6 inspiring moments from the first Clinton Global Initiative University alumni gathering

On November 2, 2019, President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton hosted the first major Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) alumni gathering at Cornell Tech on Roosevelt Island in New York City. The event celebrated 12 years of impact and innovation by CGI U alumni and brought together a diverse group of young leaders that are addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges.

The day featured plenary sessions led by President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, in addition to alumni-led small-group discussions on topics that included Using Art & Media for Social Innovation, Pitching for Investment, Scalable Systems, Scalable Impact, Diversity & Inclusion: Ensuring No One is Left Behind, Social Listening During Disaster Response, and more.

Here are the top 6 moments that inspired us at this year’s event:

1. Chelsea Clinton leading CGI U alumni in conversation about their growth and goals as social entrepreneurs and innovators

The morning plenary “Beyond the Commitment: Sustaining the Drive to Make a Difference,” was moderated by Chelsea Clinton.

“I am so thrilled to be here with you all today, to provide you with an opportunity to find areas of common cause and commitment with other CGI U Alumni,” said Chelsea Clinton.

The plenary included CGI U alumni Kristin Duquette — CGI U ’13, Former Appointee Obama Administration, Ashifi Gogo — CGI U ’09, Founder and CEO, Sproxil, Inc., Suhani Jalota — CGI U ’14, Founder and CEO, Myna Mahila Foundation, and Derrius Quarles — CGI U ’13, Fellow, Foster America and Founder of Million Dollar Scholar. They shared stories about their journeys through successes, failures, and challenges as they continue to work to make the world a better place.

“The failures I experience only occur when I’m so wrapped in my own head in fear and doubt that I don’t try,” said Kristin Duquette. “CGI U is so action-oriented and remembering that my actions are worth something is important.”

2. President Clinton speaking with leading experts about lessons learned through leadership

In a plenary session moderated by President Clinton, experts from the nonprofit, business and philanthropic sectors shared their experiences, lessons learned, and the core values that inform and inspire them as leaders. Featured panelists included Howard W. Buffett, Professor and Research Scholar, Columbia University, Cheryl Dorsey, President, Echoing Green, Indra Nooyi, Former Chairman and CEO, PepsiCo, and Zainab Salbi, Humanitarian, Journalist, and Author.

Zainab Salbi made a great point to CGI U alumni about the power of their individual life stories. “Everything we do is working through our own stories. My own journey made me believe that it is possible to make a change, and all that I’ve done is a manifestation of my inner story.”

President Clinton reminded alumni that with perseverance and a strong sense of self, they would be able to create the same levels of change that the panelists had achieved.

“It’s not always easy to keep going with these commitments, especially when real life gets in the way,” said President Clinton. “We live in times where too often headlines seem to matter more than trendlines and we’re dominated by news about what divides us, instead of what unites us. By doing what they do, these young women and men are building on our common humanity and making the world a more just place.”

3. CGI U alumni recommit to working for social change

Throughout the day, CGI U alumni were encouraged to write down the issues and causes that they were still committed to, in relation to their original Commitments to Action. By the end of the day, the recommitment wall was full with a wide range of goals for social impact in many of areas of need, such as alumni Ben Conard restating his passion for creating healthy treats that support communities around the world and alumni Gavin Armstrong staying committed to eradicating iron deficiency.

This alumni gathering highlighted CGI U’s long-term commitment to inspiring the next generation of entrepreneurs and global innovators, and served to illustrate the dynamic CGI U community. Alumni showcased their impressive accomplishments and goals to continue doing work that improves the lives of others, and with a strong network of over 10,000 alumni from more than 1,100 schools, 163 countries, and all 50 states, CGI U students have made over 8,000 Commitments to Action. Members of CGI U are positively impacting their hometowns, their college campuses, and communities around the globe.

4. Myeashea Alexander moved everyone with a reflection on her CGI U story

In her welcoming address, CGI U commitments manager and alumni member Myeashea Alexander reminded alumni of the resilient community that they are a part of and moved everyone with her CGI U experience story. When discussing what she learned as both an alumni and coordinator of the program, she said, “I think one of the most valuable lessons that I learned was that I could. I could take on new challenges, I could challenge unfair practices. I could fail and be okay. I could have a win and push even further. I just could.”

5. Sixto Cancel takes over CGI U’s Instagram to give a behind-the-scenes look of the day’s events

Sixto Cancel is a CGI U alumni member and CEO of Think of Us, which is a system change non-profit focused on leveraging technology to upgrade the foster care system and its programs. Sixto chronicled his day at the gathering by taking over CGI U’s Instagram.

He provided a behind-the-scenes, intimate look into the alumni community and the support that they give and get from each other by bringing followers along as he reconnected with his fellow alumni and mentor Vinny Johl, attended group discussions, and prepared to take the stage during President Clinton’s plenary to update the community about the progress of his Commitment to Action.

“When we started our Commitment of Action at CGI U, we committed to creating a website with videos to help young people get ready to be independent,” said Sixto Cancel. “At that time, I had no idea that the Think of Us team and our partners would’ve been able to have such a direct impact on upgrading the foster care system.”

Additional social media buzz from #CGIUAlumni included:

6. Alumni sharing advice and leading discussions on their areas of expertise

The day also featured two rounds of small-group discussions led by CGI U alumni. As part of the “Networking & Building Partnerships” group session, alumni John Kester III and Israt Aishee gave participants five key points to remember when forming business relationships:

  1. Keep open lines of communication
  2. Focus on individual strengths
  3. Celebrate even the smallest gains
  4. Unity allows for more productivity than division
  5. Remain steadfast in every pursuit until the end

These important discussions allowed for CGI U alumni to share some of the skills they have learned in their work as social entrepreneurs, and discuss and answer questions among each other on how to sustain the drive for social change.

To learn more about CGI U and the next annual meeting that will take place in April 2020 at the University of Edinburgh, or join the alumni community, visit www.cgiu.org.

CGI U is a growing network of young leaders who are developing innovative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges.