There's no question that President Clinton has always been a generous man. But it wasn't until he underwent a quadruple bypass operation in 2004 that he fully understood his true mission. "Surviving my heart surgery filled me with gratitude and made me determined to do even more, to give more people the chance to live fulfilling lives," he says. After recovering, he returned to work at his philanthropic William J. Clinton Foundation with a new intensity. This past fall, he released the book "Giving" and launched mycommitment.org in an effort to inspire more people to help make a difference.
B+S: There's a prevailing belief that if you can't donate a lot of money, you can't make an impact. How do you respond to that?
Clinton: It isn't true. You can make a microcredit loan to a person in another country for as little as $25 through kiva.org. You can give small amounts to everything from Katrina relief to political campaigns, which, when combined with donations from others, really amount to more money in total than wealthy people giving to the same causes.
How do you quell concerns that the money people donate isn't going to the right place or cause?
With a little research, you can find a place whose mission you believe in, with a proven track record of accountability and results; I mention some of them in my book. Many organizations allow you to track where your donation goes and see how your contribution is making a difference.
Who has been your inspiration when it comes to helping others?
All the people I've met along the way, from Nelson Mandela and Bill and Melinda Gates to people of modest means who do so much. For example, there's a group of teenagers in Cincinnati who decided to adopt AIDS orphans in Africa. They funded a school and changed the whole structure of these children's education. The teens didn't have money, but they went out and raised enough to help.
If you had one piece of advice to give to the world as it relates to helping others, what would it be?
We live in an interdependent world with many benefits, but it is unequal, unstable, and unsustainable. Even good government and a strong economy can't solve all the problems. Citizen action is also essential, and everyone can give something that will make a difference. All you have to do is try. You'll see that it's not as hard -- and it's much more fulfilling -- than you might have thought.