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Bill Clinton speaks at the CGI U

Northeastern welcomes the Clinton Global Initiative University

More than 1,000 students, thought leaders, and dignitaries from around the world will convene at Northeastern, Oct. 13-15, 2017, for the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University. The three-day program—which will include the participation of students from 90 countries and 250 universities—will feature seminars, workshops, and panel discussions aimed at tackling some of the world’s biggest challenges as well as remarks by former President Bill Clinton, Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton, Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun, and others. News@Northeastern will provide continuing coverage of the projects, talks, and stories of CGI U 2017.

Albright, Clintons, Kennedy address CGI U students on refugees, climate, cooperation

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright encouraged students to "recognize people behind the immigration crisis" during Saturday's CGI U morning plenary. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

On Saturday, CGI U students listened to engaging discussions featuring scholars, dignitaries, and experts in fields of study that are crucial to the state of the world. Leaders such as former U.S. President Bill Clinton, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, Clinton Foundation Vice Chair Chelsea Clinton, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy III, and Partners in Health co-founder Paul Farmer urged attendees to take action in solving some of most pressing challenges.

Topics during the day’s three plenaries included creating opportunities for migrants and refugees, designing a sustainable future, and achieving compromise in a deeply polarized country.

On the move: Creating opportunity for migrants and refugees

Saturday began with a discussion on the global refugee crisis, something David Miliband, founder and CEO of the International Rescue Committee and a former Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in the U.K., described as “a trend, not a blip.”

Northeastern law professor Rachel Rosenbloom, a scholar of migrant and refugee issues, moderated the panel, which included Milliband, Albright, and Sarahi Espinoza Salamanca, founder and CEO of Dreamers Roadmap and an immigrant herself.

Photos by Matthew Modoono and Billie Weiss

Rosenbloom offered some scope of the issue, explaining that more than 250 million people live outside their countries of birth. While the majority of that population moved by choice, a significant number are fleeing war, persecution, and the often-devastating effect of climate change on their homes.

The scholars encouraged students to focus on the people behind these waves of migration as a means of effecting positive change.

“We have to recognize people behind the immigration crisis,” Albright said, recalling a moment when she was a refugee herself. Following one woman’s citizenship ceremony, the woman remarked that the secretary of state, then Albright, had signed her citizenship form.

“Can you imagine that a refugee is the secretary of state?” Albright responded. “That’s what this country is all about.”

Salamanca created a platform through which young people who were brought to the U.S. by their parents can find and apply for financial aid for college. Dubbed “Dreamers,” the platform came from her own experience trying to apply for college as a Dream Act student.

“In my experience, putting a face to these stories changes people’s minds and people’s hearts,” she said.

Of the global migration of refugees, Milibrand added: It’s one thing to say, ‘We’ve all got to live in this house together.’ It’s a far better thing to say, ‘Let’s all build this house together.’”

Making it: Designing a healthy and sustainable future

As the effects of climate change become increasingly clear, the imperative to design a more sustainable future also becomes stronger.

In search of the best way forward, Chelsea Clinton moderated a panel discussion on the topic Saturday afternoon.

Panelists included Farmer; Ayah Bdeir, founder and CEO of the innovation incubator littleBits; Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives at Apple; Samantha Marquez, innovator and activist from Yale University; and M. Sanjayan, CEO of Conservation International.

The importance of social justice in environmentalism emerged from the discussion as a unifying thread.

Photo by Billie Weiss/for Northeastern University

“We need social justice in the delivery of material services in health and education,” Farmer said, noting that places like West Africa, for example, are “clinical deserts.”

Jackson added that big companies have the “responsibility” to ensure they’re acting responsibly within the environment. “At Apple, we talk a lot about making the best products in the world,” she said. “The other side of that is making the best products for the world. That’s central at Apple, and we have a responsibility to do so.”

Clinton asked Sanjayan for advice moving forward. His answer echoed that of Albright, Miliband, and Salamanca, who spoke earlier in the day. “I’m not a big believer in using science to deliver a message,” he said. “I think messages that resonate in the heart and then engage the mind are more important.”

Finding compromise

In the closing plenary session, former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton joined Kennedy for a conversation that centered on achieving the seemingly impossible—compromise in a country that feels deeply divided.

One of the focus areas of CGI U 2017 was climate change. In his closing remarks, President Clinton said the country likely can’t count on the federal government to pass any sweeping climate change legislation anytime soon. So, he asked Kennedy, how can motivated young people make a difference?

