Interview – Ted Turner

“I think the impact we’re able to make with the UN is the most obvious reason for continuing our work.”

In 1998, CNN founder Ted Turner announced his intention to give $1 billion to UN causes over ten years – then one of the biggest donations ever made. The initial plan was that the UN Foundation, created to distribute the funds, would ‘sunset’ in ten years. So, wondered Alliance, why did he change his mind …?

I created the UN Foundation because I believe it is important to support the work of the United Nations, the only institution with the international reach and capacity to solve the world’s biggest challenges. I’ve always said it’s the best investment I ever made because dollars go further and do more than they can in other organizations.

When we first opened our doors in 1998, corporations, foundations, NGOs and individuals were not sure how they could partner with the UN and our aim was to provide a means to do that. As you know, the initial intention was to close after my $1 billion gift ran out, but as the foundation built successful partnerships between the UN and a number of foundations, the UN recognized its value and asked us to continue to leverage my gift to bring in new partners.

What role can the UN Foundation play in helping to achieve the Millennium Development Goals?

Over the past decade, many of the initiatives of the foundation and its partners have been aimed at areas covered by the MDGs. They’ve helped the UN keep thousands of girls in school and prevent child marriage, provide sustainable energy to hundreds of thousands of people, reduce polio by 99 per cent worldwide, immunize 700 million children against measles, create a grassroots movement to send more than 3 million anti-malaria nets to Africa, and champion the payment of more than $1.6 billion in US debt to the UN. I think the impact we’re able to make with the UN is the most obvious reason for continuing our work.

But we still have a lot more to do. We just launched the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves at the Clinton Global Initiative. It’s a bold new initiative to save lives, improve livelihoods, empower women and combat climate change by creating a market for clean and efficient household cooking. Half the world’s population cooks on traditional stoves that release dangerous soot and smoke into the air – pollutants that kill an average of one person every 20 seconds.

How will the UN Foundation be funded if you’re here for the long haul? Are you now looking for new partners, including non-US partners?

Yes, we are always looking for new global partners. Our philosophy of finding partners to work through the UN is more meaningful than ever before. The UN is the only organization that delivers food, aid, healthcare and security on a global scale.

But it’s important for us to be sensitive about the current economy. We need to find ways to encourage creative thinking and partnering together. Our work on these issues won’t stop but we recognize that others may have to scale back the resources they invest, so we are taking a strategic look at how we can all do more with less. We can’t afford to let progress on the MDGs stop so we need to find new ways to leverage partnerships and bring additional resources to bear on global problems in a cost-effective way.

You have recently joined the Giving Pledge. What do you hope to achieve by doing this?

I don’t measure success in numbers, but I consider my contributions of more than $1.3 billion to various causes over the years to be one of my proudest accomplishments and the best investment I’ve ever made. Those dollars have improved lives, saved species, fought disease, educated children, inspired change, challenged ideas and opened minds. After the billion dollar pledge, I challenged my fellow billionaires to do more. I do think that we can put our wealth to work for a better world.

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