Since leaving the White House in 2001, Bill Clinton has been redefining his role as a former U.S. president. Once criticized in the early years of his presidency for dealing primarily with U.S. domestic issues, Mr. Clinton now appears intent on building a legacy as a major force on the world stage.
Mr. Clinton's latest project will be unveiled next month when a delegation of world leaders, U.S. politicians, business leaders and celebrities gather in New York for what is being called the first Clinton Global Initiative.
Speaking by telephone from New York, Mr. Clinton said in an interview with VOA that he got the idea for the meeting from Davos, where the World Economic Forum meets each year in Switzerland. The Davos gatherings have sometimes been criticized for producing much talk, but little concrete action.
"I thought it would be interesting to have a shorter focus conference that would give people an opportunity to learn about three or four issues every year in some depth, and tell them when they come that, at the end of the conference, they should be able to make a commitment to take some specific action in one of these areas over the coming year," he said. "If we could do this every year for a decade, we could really make a difference."
The Clinton Global Initiative, to be held Sept. 15-17 in New York to coincide with the U.N. General Assembly meeting, will focus on four topics - poverty, corruption, climate change, and religious and ethnic reconciliation.
Among those expected to attend are Prime Minister Tony Blair, King Abdullah of Jordan, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Mr. Clinton hopes that his close relationship with heads of states and other high-profile people will help some of his causes, such as AIDS relief.
"I am doing this because I was always interested in AIDS and always interested in Africa, and interested in Latin America and the developing world," he said. "I got into this specific action because I realized over the last three years how much you could do, if you really focused on a couple of areas and topics to marshal resources, organization and will."
His Clinton Foundation most recently negotiated discounts with drug companies for anti-retroviral medicine to be delivered to more than 100,000 people with AIDS in the developing world.
"If you look at it, when I started my AIDS project, for example, the whole developing world was only getting 80,000, or 70,000 people on anti-retrovirals outside Brazil, and now it is up to 500,000, maybe more, like 400,000, and 100,000 of those are getting medicine through the efforts of our foundation," he said. "We will be up to 300,000 ourselves at the end of the year."
On a recent six-nation tour of Africa to assess his foundation's work in helping to fight the HIV and AIDS epidemic, Mr. Clinton proposed providing treatment to an additional 1,000 children in Kenya through the Clinton Foundation's Pediatric HIV/AIDS Initiative. In Rwanda, he donated a year's supply of anti-retroviral treatment for 2,500 children infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
While in Rwanda, he visited a Rwandan genocide memorial, and expressed regret for what he says was his "personal failure" to prevent the slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people there in 1994.
When asked if part of his agenda for helping Rwanda battle pediatric HIV and AIDS was to right some wrongs during his presidency, Mr. Clinton said, "I am not doing this as an atonement. I am doing this because it is what I think I should be doing. I think I should be helping as a private citizen to solve the problems of the world as I can solve in my private capacity."
Mr. Clinton says his Global Initiative plans to hold yearly meetings, and he expects this year's gathering will give the project a strong start.