Obama and philanthrocapitalism

Reports suggest that Barack Obama would like to make Hillary Clinton his Secretary of State, but may not do so unless her husband can be persuaded to pull back from his philanthropic activities. Matthew wrote an article in today’s San Francisco Chronicle arguing that this strategy is mistaken. Yes, President Clinton should be more transparent in his philanthropy – especially about where the money is coming from. But his philanthropy is a valuable asset for America, particularly overseas, which President Obama should seek to harness not shut down.

It seems certain that, thanks to the financial crisis, a theme of the next few years will be bigger government. The question is, will it be better government? In recent years, some of the brightest ideas for improving government have come from philanthropists and social entrepreneurs. President Obama will have a chance to bring them inside his government, for their ideas and as risk capital providers.

But the greatest opportunity for Obama may be in foreign policy. The only popular initiatives overseas by the Bush administration were driven by philanthropists, such as the PEPFAR initiative on HIV/Aids and the establishment of the Millennium Challenge Commission. The relationship between the administration and philanthropists was largely accidental and uncoordinated. Obama should consider giving those philanthropists with a focus on doing good overseas, such as Bill Gates and, yes, Bill Clinton, a more planned role in his foreign policy soft power strategy, perhaps through establishing some sort of philanthropy advisory group. There is little risk, and plenty of potential upside.