
In a different vein, Clinton and Orfalea discussed how philosophical, ideological and religious differences can turn fanatical claims into “Truth,” as well as to reasons for war and conflict. Clinton said it was important to differentiate between a philosophical way of running an organization, or government, and relying on ideology to guide every decision.
“Stay with your philosophy but never become blind to evidence and argument,” Clinton said.
During the conversation, Clinton also explained what he saw as a religious heresy in the world; fanatical groups that claim to know the full truth are forgetting their own sacred texts, which express tolerance and love, not fear and violence.
Moving on in the discussion, Tighe asked the two how they could be such “wild energetic optimists.”
Orfalea said he gets up in the morning because he is surrounded by success.
“The most successful book is the yellow pages,” Orfalea said. “We’re surrounded by success; there are good things all around us.”
Clinton had a slightly different view on his optimism, and viewed life’s problems as a way to make life less boring. He also said his positive outlook on the world comes, in part, from the fact that he has lived longer than many of the audience members.
“Our country and the future of freedom and free enterprise looks brighter to me in the 21st century than it did in the 20th century,” Clinton said. “We know more about problems elsewhere because of globalization and information technology.”