My Experiences at CGIU 2016: Turning Ideas Into Action

By: William Yakah, ‘19 Freshman, (from) Ghana, Neuroscience Major

Poster PresentationI was very excited to be one of the 10 students that represented Michigan State University at the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) 2016 last weekend, April 1st to 3rd, at University of California Berkeley. For the past 8 years, the Clinton Foundation has been organizing CGIU; a three-day event where college students, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges in the areas of Education, Environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health. Participating students make a Commitment to Action; to develop new, specific, measurable problem-solving initiatives that will address identified problems all over the world.

This year’s CGIU was a unique one as it recorded the highest number of participants in the history of CGIU. Over 6500 students coming from more than 100 different countries. It was the first in history California received more than 100 country representatives, roughly double the number represented at the United Nations charter signing in 1945. The event kicked off on Friday night with an opening plenary discussion featuring President Bill Clinton, his daughter Chelsea Clinton, founder of the online Khan Academy Salman Khan, and Cady Coleman, a NASA astronaut who flew two Space Shuttle missions and spent 159 days in space as a crew member on 2011’s Expedition 27 to the International Space Station. There was so much energy in the house that night as these prominent people discussed the topic “the Courage to Create”, highlighting their involvements in several fields to addressing some challenges they’ve faced in their careers.

Bill ClintonMy team’s commitment to action was “Life After Rape Initiative” (LARI), a student-led program aimed at providing academic support, health insurance, mentorship and entrepreneurial skills to female rape victims in Democratic Republic of Congo. Women in DR Congo for some years now have suffered the worst form of sexual assault in the form rape. In 2011, the United Nations (U.N) revealed that the eastern part of Congo as the “rape capital of the world”. A USA today study also reveals that in every hour, forty-eight (48) women are raped in D.R Congo, giving a total of 1,152 a day. Students, especially females, have been highly affected by this unprecedented epidemic. The female victims either become pregnant from rape and/or contract several diseases including STD’s and as a result, drop out of school. Their hopes, dreams, future aspirations and security have been wiped away. LARI aims at providing the academic, social and psychological assistance these victims need, while equipping them with entrepreneurial skills so they’ll be able to sustain themselves in the future. LARI project was a finalist in the Resolution Venture Challenge at CGIU.

As the Vice President of Students for A Healthy Africa (SAHA), a coalition of highly motivated students across the globe that are interested in promoting quality healthcare in Africa, I can speak to SAHA’s continuous initiatives to unite and support students in Africa through student-led community based projects and programs. I could not afford to miss one of the discussion sessions that focused on the aftermath of Ebola and the lessons learned. We had some Doctors from the affected countries that shared their experiences and thoughts on what our world, especially students, can do to prevent such Epidemics from recurring.

Day of ActionCGIU ended on Sunday morning with a Day of Action; a day where participating students take part in community service in the neighborhood. We volunteered at Oakland Public Cluster of Schools where we painted classroom buildings, sign posts, and flower pots, planted new flowers, gardening work, etc. It was a great opportunity for us, as student leaders, to set the pace for other young students in Oakland schools to follow.

I am inspired beyond words to be a change maker in every situation I find myself in. Listening to inspirational speeches from Bill Clinton and other young change makers was everything I could ask for. “Its all starts with an Application”- NASA’s Cady Coleman noted. We need to go beyond our fears and take the initiative. “Failure is not a crime, but the failure to try, however, is”- Bill Clinton added.

As students, we need to recognize that even though we can’t create a perfect world, our initiatives, commitments and actions can make the world better everyday.

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