Chelsea Clinton, 33, is having a Fear Factor moment. We are at a primary school on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda. She is standing on the school’s field, wearing a trim white blazer and jeans and surrounded by a group of students in vibrant yellow and blue uniforms. The kids crowd around, mouths open and eyes wide with anticipation. On a table in front of Chelsea and her father, President Bill Clinton, sits a bucket of water so thick with grime you could lose the sun in it. In a few minutes, Chelsea is going to drink this water.
Chelsea dumps a small packet of powder into the bucket and begins to stir. While she and her father take turns with the spoon, representatives from the Clinton Foundation and some of its partners explain that the mix will trigger a chemical process that has brought more than 6 billion liters of drinkable water to the developing world. President Clinton gets a little lazy with his stirring. Chelsea gives him a nudge. “C’mon, Dad,” she teases, “like you mean it.”
Soon, the water in the bucket is astonishingly clear. Chelsea and her father lift their glasses in a toast and knock them back. The crowd erupts in applause. A grin stretches across Chelsea’s face—a grin you’re not used to seeing on the serious, measured woman once known as America’s Most Private First Daughter. It’s the grin of a woman who straight-up loves her job.
The job in question is as vice chair of the new Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation (previously known as the William J. Clinton Foundation; it was renamed this spring to reflect the increased presence of Chelsea and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton). After years of avoiding the family business, Chelsea’s now fully committed, helping to shape the foundation and even putting her name on the door.
She looks happy—but what Chelsea should be is exhausted.
Kigali was day six of a whirlwind tour through sub-Saharan Africa. We’ve been in four countries, visiting more than 20 different foundation facilities. By the end of this day, Chelsea and her father will have helped fit children with hearing aids, met young medical trainees who are learning lifesaving technologies, and rubbed elbows with dignitaries at a state dinner. Chelsea will also squeeze in some gym time, leave her husband a rambling good-night voice mail, respond to every email she’s received in the past 24 hours, and catch up with a friend over a late-night glass of wine. It’s a day that would bring most of us to our knees, but for Chelsea it’s Monday as usual, and she’s savoring every minute.
The new gig is a major change for Chelsea, who for years took pains to keep her work separate from that of her parents. “I was proud of my parents and grateful for the work that they did, but I was living my own life,” she says. After earning degrees at Stanford and Oxford universities, she took jobs not in politics but at McKinsey & Company and later Avenue Capital Group. “I loved working on Wall Street,” she says. “I loved the meritocracy of it and the camaraderie of the trading floor. There was one metric for success: Did you make or lose money? I think we need to care about the metrics of success in life, and I’m a pretty competitive person. But whether I made the company $2 or $2 million just didn’t matter to me. I didn’t fundamentally care about making money.”
She started to think about public health—an issue that had interested her since her dad’s White House years. She went to Columbia University, quietly earning a master’s degree while keeping her day job at Avenue Capital. “I was working full-time and going to school at night and on the weekends. It was just crazy,” she says. “At one point a month had gone by, and Marc—my then boyfriend, now husband—and I hadn’t gone out on a date. I was like, I don’t want to be this person. I want to be a person who cares where she’s investing her time and energy. And I want to be a good wife, daughter, and friend.”
Chelsea took this conundrum to her grandmother and oracle, Dorothy, Hillary’s mother. “She had strong ideas about what I should do with the opportunities I had been given. I realized that as much as I tried not to care about the things my parents cared about, I did care about them,” she says. “Which was frustrating, in some ways. My grandmother, in her wizened way, just said, ‘Yes, I’ve been waiting for you to come to this realization.'”
Chelsea tried to leave her job, “but my bosses asked me to stay and I just said, ‘Oh, I’ll—totally. I’ll stay.’ I think a lot of women struggle with this. Marc came home and was like, ‘So, did you quit?’ I said, ‘Well, I agreed to work part-time.’ And he just said, ‘What’s wrong with you? If you were a man, you would have quit.’ And that’s probably true.” But in November 2011, Dorothy died—and the loss cast a veil of grief over every aspect of Chelsea’s life. “It was such a fundamentally unmooring event for me,” recalls Chelsea. “I’ve never been so lost as I was when she passed.” Chelsea and Marc had been married a little more than a year; the loss pushed them to examine what they wanted their lives to be about. “We sat down and said, ‘Here’s what we want to do.’ The first thing on the list was simple: We want, God willing, to start a family. So we decided we were going to make 2014 the Year of the Baby. And please,” Chelsea pleads, “call my mother and tell her that. She asks us about it every single day.” Next on the list?