“It’s not just a question of, ‘what can you do?’” Kennedy said. “Folks, we’re depending on you.”

Photos by Casey Bayer and Matthew Modoono

Kennedy, who said the current government doesn’t have the political will to act on climate change, praised those who have already taken bold approaches to tackling the problem. He encouraged students passionate about protecting the planet to continue building apps, launching action organizations, and joining lawsuits that are being filed by young Americans concerned about an uncertain climate future.

“In the absence of the action many of us desire, you are our best hope,” Kennedy said.

He also offered advice on how to be politically effective. One way is to pressure lawmakers on the local and municipal levels to adopt environmentally responsible policies. “We can force our country to take action piece by piece, where our federal government fails to do so,” Kennedy said.

In response to an audience question about how to reach agreement with individuals whose views you staunchly oppose, Chelsea Clinton said there are certain areas where compromise may not be possible. And that’s a good thing.

“I don’t think there’s a middle ground to bigotry,” Clinton said, adding that the same goes for racism, sexism, and transphobia. “There is no middle ground if you’re denying someone’s equal humanity.”

Aside from these non-negotiable values, everyone on the panel agreed that compromise will be essential in uniting the country and making progress on our most pressing issues. Indeed, cooperation among diverse voices and perspectives is what the country is founded on, President Clinton said.

“Read the Constitution. It might as well be subtitled, ‘Let’s make a deal,’” Clinton said. He asked the audience to imagine a world where no one wins unless everyone is empowered to win. And he offered a simple but poignant piece of advice.

“People are more inclined to listen to you if you’ve listened to them,” Clinton said.

CGI U students committed to action, collaboration

Each of the 1,200 students who participated in this year’s Clinton Global Initative University were committed to making a difference in the world. We caught up with a few—who hailed from as close as Northeastern and as far away as Hong Kong—to learn more about their projects.

Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Darian Cheung

Hong Kong Polytechnic University
Cheung’s commitment to action for CGI U involved creating a pathway for refugees to become more enmeshed in Chinese culture, specifically through employment and educational opportunities.“In Hong Kong, refugees have to wait 13 years for a government ID,” he said. “That’s just too long. My plan is to give them opportunities to serve the community in exchange for the food, shelter, and help they need.” Acknowledging the massive global refugee population, he added, “I may not be able to solve the whole problem at once, but I can help solve the consequences of this global issue.”
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Pauline Pratt

George Washington University
Pratt, who is dedicated to improving the health of mothers and children in Sierra Leone, said she was also looking forward to developing her idea in collaboration with the thousands of other student changemakers at CGI U. “There are so many ways to be inspired this weekend, and I want to take advantage of all of them.”
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Omeiya Yousuf

Miami Dade College
Yousuf was concerned with resources for students at college. Her CGI U commitment to action focused on developing ecologically sustainable, economically affordable laundromats on college campuses. “By powering what would essentially be a laundromat on campus with solar panels, we can create a space where students can do laundry without spending any money,” she said. “Not being able to afford to clean your clothes impacts students in so many other ways—maybe they’re embarrassed to go to class or interview for a job—and these are things we can fix. Small footprints make a big impact.”
Photo by Casey Bayer/for Northeastern University

Alice Firebrace

Edinburgh University, Scotland
A social scientist by way of set designer, Firebrace took a creative approach to reducing waste with her organization, Refuse Refuse, Inc. She created an interactive traveling art installation that replicates the waste cycle in Scotland. “The idea is to get people not only to think about recycling more, but to think about their consumption from the beginning as well,” she said. “Our ownership of an item is really only a blip in the lifespan of that item, and so reducing our consumption from the start is a big step in the right direction.”
Photo by Casey Bayer/for Northeastern University

Sam Rawal

Arizona State University
Rawal, who worked on the team that won the weekend’s “Codeathon,” was creating a breakthrough solution for a complex and pervasive problem in rural India: Hospital patients often have disjointed, incomplete medical records. This is typically the result of language differences among different communities or just simply a lack of infrastructure to house files. “But what if there were a unique, biometric way to code these files? Perhaps with a thumbprint? Then records could move with each patient much more easily,” he said.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Michael Yared

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zurich
Yared’s work focused on improving educational opportunities for children in developing countries by using technology to deliver lessons more effectively. “We’re trying to build the future of education by creating a system that’s easily deployed and based on experience,” he said.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Apurwa Shukla

