Tonight will determine the NCAA champ, but the Champ of the Clinton Final Four has already been selected. This year for the first time, over 117,000 web browsers voted for their favorite University Commitment from the Clinton Global Initiative University, held in San Diego, April 1-3, 2011. Two teams broke out of the Final Four -- Brown University and North Carolina Central University (NCCU). Charlotte Crone, from NCCU, competed with her Healthy Choices Project, a program that provides kids with healthy meal plans and recipes to feed a family of four for $50/week. Brown's Matthew Severson and Saeed Hassan reigned supreme, however, with The School Fund, a website that allows users to pay school fees for students from Tanzania, Kenya and Haiti.
The Clinton Global Initiative University is a 3-day gathering of university students who have created the most compelling projects in one of five focus areas:
- Environment and Climate Change
- Poverty Alleviation
- Peace and Human Rights
- Public Health
"Your priorities define you," actress Drew Barrymore told the crowd of students assembled for their community service project at the San Diego Food Bank on April 3, 2011, the last day of the conference. "The way that you spend your day can change someone else's life," she said. And indeed it did. That morning, hundreds of students painted, landscaped, packed and distributed food to the needy, for a combined 2500 hours of service -- worth more than a month's worth of labor to the food bank.
President Clinton launched CGIU in 2008, at an inaugural event at Tulane University in New Orleans. After having great success motivating world leaders, CEOs and NGOS to translate ideas into action at the annual Clinton Global Initiative meeting, Clinton decided to reach out to the leaders of tomorrow to do the same. According to President Clinton, "Today's generation of young people holds more power than any generation before it to make a positive impact on the world."
Since 2008, more than 3,000 commitments have been made, with impressive results. As just one example, the School Fund has already fully funded 100 secondary students at 19 schools in Kenya, Tanzania and Haiti, and their goal is to recruit an additional 800 partners to fund 500 more students in developing nations.
President Clinton emphasized the role of education repeatedly in his remarks at the conference. "Every year of schooling adds 10% to income potential for life in the developing world," President Clinton advised the crowd. With obesity being such a problem in the U.S., and becoming more so worldwide, health and fitness commitments were also popular, as were initiatives to promote peace and clean energy.
Dorm Room Diplomacy is a commitment to network students from the U.S. with students of the Middle East. Operation Esperanza is designed to improve the quality of life in Cuidad Juarez -- where drug cartels and violence have cut too many lives short, too early. With the SOccket, children in the developing world play soccer for 15 minutes and have enough energy to power a LED light for reading for three hours.
Linda Nyakundi, Wilkista Onyango, Khadija Said and Vivian Onano Global Give Back Circle members
Of this group of worldwide overachievers, where a great spokesperson could be picked at will from the crowd, one group stood out from the rest. Four young women from Kenya, bright and beautiful in their colorful, native dresses, brought their Hey Sister: Get Clued Up commitment, which will educate 10,000 African girls about the importance of education, financial literacy, health and social media etiquette. These young women were the only student benefactors at the conference that were also beneficiaries of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Kenya is a nation where 1.2 million children have been orphaned by AIDS, according to UNICEF. Only 40% of girls attend secondary school; instead young teen girls commonly become mothers. However, the Global Give Back Circle (a nonprofit organization and CGI member) has a very high success rate of keeping girls in school and educating them through college. This nonprofit organization provides mentors, an Internet lab (sponsored by Microsoft), educational sessions and college funding to ensure that their girls are the first in their family to secure college degrees.
Photo: Khadija Said shakes the hand of President Clinton, with Linda Lockhart, the founder and executive director of the Global Give Back Circle and Caroline, another GGBC member, looking on
Two years ago, GGBC member Khadija Said rapped about the empowerment of girls before President Obama graced the stage of the 2009 CGI Meeting in NYC. Khadija was thrilled to be onstage, but equally worried that when she went back to Kenya, in just a few days, she would watch so many of her sisters walk back into the circle of poverty because they did not have the support that she had to go straight to college. Little did she know that she would end up helping 535 more girls transition into global citizenship, and that President Clinton would have a personal surprise for her. Khadija, along with two other GGBC members, were selected to attend the American University at Dubai (AUD) as Clinton Scholars. Today, Khadija is a sophomore on the Dean's List at AUD.
The results of the Global Give Back Circle have been so impressive that the GGBC program in Kenya (implemented by the Kenya Community Development Foundation) recently was awarded a $3.5 million USAID sponsorship to increase the number of scholars to 535 (from an initial 35 girls in 2008). The next country of focus, according to GGBC founder Linda Lockhart, will be Haiti.
On Saturday, Vivian Onano, another GGBC girl and one of the creators of the "Hey Sister: Get Clued Up" commitment, was a panelist on the CGIU breakout session, "Education Pathways and Opportunities for Adolescents." Vivian was raised in a rural village in Kenya without water or electricity. She is currently in the U.S. on a full scholarship to Carthage College in Wisconsin, with plans to return to Kenya as a doctor.
If Vivian and Khadija are indeed successful with their peer-to-peer education and empowerment website, there will be over 10,000 Kenyan girls with a big voice, a beautiful presence and the eloquence to grace the stage with world leaders, just as Vivian and Khadija have before them.
About Natalie Pace:
Natalie Pace is the author of You Vs. Wall Street. She is a repeat guest on CNBC, ABC-TV, and FoxNews and a contributor to HuffingtonPost.com, Forbes.com and Sohu.com. As a philanthropist, she has helped to raise more than two million for Los Angeles public schools and financial literacy. Follow her on http://www.facebook.com/NWPace, and on YouTube.com/NataliePaceDOTCOM. For more information please visit, http://www.nataliepace.com.