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T&C Philanthropy 2015, with Activist-in-Chief Bill Clinton

Supporting 3,100 projects in 180 countries, the Clinton Foundation is the most powerful reimagining ever of what post-presidency can be. But can the fixer-in-chief work his magic on Haiti?

REPRINT > by Klara Glowczewska for Town & Country / May, 2015

Introduced in the 15th century to Hispaniola (the name Columbus gave the island that now comprises Haiti and the Dominican Republic when he shipwrecked here in December 1492), limes were successfully cultivated in Haiti until the 1990s. "Their oil, used in cosmetics and the beverage industry, was, like Haitian vetiver, considered the best in the world," says Hugh Locke, a blan from Westchester (one is acutely aware of skin color in Haiti). Locke heads the Haitian nonprofit Smallholder Farmers Alliance (SFA) and is scanning the sky, as am I, for Clinton's craft.

During the 1991–'94 embargo of Haiti, organized in response to the military coup that ousted the popularly elected but controversial president Jean-Bertrand Aristide (ironically, Clinton was president then), "farmers couldn't export to the U.S., and lime oil lost its value, so they cut down all their lime trees" to make sellable charcoal. "That is why the Haiti Lime Project," Locke continues, "which is intended to reintroduce several million lime trees to Haiti, is so important."

Individual farmers—SFA is helping them organize into for- profit cooperatives—stand to increase their revenues by $750 annually (a princely sum in profoundly impoverished Haiti, where the minimum daily wage is between 150 and 300 gourdes, or $4 to $8). Furthermore, the presence of the lime trees will counteract deforestation and soil erosion, the country's huge environmental problem; you can see denuded, eroded slopes throughout its gorgeous mountain ranges, the long-term consequences of a soaring population forced, through decades of governmental neglect and corruption, to eke out a living in ecologically disastrous ways.

All around us are neat rows of black plastic pots, thousands of them, with tiny lime tree seedlings poking out of the dark soil. The calm focus of the Haitian farm workers carefully watering them makes me think of nurses in a hospital intensive care unit (or a preemie ward). Which is what the Haiti Lime Project in effect is: one of a multitude of lifelines the Clinton Foundation is financing and/or securing financing and partners for in a multiprong effort to help this country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, stand on its own feet. The partners in this particular endeavor are: Firmenich the Swiss oils and essences company, which will buy the limes the farmers grow at market rates; Acceso which works with Haitian lime producers as well as peanut growers (peanut plants will be "intercropped" with lime trees as another source of revenue and to aid in the renourishing of the soil); and SFA, which will distribute the seedlings and offer technical support to farmers as needed.

"Clinton was the broker," Locke says. "He brought us together." It is the Clinton Foundation way: to build and fast-track creative collaborations between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals to address urgent needs in communities at risk. The foundation, the most powerful imagining ever of what a post-presidency can be, currently employs 2,200 people across its various initiatives (including the Clinton Global Initiative) and supports, according to its statistics, 3,100 projects in 180 countries, affecting the lives of 430 million people. (In Haiti alone there are currently 30 foundation-supported investments, and 208 Clinton Global Initiative commitments.) And Clinton, now 68 years old and 14 years into his next act, is as fired up about his work as any man could be. "It has been my whole life for longer than I was president," he tells me later. "And we have a huge plate of business to do this year."

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