|By Brian Santhumayor [ Published Date: April 5, 2012 ]|
Washington D.C. – On March 30, I attended the much awaited fifth annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) hosted by President Bill Clinton in Washington, D.C. As a member of President Clinton’s Foundation Millennium Network and GWU alumni, I was looking forward to attending this event. CGI U, founded by former U.S. President Clinton in 2007, provides a forum to engage both domestic and international students on the challenges facing the world today. It is a unique program that builds upon President Clinton’s belief that young people have more power today to change the world than they ever had before.
There was an aura of excitement and anticipation inside the Charles E. Smith Center at the George Washington University (GWU) campus as more than 1,000 students representing all 50 states, 82 countries, and more than 300 universities gathered for the opening plenary session hosted by President Bill Clinton. Dr. Steve Knapp, President of the George Washington University opened up the event to a loud burst of applause, followed by an enlightening panel discussion on the importance of public service moderated by President Clinton and which featured former Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright, Rye Barcott, co-founder, Carolina for Kibera, Usher, singer, song-writer and actor and chairman and founder, Usher’s New Look Foundation, and Sadiqa Basiri Saleem, executive director, Oruj Learning Center.
President Clinton accentuated the prominence of hosting the conference at GWU. He said, “GWU is the perfect host for this conference. More than 200 years ago, President George Washington called for the establishment of a great university to forge citizen leaders. Today, GWU is an embodiment of that vision. Under President Knapp’s leadership, GWU has established the Center for Civic Engagement and Public Service to help develop the next generation of public service leaders.” President Clinton eloquently proclaimed, “Our fifth CGI University meeting has been a real success, with 915 new commitments made, which brings us to nearly 4,000 total commitments since the first meeting in 2008,” said President Clinton. “Young people have a greater ability to enact change than ever before and CGI U is a global network of young people seeking to use the resources at their disposal to make a difference in the world.”
During the first two days of the CGI U 2012 conference, students along with distinguished speakers and moderators, examined critical topics such as the transformation of the Middle East, the global economic crisis and its impact on young people, recruiting and retaining teachers, the famine in the Horn of Africa, cost-effective campus sustainability programs, and the youth movement for global health. A big cynosure of the plenary session was singer Usher who founded Usher's New Look Foundation, a 501c3, established in 1999, which certifies young people in four leadership pillars talent, education, career and service – to ensure their success as leaders throughout the world. In response to a question from the audience as to what inspires him to do public service, he said, “ By applying these four leadership pillars I created - to engage youth at a very young age, to support those who are in need, for youth to be engaged ask and accept the help, this is evidence that it is a reality.”
Singer Usher also entertained the audience with his rendition of a Whitney Houston song. Rye Barcott who is the co-founder of Carolina for Kibera said, “Talent is universal, but opportunity is not.” He described the entrepreneurial prowess of a woman he met in Kibera, a slum outside Nairobi, Kenya, who sold vegetables for years to earn enough money to open a tiny medical clinic for her community. He stressed the importance and need of connecting talent with opportunity. Madeline Albright lauded President Clinton for doing an amazing amount of work in Haiti and being able to get money and support in a variety of areas. President Clinton pointed out that Haiti is second only to India in terms of the largest number of NGOs per capita in the world. He said, “My recommendation is to first of all figure out what you want to do, then check the organization you want to support and give them money. You can find an NGO to work with that fits what you care about. We list a lot of them and you can follow them.”
John Stewart regaled the audience and engaged them in an open discussion on a wide range of topics which included gay marriage, domestic violence, energy policy, foreign aid in developing countries, the state of Afghanistan, unemployment, and the role of civic engagement among today’s youth. Chelsea Clinton moderated a discussion on avenues of creating opportunity in a turbulent economic world. The panel included Demos’ Vice President of Policy and Programs, Tamara Draut, Wello CEO, Cynthia Koenig, Inter-American Development Bank President, Luis A. Moreno and Founder of Navdanya, Vandana Shiva. Students honed their knowledge and skills by participating in various workshops that focused on CGI U’s five prime areas of education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.
On Sunday, over 800 attendees, volunteers, and local veterans worked collaboratively to give back to the D.C. community. This year, the service project was held in partnership with Rebuilding Together and the United Service Organizations (USO), and included remarks by President Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, United States House of Representatives (D-DC), and others. As GWU alum, I was proud that GWU was chosen as the venue for this great event. It also highlighted GWU’s commitment to action and developing the next generation of public service leaders.
About The Author
Brian Santhumayor has a Master’s Degree in International Policy and Practice from The Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University. He currently works for the U.S. State Department - Bureau of Consular Affairs as a Liaison Officer and has won many leadership awards including U.S. President Obama’s Volunteer Service Award, Leadership Award from the U.S. State Department, and a Commendation from President Clinton’s American India Foundation for his leadership.