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.
Sights and sounds of CGI U at Northeastern University
Last weekend, 1,200 students and thought-leaders coalesced at Northeastern for the 10th annual Clinton Global Initiative University. They brought big ideas on how to change the world for the better, and excitement for the future. Relive it all here. Video by Benjamin Bertsch and Adam Fischer
Albright, Clintons, Kennedy address CGI U students on refugees, climate, cooperation
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.
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.
“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.”
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.”
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.
Mai Anh Srisuk
Marcelo Diogo Sousa Rodrigues
At CGI U, President Aoun leads discussion on future of higher education
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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