University of California, San Diego
Shukla focused her efforts on building better sanitation infrastructure in refugee camps. “This is a real problem at many of these camps, and more often than not it leads to serious health issues for refugees,” she said. She, too, was eager to take advantage of the depth of innovative thinking at the event.
Photo by Casey Bayer/for Northeastern University

Mai Anh Srisuk

Northeastern University
Srisuk founded Barcode, a platform to combat human trafficking in Vietnam specifically and Southeast Asia at large. It’s a topic that’s personal, as her mother was kidnapped at a young age in Vietnam. “She made it out alive, but not everyone is so lucky,” Srisuk said. “I’m trying to create a pathway for funding, as many of the non-governmental organizations dedicated to this sort of work simply don’t have the funding they need to rescue the women and girls in danger.”
Photo by Casey Bayer/for Northeastern University

Edna Teiko-Awere

University of Alabama, Birmingham
Teiko-Awere was committed to bolstering mental health services on college campuses. “So many students either don’t know about ways to maintain good mental health or don’t know where to find help when they need it,” she said. “These services could be better packaged to deliver them straight to students.”
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Crystal Chan

Chinese University of Hong Kong
Together with a team of her peers, Chan developed a novel way to standardize body weight testing in Chinese youth—a particularly complex issue given the rapidly changing bodies of 6-, 7-, and 8-year-olds. “What we’ve discovered is that the ratio of waist circumference to height is a much more accurate measure of whether a child is at risk for obesity,” she said, compared to a body-mass index figure.
Photo by Casey Bayer/for Northeastern University

Marcelo Diogo Sousa Rodrigues

University of Fortaleza, Brazil
Concerned about deforestation and the decimation of communities that rely on forests, Rodrigues created The Legal Wood Online, an effort to “break the mafia’s illegal timber trade,” he said. The program will help bolster the environment and create pathways for communities to generate income through responsible consumption of forestland.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Vivien Aruwa

Miami Dade College
Aruwa, who is the first person in her family to attend college, founded Bombshell in Business, a platform for first-generation college students to get advice before heading into their professional careers. “It’s a one-stop shop for mentors,” she explained. “There are so many questions you have when you’re going on an interview for the first time or writing a resumé. This is the place to ask those and get answers from successful working women.”

At CGI U, President Aoun leads discussion on future of higher education

As part of CGI U 2017, President Aoun moderated a panel discussion titled “Skills vs. Degrees,” which centered on the need to provide alternative avenues for young people to achieve lifelong success. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University
As part of CGI U 2017, President Aoun moderated a panel discussion titled “Skills vs. Degrees,” which centered on the need to provide alternative avenues for young people to achieve lifelong success. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University

D’Wayne Edwards, founder of PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, grew up in a rough neighborhood of Inglewood, California. He never saw college as an option. But he did have a gift—the ability to draw anything he could see. As a kid, he visited a footwear design company and left some of his drawings in its suggestion box.

“My suggestion was they hire me as a footwear designer. And they did,” Edwards said. He shared that story on Saturday while serving on a panel discussion titled, “Skills vs. Degrees,” which was moderated by Northeastern University President Joseph E. Aoun. The session was part of the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University, hosted this year by Northeastern. CGI U 2017 convened more than 1,200 students from 90 countries and 250 colleges to address challenges in education, poverty alleviation, public health, and other fields.

Many Americans today wonder whether traditional post-secondary education is the right path for them, or assume, like Edwards did, that college is out of reach altogether. There’s also the question of a changing workforce—one in which many jobs will be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence. What avenues should young people pursue to increase their chances of success? What if they don’t have the luxury of worrying about education at all?

To tackle these questions, Edwards joined Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, an urban youth development organization. Each are focused on helping young people achieve upward mobility.

President Aoun joins D'Wayne Edwards, founder of PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, an urban youth development organization. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University.

President Aoun joins D’Wayne Edwards, founder of PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, Andrew McAfee, principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and Gerald Chertavian, founder and CEO of Year Up, an urban youth development organization. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University.

At Northeastern, Aoun said students learn how to thrive in a rapidly evolving professional environment through experiential learning—such as with co-op programs, the cornerstone of the university’s learning model.

At PENSOLE Footwear Design Academy, students can learn the ins-and-outs of footwear design for free while receiving industry mentorship and exposure to top brands. It doesn’t lead to a four-year degree, but it’s an innovative program that provides a clear path to a desirable design career.

“I don’t want other kids like me to get bypassed,” Edwards said.

