What I learnt at the Clinton Global Initiative University 2018 meeting

“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”
Each year, The Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) hosts a meeting where students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. This year, the meeting took place at The University of Chicago and brought together more than 1,000 students to make a difference in CGI U’s five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health. This year, I had the honor of representing UBC and my commitment at CGI U. I also had the opportunity to participate in the Codeathon and make friendships I hope will last a lifetime.

*This article does not represent my political views*

The Codeathon experience

The Clinton Foundation Codeathon, “Code for Impact,” presented by the CGI Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery and the Clinton Climate Initiative, challenged students to develop digital tools that can increase the effectiveness of response and recovery efforts following natural disasters. Six teams worked on developing various interventions and pitched their projects to a panel of expert judges, including Chelsea Clinton, Chris Wheat (Chief of Policy, Office of the Mayor), and Bob Lord ( IBM’s first Chief Digital Officer) among others.

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 are ‘real’ problems by which I mean it 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.

The meeting

“Ignorance should not be a privilege”.- Chelsea Clinton

The meeting, which had 1200+ people at the inaugural plenary, commenced on 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”. It often happens, at least to me, that I wake up, read the headlines just to see all the disappointing and horrendous things we humans do to each other and to the environment. 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?” but being in that stadium with 1100+ fellow possiblists who have made diverse and often ambitious commitments to action to improve their communities, county’s, cities and countries brings back that lost optimism. From issues ranging to gun violence and gender inequality to inaccessibility to education for youth in refugee camps, a few hundred 20 year olds are trying to make the world a better place. It’s absolutely amazing.

It was also exciting to be a few feet away from the 42nd President of the United States, Bill Clinton, and hear him talk about his experience in public service, his views on where the world his headed and especially his understanding of the paradox between individualism and tribalism. All things separate, I do think he understands the world better than Donald Trump. 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 affective change in hiring bias. Among many other topics, I gathered insights on the gun violence and the vaccination debates in the US which inadvertently affects many other countries across the globe.

To attend and be accepted to CGI U, each student makes a commitment to action that could either be a current project/venture they are working on or something completely new that doesn’t yet exist. My own commitment, which is still very much in the ideation stage, is called — Venture for India, a fellowship to help international students startup in India. It targets the problem of brain drain in the country and given the current political stance of many countries on immigration and visas, reducing opportunity cost to return and creating support mechanisms to create social capital is crucial in my opinion. At CGI U, I had the opportunity to bounce this idea to many people got invaluable advice on how to refine, proceed and make this a reality in return. If this interests you at all, please reach out! I would love to pick your brains and get your feedback!

Overall, I gathered a lot of positivity at this year’s CGI U and solidified for myself that among many other things, the purpose of life is to have the freedom to dream and the opportunities to wonder.