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Generation Change: CGIU Helps Empower A Young Corps of Doers

By Tom Watson on April 18, 2010No Comment

The spirit of can-do change and societal aspiration permeated the Clinton Global Initiative’s third annual university gathering last weekend like the warm spring rain descending on the University of Miami campus, where more than a thousand students from every state and dozens of countries gathered to commit some of their young energy to social causes.

I was privileged to be a speaker at this year’s gathering, teaming with the energetic and talented Ramya Raghavan of YouTube to discuss how social media tools can be used to advance the students’ projects – or, as they say in CGI parlance, “commitments.” And to be quite candid, the energy of the attendees – and their enthusiasm for those commitments for social change – came as a tonic to this veteran commentator, after a couple of years of political animosity and financial challenges. The short report: nothing’s holding these kids back.

Which is really the point of CGIU, which since its inception in 2008 has gathered more than 2,000 students from 53 countries to jump-start 2,000 projects.

“The whole idea is to create global networks of people doing good,” said President Clinton in his opening plenary talk. “It’s become increasingly clear that you don’t have to be wealthy to do it. If you are committed to a cause, you can change the world.”

Sure, there were stars about: actor Heather Graham, speed-skater Joey Cheek, singer Mandy Moore, and Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha all made the scene in Miami. But it was the energy of the massive student gathering that set the tone.

“This is what the new generation cares about,” said Miami U. President Donna Shalala, the former Health and Human Services Secretary in the Clinton Administration. `”When I went to college, very few students — with the exception of those involved in the Civil Rights movement — did service in their communities, initiating projects to make things happen. This new generation takes the President’s challenge very seriously.”

During our session, Ramya and I saw that seriousness of purpose in action – and in commitments ranging from online communities to microfinance efforts to gatherings of citizens to take part in planning the rebuilding of Haitian society.

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