I recently attended the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting at UC San Diego where nearly 1,200 students, teachers, activists, celebrities, and all-round inspiring people gathered to discuss solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. In advance of the meeting, participants had to develop a commitment to action, or a specific plan that addresses challenges to education, the environment, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, or public health. The commitments represented solutions at the campus, community, and global level, and behind each one was a passionate participant who believes in his or her ability to make a positive change and invest in the future. Among them was a graduate student who started an education initiative for Mexican women working in factories in Tijuana; a college student who committed to using social media and other inclusive tactics to reach out to minorities on her campus; and another college student who is building a library in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for the children who inspired him after a visit.
The participants represent a generation dedicated to change, and more importantly, a group that will take action to make the change. As one panelist said, “You are the type of people who, when given a hoe and asked to rake the garden, build a community garden full of organically grown vegetables.”
I was there representing Enough’s Conflict-Free Campus Initiative, or CFCi. CFCi draws on the power of student leadership and activism to encourage university officials and stakeholders to commit to pressuring the electronics companies that produce our cell phones, computer, laptops, iPods etc, to take responsibility for the minerals in their supply chains, which have been contributing to the ongoing conflict in eastern Congo. The impact of CFCi is dependent upon the very demographic represented at CGI U to grow a nation-wide campaign that amplifies the consumer demand for conflict-free electronics. I was given an exhibition table at the conference and therefore had the opportunity to meet hundreds of students, learn about their commitments, and to share CFCi’s mission. It was incredibly motivating to see the development of a community of young leaders, and I was reassured that CFCi will grow and effectively leverage the influence of students as end-users of conflict-minerals.
The closing plenary of the weekend-long meeting featured President Bill Clinton, actor and activist Sean Penn, and Ugandan activist Kennedy Odede, President and CEO of Shining Hope for Communities. The first time Odede had money leftover after caring for his eight brothers and sisters in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya, he bought a soccer ball and started the first youth organization for slum residents. Now, a junior at Wesleyan University, Odede heads his organization, Shining Hope for Communities that works to combat gender inequality and extreme poverty in Kenyan slums. His first purchase, the soccer ball, cost him twenty cents in 2004, and his commitment to improving the lives of his people in the slum paved the way for the development of many more youth organizations in Kibera, and the construction of a schools for girls. Odede exemplifies how a small commitment to change can create a lasting impact on the lives of many, and his words were the last of the CGI U meeting: “You are the generation that needs to invest in our future, so have hope, spread your knowledge, and believe in the possibility of change.”