NBCNEWS.COM - Transitioning into her new role as a "private citizen" and ratcheting up speculation about her future presidential aspirations, Hillary Clinton stepped back into the spotlight Thursday to begin explaining how she would apply the lessons she learned as secretary of State to make an impact around the world, focusing particularly on increasing opportunities for women, something she called the "great unfinished business of the 21st century."
Kicking off the Clinton Global Initiative "America Meeting" in the Windy City, Clinton told the crowd in her hometown that after visiting 112 countries during her four-year post at the State Department, she will focus on three areas in the immediate future.
She told the nearly 1,000-person crowd she will focus on "three broad areas that have been close to my heart my entire adult life: early childhood development, opportunities for women and girls, and economic development that creates jobs and gives more people in more places the chance to live up to their God-given potential."
Speculation about another White House run for Clinton has already reached a fever pitch and her every move is scrutinized by observers for signals about her intentions. And she remains highly popular among Democrats although her overall approval numbers have slipped somewhat.
While politics was largely left out of Clinton's speech Thursday, the crowd applauded her as she proclaimed: "When women participate in the economy, everyone benefits, this also should be a no brainer. When women participate in peacemaking and peacekeeping, we are all safer and all secure. And, when women participate in politics, the effects ripple out across society."
Since stepping down as the highest-ranking cabinet official in President Barack Obama's administration Feb. 1, Clinton has kept a rather low profile so she could relax after the grueling demands of the State Department. This appears to be changing.
Clinton spoke for the first time at CGI America, an organization founded by her husband and former President Bill Clinton to emphasize "solutions that promote economic recovery in the United States."
She joined Twitter on Monday and tweeted Thursday morning to say she received an "incredible" welcome to the social media site.
And in another sign that Clinton will start being more publically involved, the foundation set up after the 42nd president left the White House has recently been renamed the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
"We are so excited and thrilled to have this be a full partnership between the three of us," Clinton told the crowd today. "I traveled the world quite extensively over the last 4 years and one of the lessons I took away is that this model of partnerships and commitments is at the heart at what we need to do to meet the challenges of the 21st century."
On Friday, Clinton announced during her speech, CGI will be launching a new partnership with a goal to help parents, teachers and communities how to learn and apply the latest brain research to help early childhood learning.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will give the closing address at the Chicago conference Friday evening.