Blum Center Joins Partnership to Bolster Student Action on Global Poverty
By: Rachel Voss and Javier Kordi
This year, eighteen UC Berkeley students will attend the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) annual gathering, hosted by President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton from April 5th-7th in St. Louis, Missouri. The conference will include knowledge-sharing and networking opportunities for students committed to tackling the world’s most pressing problems and will feature keynote speakers such as Muhammad Yunus, Jada Pinkett Smith, Jack Dorsey, and Stephen Colbert.
Each year, thousands of students from around the world submit applications to CGI-U outlining a “Commitment to Action”—a concrete one-year plan to address a critical challenge in one of five categories: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, or Public Health. Finalists are invited to the CGI-U gathering, which provides attendees inspiration and guidance.
“The CGI-U conference and community helped me to carry out my commitment to increase access to financial education for microfinance borrowers in Nairobi, Kenya, by providing me with the opportunity to learn from professionals around the world and network with other like-minded student,” emphasized UC Berkeley alumna (’11) and previous CGI-U attendee Lauren Herman. “With the evaluation, leadership and fundraising skills that I gained, I made my commitment to global change a reality.”
The UC Berkeley students invited to the CGI-U conference were selected for their passion, energy, and the strength of their Commitments to Action, which address a wide range of social and environmental challenges. For example, graduate students Javier Rosa and Todd Duncombe are expanding their “Build My Lab” project within the Tekla Labs initiative, a global on-line community to connect scientists, educators, and hobbyists who design and use home-built laboratory equipment. Senior Caitlin Francoisse has been invited to present her locally-focused project, “Sexual Health for Youth,” which she started in the women’s section of the Alameda County Juvenile Justice Center after receiving the prestigious Strauss Scholars Award in 2012. Francoisse has committed to expand her project to the male detention center by building the base of Berkeley students volunteering within the program.
In addition to this year’s strong UC Berkeley student participation, the Blum Center for Developing Economies will this year represent UC Berkeley in the inaugural year of the Clinton Global Initiative University Network. Colleges and universities in this new nationwide partnership will provide support and guidance to their respective students who have made CGI-U Commitments to Action. As CGI-U spokesperson Ragina Arrington explained, “Our hope is that these students will be better equipped to carry out their Commitments to Action, as they will have both more formal, fiscal university support for their projects, as well as greater access to on-campus university mentors who are ready to serve as a resource to them.”
Since 2007, the Blum Center at UC Berkeley has inspired and supported student engagement in issues of global development, aiming to educate and empower the next generation of poverty scholars through curriculum, field practices, mentorship, and partnership initiatives like CGI-U. “CGI-U grows out of a set of urgent concerns and aspirations which also motivate the Blum Center’s work with Big Ideas@Berkeley, the Global Poverty and Practice Minor, and the Development Impact Lab,” noted Sean Burns, Director of Student Programs at the Blum Center. Burns feels this new partnership will be an opportunity for the Blum Center to extend its well-known mentorship and networking capabilities to the greater UC Berkeley student community.
Junior Ngan Pham’s CGI-U initiative exemplifies this campus ecosystem of support. Pham is part of the Global Poverty and Practice Minor and is currently a finalist in the Big Ideas@Berkeley contest. Her project, “ServeFund,” prepares low-income students to be competitive and financially eligible for internships and public service opportunities—experiences that employers highly value in today’s job market. Pham will attend the CGI-U conference just days after the American Youth Summit in Washington, DC, where she will help the Obama Administration draft a National Young Americans Report.
“We are incredibly proud of the impact Cal students are making through our programs and opportunities like CGI-U. For us at the Blum Center, the aim is to integrate and align these opportunities so we can boost the impact and significance of our students’ work,” Burns said.