Chertavian is also focused on providing an affordable education alternative to underserved youth. At Year Up, young adults interested in working in technology industries receive six months of intensive training, are placed in a six-month internship, and then land an entry-level job with an average annual salary of $40,000.

A theme throughout the discussion was the need to empower low-income youth who might not attend a traditional four-year college. When a significant sector of the population is kept from entering the workforce because of their race, income, or zip code, “We all stand to lose,” Chertavian said.

“We are a hack to a broken labor market in the United States,” Chertavian said, referring to programs like his and Edward’s. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University.

“We are a hack to a broken labor market in the United States,” Chertavian said, referring to programs like his and Edward’s. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University.

“We are a hack to a broken labor market in the United States,” Chertavian said, referring to programs like his and Edward’s.

Part of the issue, McAfee said, is that current technology is changing at “unprecedented speeds,” and it is not evenly distributed. For the first time, many people feel their economic future—and that of their children—won’t improve.

To prepare for a rapidly changing workforce, Aoun emphasized the need for students of all ages to hone skills robots can’t replace, such as entrepreneurship, cultural agility and creativity. He said that these talents, which he collectively refers to as “human literacy,” must be integrated with technological and data literacies. This new curriculum is outlined in Aoun’s book, Robot Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence.

You’re in the middle of an enormous change, and you will be leading it,” Aoun said.

“You’re in the middle of an enormous change, and you will be leading it,” Aoun said. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University.

“You’re in the middle of an enormous change, and you will be leading it,” Aoun said. Photo by Billie Weiss for/Northeastern University.

The panelists all agreed the world is changing, and higher education needs to change with it. But they each had encouraging things to say to an audience of some of the most ambitious students in the world. Edwards encouraged young people to “be the inspiration that you’re seeking.”

“We learn form each other a lot more than from an instructor or school. We feed off each other. The problem is we don’t give as much as we should,” Edwards said.

Chertavian echoed the sentiment. “Go to bed tonight and think really big. Get up in the morning and think way bigger,” he said.

 

CGI U students volunteer across Boston for Day of Action

Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, packages food with Clinton Global Initiative University students during Sunday's Day of Action. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Hundreds of Clinton Global Initiative University students fanned out through Boston neighborhoods on Sunday for a Day of Action that capped off the weekend conference.

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Students went to St. Stephen’s Youth Programs, Inner City Sanctuary for the Arts, the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, and the Orchard Gardens housing complex to work on projects that involved gardening, cleaning, painting, and building.

Photos by Casey Bayer for Northeastern University

To kick things off, though, the students assembled at Madison Park Technical Vocational High School, where they were addressed by former U.S. President Bill Clinton; Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation; Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh; Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun; and John Tobin, Northeastern vice president for city and community affairs.

Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Walsh highlighted the importance of engaging in service, encouraging students to “work together to fight for what’s right, to represent the people who need us and who want us to stand for them.”

It’s that forward-thinking, innovative spirit that defines Boston, Walsh said. He and others noted that it encapsulates Northeastern as well.

“Northeastern embodies the ethic of service that CGI represents,” President Clinton said, referring to the Clinton Global Initiative. He pointed to the university’s co-op program as evidence. “Think about this: an ordinary part of being a student at Northeastern University is taking six months to be in another culture and be of use,” he said.

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

On co-op, students have an opportunity to get hands-on experience in a given field, engaging with it in a deep and lasting way. Over the weekend, that ethos was on full display by CGI U students who are working to solve global challenges in education, public health, the environment, and other fields. “What I’ve seen over the past two and a half days—what I’ve learned from Chelsea and President Clinton and from all of you—is that you’re committed not only to look at and study an issue, but to engage with it to solve it,” Aoun said.

Photos by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Indeed, service was a central part of the weekend’s activities. Chelsea Clinton described it as “leaving these places a little more beautiful than when we arrived.”

Anna Sullie, a student from Michigan State University who spent the morning spreading mulch at the Orchard Gardens housing complex, expanded on Clinton’s point. “This whole weekend, we’ve been talking about ideas for big changes,” she said. “It’s good to do something really tangible as well. The change we’re making here is just as important as saving the rest of the world.”

Students urged to ‘serve,’ ‘uplift,’ ‘create’ at kick-off event for Clinton Global Initiative University

At the opening plenary session of CGI U 2017 on Friday night at Matthews Arena, former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, President Aoun, and others imparted heartfelt words of wisdom to 1,200 students from 90 countries around the world. “The most important things in life,” Clinton told the young changemakers, “are liberty and love and the opportunity to give something to someone else.”

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