A group of 13 Georgetown University students joined 1,000 others to attend the ninth annual Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of California, Berkeley from April 1 to 3.
Established by former President Bill Clinton, CGI U was created in 2007 to bring leaders together from across the world to explore current challenges in modern society.
The Georgetown students who applied were accepted to attend the meeting by proposing a plan called “Commitment to Action.” The proposal addresses a pressing global issue in one of CGI U’s five focus areas: education, poverty alleviation, public health, environment and climate change and peace and human rights.
Each commitment, which can either be presented individually or in groups of up to three, must set forth a new idea and have specific quantitative or qualitative goals.
At the conference, students participated in skill-building, networking and working group sessions. A total of $900,000 in funding was available this year to support students’ commitments.
Since the conference held its inaugural meeting in 2008, students have implemented over 3,400 commitments that have impacted 430 million people in over 180 countries.
Georgetown Vice President for Government Relations and Community Engagement Christopher Murphy (GRD ’98), who also serves as CGI U’s campus liaison, praised the conference as an important opportunity for Georgetown students.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity for Georgetown students to be able to share some of their innovative ideas for changing the world, and I think it was also an opportunity for them to receive the kind of support and recognition that we want them to have,” Murphy said. “It really illustrates the variety of students and what they’re clearly united in — a desire to change the world and a commitment to finding a practical way to do just that. That’s what we really wanted to honor.”
Febin Bellamy (MSB ’17) was first invited to the conference in 2014 while attending Rockland Community College in New York. His commitment, named “Just Save One: Project India,” raised over $5,000 worth of medical supplies to send to three hospitals in Goa.
This year, Bellamy, who served as Georgetown’s student representative at the conference, proposed a commitment titled “Unsung Heroes,” a Humans of New York-style social media platform dedicated to highlighting the facilities workers of Georgetown University and sharing their stories.
Bellamy said his commitment’s purpose is to highlight the work of employees that often goes unnoticed on campus.
“‘Unsung Heroes’ is trying to show appreciation for the workers who do so much for our campus behind the scenes, but often times they don’t get recognized or appreciated for it,” Bellamy said. “Once we get students to learn about their stories, we’re going to try do custodian appreciation days, particularly to show awareness.”
Bellamy was raised in rural India until he was five years old. He said he plans to return to the country after graduation and use his undergraduate business background to complete consulting and service work.
“My long-term goal is to start a nonprofit that helps some of the poverty alleviation in India, where I’m from originally,” Bellamy said. “As far as directly after graduation, I want to develop the skills of becoming a successful nonprofit leader.”
Another “Commitment to Action” was called “Students Applying Technology and Coding for Human Rights” by Alex Luta (COL ’16), Amin Gharad (COL ’16) and Joseph Lanzilla (SFS ’16), which proposes using geospatial technology to advance human rights.
The commitment by Alexander Wheeler (COL ’17), Jennifer Ding (COL ’17) and Martin Vanin (SFS ’17) attempts to use microfinance to reintegrate demobilized members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerilla movement involved in the country’s ongoing armed conflict.
Rocio Mondragon Reyes (SFS ’19) began “Students Equipped for Tomorrow” with Diego Tum-Monge (COL ‘19), an education proposal looking to motivate minority students to pursue post-secondary interests. They are currently partnered with a local high school in the District’s Ward 4.
Reyes said his status as a first-generation American has guided his commitment to social justice and plans for the future.
“We’re both first-generation minority students, so we’re looking to test our own theories how to help students like ourselves,” Reyes said. “I feel like social justice work is something that I won’t do as a career because it’s more a part of my life. Regardless of what my career title is, I will continue doing it and make sure that I’m doing it throughout my life.”
Hannah Gerdes (SFS ’16) spent the summer between her junior and senior year of college in Vidarbha, India, working with a research unit on mental health. Her commitment is named “Qualitative Research on Individual-Level Protective Factors,” which works to train and utilize the way health workers provide psychosocial intervention.
Gerdes reflected on the connections she made during the conference and the impact they had on her perspective of her proposal.
“The most important thing that I took away were from casual interactions, not from a particular program or panel, but from waiting in line for lunch or dinner, or waiting in line to catch a shuttle, striking up conversation with other students who were there and getting ideas and feedback about our commitments,” Gerdes said.
Three other students, Sarah AbdulRazak (COL ’18), Sebastian Nicholls (SFS ’16) and Katherine Schmidt (SFS ’18), also attended the conference.
Bellamy lauded CGI U’s encouragement of student leadership and innovation.
“I like [CGI U] because it inspires students to not be followers but be leaders, actually start your own project, actually go out of your comfort zone and do something totally innovative,” Bellamy said. “That’s what I like most about CGI U. It takes us out of our comfort zone. You have to be innovative every single time you go there. You have to do something different.”
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