The Clinton Global Initiative University: Empowering the Next Generation of Social Innovators


Bill Wetzel serves as the Director of CGI University, a program of the Clinton Global Initiative, which engages university students and the higher education community in addressing some of the world's most pressing challenges. Since its inaugural meeting in 2008, CGI U has brought together more than 6,500 students from over 875 schools and 145 countries. Before joining CGI, Wetzel co-founded the Talk to Me Project, a civic engagement initiative that was featured in media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, and This American Life. He studied sustainable development at Columbia University's Earth Institute.



At the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), we believe that student leaders can play a powerful role in addressing some of the world’s most pressing challenges. But what are some of the best practices in engaging the next generation of young changemakers, and how can other organizations and higher education institutions help sustain and scale their impact?

Building off the successful Clinton Global Initiative model, President Bill Clinton launched CGI U in 2007, bringing together undergraduate and graduate students from around the world to develop innovative, effective solutions within five focus areas: Education, Environment and Climate Change, Peace and Human Rights, Poverty Alleviation, and Public Health.

In its first seven years, CGI U has brought together more than 6,500 students from more than 875 colleges and universities and more than 140 countries. This March, CGI U completed its seventh annual meeting at Arizona State University. CGI U meetings allow students to hear from and engage with leaders and experts from the government, business, and non-profit sectors. CGI U also provides numerous funding opportunities for student attendees, with over $750,000 available for CGI U 2014 participants alone. Finally, through a host of both in-person and online networking opportunities, CGI U encourages students to not only share best practices, but also share some of the key hurdles and challenges that they faced along the way from idea to action.

The defining aspect of the CGI U model occurs before any speakers or students arrive for the three-day meeting. Any student interested in attending CGI U must first apply online with a Commitment to Action: a new, specific, and measurable initiative that addresses a pressing challenge on campus, in the local community, or around the world.

Some of CGI U’s commitments to date include:

  • Solo Eyewear, a San Diego State University commitment, is a line of high-quality, eco-friendly sunglasses which utilizes a one-for-one strategy: for each pair of sunglasses purchased, a pair of prescription eyeglasses is provided to a child in need. Since launching in 2011, the company has funded eye care for 6,540 people across 19 countries.
  • NextDrop, a University of California at Berkeley commitment, is a mobile technology which provides accurate water delivery information to regions of India that are challenged by unreliable piped water delivery. Through a micropayment model, NextDrop incentivizes households to send a text message to the NextDrop system when water is available, which then enables NextDrop to inform other stakeholders when to expect water.
  • The SAPHE Mat, a Rice University commitment, is a specially-designed pad that aids in the visual estimation of blood loss to postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). The SAPHE Mat will help physicians and healthcare workers in developing countries measure blood loss and more effectively diagnose and treat PPH.

Two exciting examples from the class of CGI U 2014 include InRGize, from the University of Texas, which will develop and distribute a shoe that self-generates energy, and BioPrinting, from Stanford University, which will address mobility disabilities by creating a Bio 3-D Printer that will produce cartilage and tendons in an effective and affordable way.

These are a few of the thousands of commitments made by CGI U attendees since 2007. Moving forward, CGI U seeks to work with a growing community of young leaders and engaged universities to expand the opportunities available to the students who are already addressing global challenges that, in many cases, are much older than they are.






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