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The Clintons come home to celebrate economic progress

"When we go out and try to get people to give us money, we'll be able to say things that they believe because they're true," Bill Clinton said.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an economic forum Wednesday that celebrated innovations in socially conscious investing, including programs begun during the president's first term 25 years ago.

"There are a lot of people doing important work," the former President said at the end of the day-long conference held at the Clinton Presidential Library. 

While neither of the Clintons fully embraced the title of progressive, they both took the day to point to progress made thanks to Clinton era ideas.

"Use these five minutes or so that each of you has to really address this group about what's worked, what doesn't work, what we can do more of," said former Sec. Clinton, while moderating a panel on supporting under-served communities.

Many of the financiers came from what are called Community Development Finance Institutions. 

The former President pushed the concept through Congress in 1994. Twenty-five years later, they have created a class of socially conscious capital investors.

"I'm announcing $100 million in equity growth capital in Puerto Rico to create over 10,000 jobs," said Kerwin Tesdell, the head of Community Development Venture Capital Alliance. "These are good jobs for Puerto Ricans."

Clinton era colleagues talked about cities and rural areas while leading or participating in other forums. 

Henry Cisneros, the former secretary of Housing and Urban Development, moderated a panel on revitalizing cities. Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy joined Mrs. Clinton's panel.

The Cisneros group touched on the importance of education, including the hotly debated role of charter schools and universal Pre-K.

"Early childhood education is the absolute key to it all," said Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. "Where we can build affordable, accessible, and quality early childhood education centers in our neighborhoods, which CDFIs have helped to establish, that's a game changer."

"The charter school experiment has been successful in many places," said Joe Neri, the CEO of Detroit-based real estate developer IFF. "It's not the only answer, but it's part of the answer, and CDFIs were the original financiers of charter schools."

Bill Clinton closed the day by focusing participants to continue to develop CDFI's while staying comfortable speaking the language of modern finance.

"When we go out and try to get people to give us money, we'll be able to say things that they believe because they're true," he said.

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