“Work really, really hard, and in a way that makes an impact,” says Chelsea. “I was ready to answer that calling and be the person my grandmother had always known I was.”
By then the foundation had more than 1,400 employees and volunteers in 40 countries. Chelsea had held a board position since 2011 and routinely offered advice (“often unsolicited,” she admits), but she took her time signing on the dotted line, first taking a gig as a special correspondent at NBC. She also considered other nonprofits: “I looked for a place where I could be more effective, but there wasn’t one,” she says. Then her mother’s tenure as secretary of state came to an end, and Hillary made a home at the foundation as well. Just like that it was a family affair. (When I mentioned to Chelsea that the foundation would make a great launching pad for a 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential bid, she politely replied, “I’ll support my mother in whatever she does. Always.”)
A few comments from the original article:
Oct 6, 2013
There has already been a few times when I thought I knew Chelsea Clinton and she really surprised and impressed me. She’s amazing and has my deep respect!
Oct 4, 2013
insightful. for me i’ve always wanted to know more about chelsea clinton. she has been so private yet classy in the public [eye]for decades.
Oct 4, 2013
I absolutely love Chelsea Clinton and love reading about her and her endeavors!
Oct 4, 2013
I’m actually very happy for her.
Oct 3, 2013
I have always admired her. This just deepens my admiration.
Oct 3, 2013
What a great profile of a fascinating woman. Thanks for this!
You can read the rest here:
From the editor: (thats me)
I for one would love to see the Clintons do a Nat’l Geo Special; the next time Bill and Chelsea undertake another Third World trip for the Clinton Foundation!
A HAPPY THANKSGIVING AND HAPPY HANUKKAH TO ALL
My father’s a dreamer and a realist – a dynamic and inspiring combination (and, yes, I am biased). He knows that without the generosity and support of friends like you, our work at the Clinton Foundation to help build a stronger, more equitable world would simply not be possible.
My father’s passion for the work of the Foundation is matched only by the passion of our Foundation team and the enthusiasm of supporters like you, who open up your hearts to turn big ideas into tangible solutions for those in need.
There’s one common thread in all of the work of the Clinton Foundation – whether it’s reducing the prevalence of childhood obesity in U.S. schools, increasing access to lifesaving medicines to fight HIV/AIDS and the scourge of childhood diarrhea, helping create market-based solutions and real employment for targeted communities in Latin America and Africa, or increasing the energy efficiency of buildings around the world. None of it would be possible if it weren’t for the drive of real people deciding that they can make a difference and acting on that impulse – people just like you and my dad.
That’s the reason my father loves talking about the Foundation’s work with those who make it happen, Amy. When you meet him, you’ll see – he’s always thinking of the next big thing that can create positive, lasting change. And he welcomes everyone to the table who is interested in putting ideas into action.
A BELATED HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO CHELSEA…
A dialogue with President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton in support of the Life-changing Work of the Clinton Foundation
Monday, March 4, 2013
Brooklyn Academy of Music
Howard Gilman Opera House
30 Lafayette Avenue | Brooklyn, NY
Doors Open at 7:00 pm
For tickets and more information click on The Clinton Foundation
Chelsea Clinton will be in Washington on Saturday to serve as the honorary chairwoman of President Obama‘s National Day of Service, a call to volunteerism that will start the president’s inaugural weekend, officials will announce this morning.
Ms. Clinton, daughter of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and former President Bill Clinton, once guarded her privacy but has taken an increasingly public profile of late.
The National Day of Service will include community service events in all 50 states and Washington D.C., where Ms. Clinton will headline a “Service Summit” on the National Mall. The summit meeting is to honor the legacy of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.; the federal holiday commemorating Dr. King’s birthday falls on Monday, when Mr. Obama will take his public oath of office on a bible that belonged to Dr. King.