Remarks at a White House Briefing for the United States Delegation to the International Conference on Private Sector Initiatives


November 6, 1986


Thank you, Eddie, for that kind introduction. And I want to thank you, too, John Phelan, and my Board of Advisors for hosting this conference, and to welcome all the delegates here and to extend a warm welcome to all the distinguished ambassadors present and to Minister Francois Leotard.


I am pleased to be here to help inaugurate a new era for private sector initiatives. The Conference that you'll be attending involves the cooperation of seven governments, especially that of Prime Minister Chirac and his cabinet. And it's a fine example of a public-private partnership in action. Funding for this Conference has come entirely from the private sector through such donations as those made by American Express and the New York Stock Exchange. The Conference plans have involved countless volunteer man-hours on the part of those who are dedicated to promoting international voluntarism, like Jim Robinson, Paul Sheeline, and Bill Walsh. Bill even loaned his son, John, to the effort. And a number of organizations and corporations have provided support, such as the United Way, the National Association of Broadcasters, and International [Intercontinental] Hotels. It marks the first time that cooperation between the public and private sector will be the subject of a high-level international conference.


This international conference is very important to me because it's a major development in a program that has been close to my heart. You've often heard me talk about growing up in a small midwestern town where neighbor helped neighbor. From the barn raisings to the volunteer fire department, I was able to witness the great strength of private sector activity. When I became Governor of California, I sought to use the power of my office to promote this philosophy throughout that great State. As a matter of fact, I called on the private sector to come in and help me do some reorganizing in government. And 250 of the top leaders in the State of California gave several months of their time -- full-time -- to going into 64 agencies and departments of government to come back with some 1,400 recommendations as to how government could be made more efficient and more economical. And we implemented almost all of those recommendations.


Then in 1981, when I became President, I decided that promoting private sector initiatives across this country would be a top priority of our administration here at the national level. And just look at the success we've witnessed. Over the past 5 years, charitable giving has increased 80 percent to last year's record high of nearly $80 billion privately given to good causes. In the area of voluntarism, more people are donating their time than ever before, and a recent survey estimated the annual value of the services these people have rendered is over a hundred billion dollars. In the area of public-private partnerships, we've seen thousands of new programs across the country committed to meeting human needs in health, education, nutrition, child care, and many other fields. And we've seen many American corporations take active roles in communities across the country in a new concept known as corporate social responsibility. As a matter of fact, right here in our own community -- and it's going on across the country -- many of them made themselves partners of local schools. And they chained us into it. The White House became a partner to one of the local schools here in town. And I have a pen pal in that school that was appointed by the school, and I correspond with him regularly.


Well, now, I'm very pleased that the private sector initiatives program has spread internationally. The good-hearted actions of individuals, of you and me, promote the public good, the welfare of the Nation as a whole, in ways that government never could. They ensure that the public-spiritedness of our people is harnessed to its full extent. If we let government take its place entirely, we would surely be wasting our most potent resource. Alexis de Tocqueville's description is as true of America today as it was when he wrote it. He came here to find out the secret of our seemingly miraculous progress as a brand new pioneer country. And then he went back and wrote the story of what he had seen. He said, ``In a local community in their country'' -- our country here -- ``a citizen may conceive of some need which is not being met. What does he do? He goes across the street, discusses it with his neighbor. And then what happens? A committee comes into existence, and the committee begins functioning in behalf of the need.'' And he topped off his description by saying -- and whether you believe this or not -- ``No bureaucrats ever got involved.'' [Laughter] Public-spiritedness has built America, and you'll be its ambassadors at the Paris Conference later this month.


I know you've been briefed at length about the Conference, and you've heard the excitement expressed by the ambassadors of the other participating nations. I'm sure that your discussions with your foreign counterparts about how the programs work here in America will give them a true understanding of our private sector initiatives. I know you'll take time, as well, to understand what they are doing in their countries, so that our own wisdom will be enriched, as it has been countless times in the past by the experience of others. Americans live by the age-old truth that with personal charity there are two winners: the person who gives as well as the person who receives. And very often, it's the giver who receives the most precious gift. Personal, private charity humanizes a society. It makes us more aware of each other, of our hopes and needs, and of our sorrows and our joys; and it makes us all more compassionate. This is our message as a nation to the Conference that you're about to attend.


Next June I'll be in Venice, meeting at the economic summit with the heads of many of the countries involved in your Conference. I hope that we'll be able to look back at the Paris Conference as the start of an unprecedented international epoch in the history of private sector initiatives, and I'm sure that you'll all make America proud.


I just would have one last word maybe, because of us brash Americans and what sometimes we might get out of line into other minds. I don't think that it's we're different people; we couldn't be. We are inheritors of every ethnic and racial strain from every corner of the world in this melting pot here. I think the difference probably is because we're such a young country that we still have that pioneer heritage, where people had to help each other, where there was literally no government at a time to do things for them. And maybe that's why we've done this and older countries down through the -- you -- perhaps you're aware that Washington is the pollen capital of America. [Laughter] [The President referred to the fact that he had to clear his throat several times] And I'm one of those fellows that's subject to those kind of allergies here. But I think that that is one, and know we'll keep aware of this in our talking about these things and spreading the word.


I remember one story that was told back when Americans first came to the point that they could begin to think about visiting their fatherlands and motherlands, the other countries, the heritage of their parents and grandparents. And we didn't exactly turn up as tourists over there -- as the most desirable kind. We were pretty brash. I remember the story of an elderly farm couple that had finally taken this tour, and a guide was explaining to them the great power of Vesuvius and the heat and everything that was involved. And then the old man was heard saying to his wife, ``We got a volunteer fire department at home -- put that thing out in 15 minutes.'' [Laughter] So, we'll all be tactful in this.


Thank you, God bless you, and good luck.


Note: The President spoke at 11:35 a.m. in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building. In his opening remarks, the President referred to Edward O. Fritts, president and chief executive officer of the National Association of Broadcasters; John J. Phelan, Jr., Chairman of the Presidential Board of Advisors on Private Sector Initiatives; Francois Leotard, French Minister of Culture and Communication; and French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac.