On April 1, President Bill Clinton convened over 1000 university students in San Diego for the 4th Annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) meeting. The conference ran from Fri through Sun on sunny UCSD’s campus with discussion ranging from improving global health to generating inter-cultural dialogue to providing education to the world’s most impoverished youth. It’s always thrilling and inspiring to be alongside so many peers itching to make a positive impression on the world.
As an attendee in past years, I was incredibly excited just to be in the same auditorium as President Clinton. This year was a particular treat as we, and our commitment to scale The School Fund, were presented on stage to the entire CGIU student body and invited to a special luncheon with President Clinton.
I traveled to CGIU this year with my team mate Saeed Hassan a (lucky :D) freshman at Brown University who joined The School Fund Team last fall. Like me, he had a personal encounter with the lack of access to education in the developing world that nudged him into action. His cousins, in Kenya, were unable to afford secondary school fees, and their journey to a better life was therefore cut short.
Saeed has joined the team, and brought with him energy and passion for this work, and is now helping Tim Eisen (Brown ’11) manage new partnerships. We have a growing team of 22 university students from Boston University, Brown University, Cornell University and the Unniversity of Pennsylvania.
The three-day conference began with a networking session and opening remarks by Mandy Moore (who tweeted about us by the way!). We had the iPad out, and were actively showing our peers the website. People our age tend to get it really quick, and many people were excited about the prospect of partnering with us, and putting students they work with on the site.
We were told to arrive one hour early to the RIMAC Auditorium, where the Opening Plenary was. We got there right on time, practiced going up on stage, and were told where to stand (complete with those little tape markers all over the floor). Then about 15 minutes before the start of the session, we were ushered back stage where secret service paced about, and technicians whispered in hushed voices through headsets. We were stationed in a small room off to the side of the stage, waiting for President Clinton to announce our commitment. We were the first ones up.
As he read our names, “I’d like to invite up to the stage Matt Severson and Saeed Hassan from Brown University, for their commitment called The School Fund,” we walked up the steps to an auditorium packed with over 3000 people. It was quite the moment, standing there besides President Clinton. We were probably meant to look straight ahead, but I couldn’t help and steal a few glances backwards, to watch one of the people I admire most in the world talk about The School Fund, what we have accomplished to date, our plans for the future, and why education is such a critical issue.
The rest of the weekend was a blur.
We attended two working sessions on education, did a video interview, were interviewed by Gary Robbins from the San Diego Tribune (story here) and met countless equally enthusiastic and motivated university students just like ourselves.
The main reason we were so eager to come to CGIU was because we are now opening our platform up to other NGOs and NPOs and allowing them to put their students on our site. In this way, their donors benefit from the transparency of our site (funders see a detailed list of school fees, and 100% of their funds go to the student’s education), and their students benefit from the communication tools we have built (funders and students can communicate with one another through the website).
The School Fund is bringing the traditional sponsor-a-student model into the 21st century. We do this by working with dedicated, trustworthy partners on the ground, who are able to identify and select students who qualify for scholarship funding on our website. We’re thrilled to have meet Renee, Nikhil and so many more young people like them who we can partner with.
During lunch, President Clinton told us that “you always have a choice.” He was referring to recent violence perpetrated by religious extremists in response to the burning of the Koran in FL, and how he believed their actions could have been far more productive if they decided instead to educate people and reconcile differences, rather than take lives.
That line stuck with me, because he was right. We do always have a choice. We young people can either sit passively and allow the world’s problems to fester, or we can take action to make our world a better place. We choose the latter.