By Edith Honan
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Former U.S. President Bill Clinton opened his annual philanthropic summit on Sunday by urging business leaders to do more to alleviate poverty and improve the environment.
"We live to prove that cooperation works better than conflict," Clinton said at the opening session of the eighth Clinton Global Initiative in New York. "Today we want to talk about how you can design your actions in advance to make it more likely that those efforts will succeed."
The idea for the summit came from Clinton's frustration with attending conferences while he was president that prompted no action. When the initiative began, corporations tended to show up and write checks to fund humanitarian programs. Now many see philanthropy in terms of investment opportunities.
U.S. President Barack Obama, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Libya's de facto head of state, Mohammed Magarief, will attend. The forum will be held as world leaders gather for the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
Obama and Romney were scheduled to speak at Clinton's summit on Tuesday. New Barclays PLC Chief Executive Antony Jenkins, Queen Rania Al Abdullah of Jordan and others were also expected to participate.
Clinton spent much of Sunday's session heaping praise on companies' socially responsible practices. Walmart, which has made extensive investments in solar energy at its U.S. stores, and Procter & Gamble, which has pledged to save a child every hour by providing safe drinking water, were lauded for their efforts.
In keeping with this year's theme, "Designing for Impact," participants will discuss ways to provide safe and reliable energy, boost sustainable tourism, promote a greater role for women in society, and guarantee access to food in the face of extreme weather conditions as a result of climate change.
Since the initiative began, more than 2,000 pledges have been made, valued at more than $69 billion, and they have improved the lives of more than 400 million people in 180 countries, Clinton said.
At this year's summit, businessman and philanthropist Tom Golisano pledged $12 million to expand the Special Olympics' health-related services to people with intellectual disabilities.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Suntech Power Holdings Company Limited and the GlobalECHO Foundation have teamed up to install solar panels at the Panzi Hospital - a pioneering facility that treats victims of sexual violence.
"This is a really good deal and it's going to save a lot of lives a long way away in a troubled part of the world," Clinton said of the Panzi project.
Clinton is expected to offer an updated total for pledges on the summit's final day.
The full agenda can be seen at www.clintonglobalinitiative.org/2012
(Editing by Philip Barbara and Stacey Joyce)