What I learnt at the Clinton Global Initiative University 2018 Conference
Each year, The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) hosts a conference where students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. In 2018, I had the honor of representing the University of British Columbia at the University of Chicago which brought together more than 1,000 students to working on CGI U’s five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health.
“I’m not an optimist. That makes me sound naïve. I’m a very serious “possibilist.” It means someone who neither hopes without reason, nor fears without reason, someone who constantly resists the overdramatic worldview. As a possibilist, I see all this progress, and it fills me with conviction and hope that further progress is possible. This is not optimistic. It is having a clear and reasonable idea about how things are. It is having a worldview that is constructive and useful. ” -Hans Rosling in “Factfulness”
“Ignorance should not be a privilege”- Chelsea Clinton
The conference, which had 1200+ people at the inaugural plenary, commenced on a Friday evening with an opening speech from Chelsea Clinton followed by an address from the CGI founder Bill Clinton. Among many things that Chelsea said, a quote by Jim Kim, President of the World Bank, stuck with me- “Optimism is a moral choice”.
I often find myself disappointed and hopeless while reading the headlines in the daily and reflecting on the horrors that we as a species inflict on each other and to the biosphere. It slurps away any hope, motivation and desire to do good and forces oneself to question “Is all that I do worth it? Is it even working?” At CGI U, being in that stadium with 1100+ peers who are trying to push for ambitious commitments to action to improve the outcomes in their communities, cities, and countries reinstilled lost optimism. From issues ranging to gun violence and gender inequality to inaccessibility to education for youth in refugee camps, I met a few hundred 20 year olds trying to make the world a better place. It’s was inspiring to say the least.
It was also exciting to meet the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and hear him talk about his experience in public service, and his understanding of the paradox between individualism and tribalism. I also met some amazing peers including, Sean Blackwell, a research assistant at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration who is trying to create effective change in hiring bias. Among many other topics, I gathered insights on vaccination debates in the US which inadvertently affects many other countries across the globe.
I concluded the event by adding to my Theory of Change- understanding your inherited and acquired privilege and leveraging it as an asset to enable freedoms to dream and the opportunities to wonder.
The Codeathon experience
I also participated in the Clinton Foundation Codeathon, “Code for Impact,” hosted by the CGI Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery and IBM that challenged us to develop digital tools that can increase the effectiveness of response and recovery efforts following natural disasters.
Over the course of 36 hours, with support of some exceptional mentors, many of whom were past CGI U commitment makers, My team and I identified that often college students are thought to be invincible in the wake of a natural disaster and we assume that they’ll be fine because their university will take care of them. But more often than not that isn’t the case. Institutions themselves incur millions of dollars in losses and the one’s that are particularly poorly funded cannot support students in such a situation.
We came up with the idea of creating student disaster relief fund that allows institutions to be better prepared, both financially for immediate response and training their students for long-term resiliency, by assuring each student has the financial security to meet their basic needs if a disaster intrudes their life. The students will further have an option to upgrade the minimum coverage by contributing a fixed amount every month and build financial security for themselves. You can read more about it here — Invincible.
Other solutions included a chatbot for first response agencies, an airbnb for disaster affected individuals that trains hosts to provide mental health support and a platform that connects job seekers in disaster hit areas with opportunities in close by towns where they seek refuge. These problems we were challenged to solve costs people their lives. To be able to work on something that has so much impact allowed me to learn more than I could have ever imagined and really hit home for myself how real climate change is.