Karim Abouelnaga ’13 had one thing on his mind as former President Bill Clinton was about to introduce him as a speaker at Clinton’s social justice conference for university students: Would Clinton get Abouelnaga’s last name right?
After the slightest hesitation, Clinton, of course, nailed it.
“President Clinton has been an incredible role model for me ever since I learned that we share very humble beginnings,” said Abouelnaga, who took the stage with Clinton to describe Practice Makes Perfect, a nonprofit Abouelnaga co-founded while at Cornell; it provides academically struggling middle school students with an intensive academic summer program.
Abouelnaga, who is majoring in hotel administration, and 17 other Cornell students were selected to participate in the sixth annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) April 5-7 in St. Louis. They joined more than 1,000 students from all 50 states and 75 countries to learn how to translate their social justice ideas into more meaningful and sustainable action.
Building on the Clinton Global Initiative, which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges, Clinton launched CGIU in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world.
Each year, CGIU hosts students, youth organizations, topic experts and celebrities to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges in CGIU’s five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health. As a prerequisite of attending, students and youth organizations develop a specific plan of action that addresses a pressing social challenge; CGIU then selects its attendees.
Besides Practice Makes Perfect, the Cornell projects at CGIU included:
- CompassPoint Mentorship: provides peer-to-peer mentoring services to disadvantaged high school students;
- Footprints: provides children in developing countries with schools supplies and shoes;
- Just Save One: provides children who attend a school in Kenya with school supplies and shoes;
- Sustainable and Affordable Housing Development: working on a housing model for low-income families in Nicaragua; and
- Volunteer Connection Project Egypt: developing a website to link student volunteers worldwide with nongovernmental organizations in Egypt.
At CGIU, the Cornell students attended plenary sessions, workshops and other events that allowed them to develop practical skills, identify potential partners and formulate concrete plans of action for the months ahead. For example, a panel titled “Solutions Without Borders: Working with Unlikely Allies” convened entrepreneurs and policymakers including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and urban farmer Will Allen of Growing Power to discuss how cooperation, civility and trust are crucial to solving global challenges.
“What’s extraordinary about CGIU is that it recruits a diverse group of highly advanced professionals in the field who assist students in designing and enacting their vision for social change. The creative energy that is generated, the depth of the thinking that takes place, is truly striking,” said Richard Kiely, Ph.D. ’02, director of Engaged Learning and Research at Cornell. Kiely joined the students in St. Louis as Cornell’s representative to CGIU’s University Network – 33 universities that support their students through seed grants to fund student commitments made at CGIU. Cornell is a founding member.
The Practice Makes Perfect contingent attended workshops on various topics including analytics and nonprofit performance metrics. A session on digital education will help them optimize their social media strategy and use online resources to enhance their curriculum, said Tyler Shine, a junior in the School of Hotel Administration.
“The one takeaway that I got was that one person – or a small group of people working toward the same cause – can make a tremendous difference,” Shine said. “It seemed like everyone at the conference had either helped a number of people domestically and internationally or were diligently working toward implementing a process to help those in need. An experience like that truly restores your faith in humanity.”
For David Guhl ’14, a key point came from panelist and Water.org co-founder Gary White. He advised the students to “find the intersection between the world’s greatest need and your greatest passion.”