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Grandly named and long in conception, the Clinton Global Initiative is designed to bring together leading politicians and business people to discuss solutions to some of the world's most pressing problems.

The inaugural meeting held on Thursday in New York under the chairmanship of former president Bill Clinton. The dates deliberately coincide with the Millennium summit of the UN general assembly, and a number of world leaders are expected to attend both sessions.

The Financial Times is the exclusive media sponsor of the conference which will focus on four topics: how to reduce poverty; use religion as a force for reconciliation and conflict resolution; harness new business strategies and technologies to combat climate change; and strengthen governance.

The meeting sounds like a re-run of the Davos World Economic Forum, the global annual talkathon in the Swiss mountains. But in an interview with the FT earlier this year, Mr Clinton offered a different perspective.

"We don't need two Davoses. That's not what it is about..I am not one of the Davos bashers. I think on balance it has been a huge success. But people are occasionally frustrated because they are not asked to do anything."

Conference attendees in New York will be called upon to pledge specific action. Thanks to his networking skills and his own drawing power, Mr Clinton has assembled a formidable list of FOBs (friends of Bill).

These include current and former heads of government and state (Tony Blair of Britain, King Abdullah of Jordan, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Sonia Gandhi of India); noteworthy academics (Dr Hernando Soto, the Peruvian economist); and top business leaders including Rupert Murdoch (News Corporation), Richard Parsons (Time Warner) and Sir Howard Stringer (Sony); as well as influential NGO representatives from around the world.

Mr Clinton has in mind an annual conference with co-ordinated follow-up stretching over a decade. With an annual attendance of between 500 and 1,500, he believes his nonpartisan gathering could have a serious impact.

Part of the former Democratic president's thinking has been shaped by his two terms in office (1992-2000), when he was a champion of globalisation and an ever more integrated world economy. But Mr Clinton has also been influenced by his recent work with former US president George H. W. Bush on the Asian tsunami relief effort.

In the FT interview earlier this year, Mr Clinton said international aid to stricken countries such as Indonesia and Sri Lanka had to move beyond the tsunami clean-up. It also required tackling ethnic and religious conflict, as well as building better homes, schools, hospitals, roads and diversifying their economies.

As proof that his approach is resonating, Mr Clinton can point to the recent agreement to end a near 30-year conflict between the Indonesia government and rebels in the province of Aceh, which was devastated by the tsunami.

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