The WorldPost: First of all, what is the concept behind the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) University, which is meeting this week in Arizona?
Chelsea Clinton: My father started CGI U in 2007 to help young change-makers turn their ideas for making a difference -- on their college campuses, in their communities or across the world -- into real action, and to help those who were already engaged in the work of making the world a better, healthier place think about how to scale and sustain their work beyond their college years. In its first six years, CGI U brought together more than 5,500 students from more than 800 colleges and universities from every state and more than 130 countries around the world. They made more than 4,000 what we call 'commitments to action,' their ideas and accompanying business plans on how they were going to make a difference.
This year, we're excited to host the seventh annual meeting of CGI U at Arizona State University. This weekend, more than 1,000 students will attend CGI U 2014, representing all 50 states, more than 80 countries, and more than 270 colleges and universities around the world -- many taking time out of their spring breaks. These students will be joined at the meeting by social entrepreneurs, experts on everything from how to use social media to advance one's work to how to think about assessing impact and civically-engaged celebrities such as Ashoka's CEO Bill Drayton, Charity Navigator's CEO Ken Berger, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Senator John McCain, Jimmy Kimmel and Univision Anchor María Elena Salinas.
Young people are reimaging the challenges we face and the possible solutions to those challenges -- today and in the future. I find CGI U every year to be the most potent antidote to any cynicism about the world because of the work students are doing to tackle challenges big and small, to make a difference today and create a different world for tomorrow.
The WorldPost: Can you give some examples of how CGI is actually solving problems concretely on the ground?
Clinton: We hope that by bringing CGI U students together with issue area experts, leaders in business, non-profits and governments as well as with their like-minded peers, they will be even more empowered than they already are to do the work they feel called to do. Last year, we also started providing seed funding for strong commitments that, with a small investment today, could have an outsized social return in the future. Through the University Network, a consortium of more than 55 colleges and universities, more than $650,000 will be available this year. An additional $100,000 will be available through the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge, a competition between aspiring student entrepreneurs with sustainable enterprises.
We also encourage students to learn from what already has proven to work in the areas they're passionate about. Thankfully, now after 6 years, we have a strong library of not only ideas but proven success stories -- from a student who built a program using soccer to teach local kids about what HIV/AIDS is (and what it's not), to a student who started a job training program for ex-offenders, to a group of students who built a soccer ball that when kicked generates and stores electricity for kids to later use to power lamps to do their homework by after dark, to a student who built a SMS platform to verify drugs in the developing world. All of those are still active commitments -- for some, they are programs that subsequent students are continuing (like the HIV/AIDS education work) and for others, their commitments became their jobs after college (like the drug verification system, called Sproxil that has verified more than 5 million drug inquiries across Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya and India).
The WorldPost: Recently, the Economist had a cover story titled: "Democracy: What Has Gone Wrong?" noting, among other things, that young people -- so called millennials, not just in the U.S. but elsewhere -- are turned off to party politics.
Do you see the kind of direct action you are promoting outside of electoral politics in the future as an alternative to the mainstream approach of running for office?
Clinton: I do find it pretty discouraging that almost none of my friends think about running for public office as an option in their lives. When my father graduated from Georgetown, he thinks probably half his friends thought about running for political office. His ambition to make a difference through politics and public service was not unique.
So I find it very troubling that so many of my friends who are doing important and often disruptive work, whether it's in technology startups or the social sector or beyond, aren't thinking about how to translate those experiences -- and their desire to see our country be stronger and healthier than ever before -- into possibly entering into the political arena.
All that said, I think what's really changed is not so much that young people are turned off of party politics (although I think that's part of it), but rather what's changed the most since my father graduated in 1968 is that more people have more options and outlets now to engage in our communities and our world and to make a difference.
Kiva, Crowdrise, Indiegogo, Change.org, SMS platforms post emergencies, Americorps, Teach For America -- not to mention Twitter and Facebook. And so many other outlets exist today to empower people to mobilize online and off, to facilitate civilian service and to raise our voices collectively that were unimaginable a generation ago.
Politics today is one of many options. You don't need to be elected to political office to change the world. CGI U is a perfect example of how people can make a difference on issues they care deeply about, outside of the political arena. We've seen students create programs to address some of the very issues political figures draft legislation to address, including homelessness, food scarcity, providing higher quality opportunities for our veterans, improved access to education around the world and more. Being involved in politics and taking action to positively change the world are not mutually exclusive. I certainly hope that at least some of our CGI U students will consider running for office in their home countries. Their solution-mindedness would help break or preempt any gridlock and ensure that debates focus on what works best today and could work even better tomorrow.