Their plan for the first Concordia Summit in 2011 was modeled after the Clinton Global Initiative, which the former US President had launched in 2005 to take advantage of the large number of leaders in New York for the UN General Assembly in September. A huge success, the Clinton conference underscored the availability of prominent people at that time and place, offering what Messrs. Swift and Logothetis saw as an opening. Their first summit, taking place around the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, asked how private industry could help combat terrorism. It lasted half a day and drew 100 people. Its leaders included a former president of Poland. A former prime minister of Spain has also been a speaker. The young men had befriended both foreign dignitaries during teaching stints in Washington.
The keynote speaker the first year was George W. Bush, who had been US President during the attacks.The next year, Bill Clinton delivered the keynote speech, proving both that Concordia is strictly nonpartisan and that it posed no competitive threat to the Clinton Global Initiative. That year, the Concordia Summit lasted an entire day. Initially, some financial assistance came from Libra Group, a conglomerate owned by Logothetis’s family.
Eventually, Concordia grew to three days, and as a nonprofit it gained support from foundations, individuals and companies. It developed a mission of “fostering, elevating, and sustaining cross-sector partnerships for social impact.” Concordia doesn’t pay speaker fees or provide travel reimbursement.
In 2016, the Clinton Global Initiative stopped holding its conference, to avoid conflict with Hillary Clinton’s campaign as the Democratic nominee for president. Suddenly, the Concordia Summit was the largest leadership conference in New York during the UN General Assembly. Last year, the Concordia Summit drew about 3,500 people from 70 countries. The private sector, including NGOs, accounts for about 60 percent of attendees, the public sector 40 percent. In addition to widespread media coverage, a Facebook Live studio broadcasts interviews with one luminary after another.
“Taking place on September 22-24, 2019 in New York, the 2019 Concordia Annual Summit will be the largest and most inclusive nonpartisan forum alongside the United Nations General Assembly,” says the Concordia website.
Meanwhile, Concordia has gone global, building on its success at the UNGA with annual summits in Europe and Colombia. In February, it held a summit in London on the topic of Africa, where Concordia hopes to locate a future conference.
With an annual budget of about $4 million, Concordia now offers corporate and individual memberships that allow participation in events around the world. “Being a member of Concordia and attending their conference in London allowed us to join forces with the world’s top leaders and work toward building the world we all want to live in,” says Angelique Sina, President of the Friends of Puerto Rico.
How do two young men with little name recognition start a successful a summit of world leaders?
SWIFT: When we started in 2011, the first lesson we learned was we needed to just choose a date, so that people had something they could connect with. So that spring, we announced that in September we’re going to have a summit on how the private and public sector can work together to combat extremism.
How did you know anyone would come, how much space to reserve?
SWIFT: It was very much day-by-day. We had no offices, we had no space. We knew we needed it, but not how much. We knew we needed to invite speakers. We knew we needed to create a brand. So we booked the Metropolitan Club of New York as our space because we thought, “Well, it’s centrally located. It’s not as expensive as hotels.”
And then, I’ll never forget this, we secured President Bush as our keynote speaker.
How did that happen?
SWIFT: There were a whole set of people we asked to pass our request to President Bush. We were outlining very clearly our objective to discuss the role of the private sector in fighting extremism. All of these people were willing to try. And I’m not sure why it worked. It was the perfect lesson in the power of simply asking. Since then, we have had so many speakers who I couldn’t tell you why they agreed to participate. It’s a testament to a natural sort of trust that people have but also I think a genuine interest in talking about partnerships that could have impact.
LOGOTHETIS: Even though the Clinton Global Initiative was sort of in its heyday, or maybe because it was, people saw a need for an organization like Concordia. They didn’t really even know us. But year upon year more and more leaders participated, and then you receive a critical mass of legitimacy.
SWIFT: We also developed a good reputation. If you were to ask a lot of our top speakers, they would say, “The programming’s incredibly strong. The network is very, very good. The logistics are very strong.” In this space logistics matter more than anything.
That President Bush returned in 2014 suggests he found the experience worthwhile.
LOGOTHETIS: Yes, Matt and I interviewed him and his wife that year, which he doesn’t usually do for people that he doesn’t know. Mrs. Bush came back in 2017 as well. We owe the Bushes a lot. He got us started. Because of him, a year later we had President Clinton and John McCain and a number of others.
The summit grew exponentially from 2011 to 2012, from a half day with 100 people to a full day with 700 people.
Is there a form letter for prospective speakers?
SWIFT: Of course. Some are more personalized than others. One is kind of simple: “This is the summit. This is the time. These are people who have participated in the past.” And then we send it with a briefing packet. Because of how we’ve grown, we’re now able to say in a lot of letters, “We are inviting you to participate at this block of time to do an interview with this person.” We’re able to be much more specific.