Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has opened the Clinton Global Initiative, an annual gathering of world leaders, businesspeople, NGOs and philanthropic organizations who seek to improve the lives of people worldwide. 

Sixty-seven current or former heads of states, more than 600 business leaders, and about 500 heads of NGOs and philanthropic organizations have gathered in New York to collaborate on ways of helping the poor, cleaning the environment, empowering women and improving health care and education. Speaking at the opening session, former President Clinton said the efforts of participants are not enough.

"Obviously, even though I think you're immensely talented, it cannot be that all of the people we need working in the way we came here to work, are in this room today," Mr. Clinton said. "We need to constantly be thinking about how we can get more people back home to do it."

Mr. Clinton said the Initiative will support ordinary people anywhere who have ideas on how to address the world's problems, including the oppression of women, human trafficking, trash disposal, and youth unemployment.

The CGI will be discussing these and other problems like severe diarrhea caused by unsafe drinking water.  Every day, it claims the lives of 4,000 children worldwide. Robert McDonald, the head of Proctor and Gamble, says a $0.10 package can clean that water.

"We've had this program for six years, "Children's Safe Drinking Water," with these little pure packets that clean up one liter of water," McDonald explained.

McDonald committed his company to saving one life per hour by increasing distribution of the packets to two billion every year.

Speaking at a follow-up session, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a $60-million public-private initiative to prevent exposure to smoke from stoves and cooking fires that cause two million deaths a year - one life every 16 seconds.

Mr. Clinton is asking for commitments, big and small, from companies and ordinary people. He framed the larger CGI agenda, focusing on the empowerment of women and solutions to long-term problems in areas hard-hit hit by natural disasters - Haiti, Pakistan and the U.S. Gulf Coast.

"There is every reason to believe that the incidence of economically-devastating natural disasters will accelerate around the world with the changing of the climate," he said.

On Thursday, President Barack Obama will introduce First Lady Michelle Obama who will address the final plenary session.