Now that he is Millennium Promise’s first world leader, Tommy Hilfiger on Friday will make his initial pitch to end world poverty when he addresses 1,000 chief executive officers at the United Nations.

This story first appeared in the June 24, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

By taking a more visible role, Hilfiger, whose corporate foundation pledged $2 million last year to a nonprofit that aims to halve world poverty by 2015, aims to get more companies and high-profile people involved with Millennium Promise. During an exclusive interview Wednesday, MP’s president and co-founder Jeffrey Sachs described Hilfiger’s more visible role as “huge.”

Hilfiger said, “I would like to think that other people will choose to get involved — other corporations, other people maybe from the fashion industry, the entertainment industry, the business community. Awareness is very important here — the more aware people are that this exists, there is really hope to potentially eradicate this extreme poverty.”

Sachs expects the designer’s speech at Friday’s Global Compact Leaders Summit 2010 to have “a very powerful effect.” Hilfiger recently visited a Millennium Village in Ruhiira, Uganda, with his company’s chief financial officer, Ludo Onnink. “I never realized how enormous this project was until I visited Ruhiira and then suddenly realized we’re talking about the lives of hundreds of thousands of people,” Hilfiger said. “We understand the dire need for more medical supplies, water sources, expanding schools and even buying more mosquito nets.”

Already at work in 15 countries and with a major initiative in Nigeria taking hold next year, MP promotes self-sufficiency, not financial handouts, Sachs said. Confident that world poverty can be sliced in half by 2015, he said: “You have to be an optimist because being a pessimist means leaving millions of people to die unnecessarily.”

By speaking about or showing video footage of such extreme hardship Friday, Hilfiger hopes attendees will realize “this does exist. It can be prevented and somehow altered.” His company’s 10,000 staffers also will be encouraged to pitch in. Establishing matching funds for employee donations, providing volunteer opportunities overseas and encouraging clothing donations are among the initiatives being considered, he said.

Meanwhile, Hilfiger continues to support initiatives in the fashion industry. The designer on Tuesday hosted a battalion of fashion-world interns at his Fifth Avenue flagship. The 56 students were 2010 recipients of scholarships from the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, which has awarded more than $6 million since 1971. In addition to their $5,000 grants, the students — from 28 different schools, including Wharton, Cornell, Barnard and the Fashion Institute of Technology — have been working in New York this summer at companies such as Polo Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Lanvin and Macy’s. “Life is about the people you meet,” FSF board member and executive recruiter Debra Malbin told the assembled interns and industry executives, such as Peter Sachse of Macy’s, Colleen Kelly of Tommy Hilfiger, Paul Rosengard of Li & Fung and Doug Jakubowski of Kenneth Cole. 

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