26 Northwestern students will attend Clinton Global Initiative University in April


Source: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times/MCT

Former President Bill Clinton hosts a Clinton Global Initiative infrastructure meeting at city hall in Los Angeles on Thursday, April 3, 2014. Clinton's initiative calls for him to meet with municipal leaders to discuss infrastructure issues. Northwestern students were invited to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University, an annual meeting of more than 1,000 students with plans for action in their college campuses, communities or around the world, to give them a chance to network and fundraise.

Renzo Downey, Reporter

When the Clinton Global Initiative University convenes at the University of California, Berkeley in early April, 26 Northwestern students will present their ideas to combat global challenges.

CGI U is an annual meeting of more than 1,000 students with plans for action on their college campuses, communities or around the world, giving them a chance to network and fundraise, said CGI U commitments manager Emily Friedman. The event was founded in 2007 by former President Bill Clinton after the success of the Clinton Global Initiative, in which global leaders convene to implement plans to combat global challenges.  

This year, 26 NU students grouped into 14 teams were invited to the conference at UC Berkeley.

Weinberg sophomore Hannah Ryon, one of the students participating in CGI U, created a plan to clean the Chicago River by introducing bivalves, such as mussels and oysters, which will consume fecal matter, the primary pollutant in the river, she said.

“When I first came to college, you kind of have that thought that the adults are already doing it all, you don’t need to put in the effort, it’s already been done,” Ryon said. “After a little while, I was really researching it, and I was like, ok, the adults aren’t doing it. I’m an adult now. I should do it.”

Ryon said she learned about CGI U through a Buffett Institute for Global Studies newsletter and was inspired to continue her research and to apply it to the Chicago River.

“I really like the idea of the conference because you get to learn about ways to create a more long-lasting impact as opposed to just doing something that might just scrape the surface of an issue,” she said.

CGI U has overseen the proposals of more than 55,000 commitments to action in fields including education, public health, human rights, poverty alleviation and environment and climate change, Friedman said.

In addition to funding through the Commitments Challenge, a select group of CGI U students will receive funding from the Resolution Project a global nonprofit that fosters youth leadership development through collaborative social entrepreneurship which distributes $100,000 in seed funding, said Sara Horowitz, communications manager at the Clinton Foundation, in an email to The Daily.

Caleigh Hernandez (Weinberg ‘15) is currently living in Nairobi, Kenya after receiving seed funding from the Social Venture Challenges in 2015. Hernandez said she created a business called Best Foot Forward, which sells sandals made by Kenyan artisans to women’s boutiques, and uses the profits to send women and unemployed workers in Kenya through vocational school.

“The sandal-making industry within Kenya itself is really up and coming and quite popular, so there’s definitely demand for skilled labor in this market,” Hernandez said. “They then have the opportunity to earn higher wages and sustainable wages.”

The goal of this project is to help combat the unemployment in the sub-Saharan country, whose unemployment rate ranges from 40 to 60 percent. As the artisans complete vocational school, Best Foot Forward then hires them as workers in the company at wages higher than the industry standard, Hernandez said.

School of Professional Studies senior Kristen Scotti, former CGI U campus representative for NU, recalled Hernandez’s project and the passion she had when she created her proposal. Scotti herself attended CGI U in 2014, she said.

“Her project was one of them that set off a light bulb,” Scotti said. “I think a lot of people try to set these goals that are honestly too big to be able to achieve. She was right where it would be extremely challenging but still doable, and she had a lot of passion behind it.”

Since the 2014-2015 school year, the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at NU has served as the CGI U liaison, coordinating information sessions to help students meet the annual Oct. 15 application deadline.

“CGI U for the students is sort of a catalyst to get them to start thinking more globally about how they and their teams can play a significant role in solving a really big challenge,” said Monika Wnuk, integrated marketing and communications manager at ISEN. “It asks them to propose something very tangible that maybe isn’t within their reach in the moment, but is something that they can plan to complete in a year or two years.”

A previous version of this story misstated the number of NU students who will attend Clinton Global Initiative University this April. Twenty-six students will attend. It also misstated Monika Wnuk’s quote. She said CGI U asks student participants to propose something very tangible that may not be within their reach in the moment. The Daily regrets the errors.

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Twitter: @RenzoDowney