Staying Committed

By: Kirsten Dimovitz

Last year for CGIU, my team, comprised of myself, Brooke Staveland and Ryan Toney, committed to partnering with the Sri Ram Ashram in northern India to establish a peer health-mentoring program called the Peer Health Education Network. We were full of energy and excitement about the prospects of travelling to India and working in a field we were all passionate about. Our goal was to build on the partner school′s network and structure to empower students to teach and learn from each other. The idea was to travel to the site and address the children’s biggest needs, so as to avoid imposing our own ideas and biases on the school, thus truly benefiting no one. After talking to children, teacher, parents and community members, we would sit together and draw on their answer and combine them with our own public health knowledge. The curriculum would be created and implemented with the help of local teenagers, and will focuses on identified community health issues that students and their families face. We saw the failures many other projects had around the world because they were unsustainable or realized on a consistent flow of money and staff. We wanted to make a lasting impact without centering the project on ourselves and how we could benefit.

Yet, we encountered a hurdle in almost direct correlation to this. My team and I spent almost all of our spring semester applying to the business plan, to CGIU scholarships and other local organizations. But, we kept failing. Failing to obtain any money. And we could not figure out why. Maybe our approach wasn’t techie or innovative enough. Maybe we need a fancy gadget to take to the communities. We could not figure it out, and never did we stop to think, maybe we were asking for money for the wrong reasons. Looking back it’s easy to see where the problem lied. It lied not in our well-constructed project, but in the fact that the project was built to be grassroots and sustainable, meaning our costs were virtually zero. Our biggest cost when we were applying for funding was in airfare. As students, and now we considered ourselves team members, we couldn’t afford to travel to India on our own dime, so as other NGOs do, we budgeted our airfare into the cost structure. Yet, because we were asking for money from others, and the budget sheet read $6,000 in airfare and $50 in materials for the actual project we had a problem. We did not receive money and thus we were stalled. We had to go back to the drawing board and try again. Innovate around the own problem we created.

And after Mr. Clinton’s speech at CGIU, we came up with an idea. It was our duty to ourselves and to our partners to continue with this project even though we hit a roadblock. Powering through and flying to India with money from our own pockets was not an option we could afford to take however. But I’m passionate about technology, and during that same time, I was reading tons of articles on e-learning. And Brooke and I had the idea, while sitting in the parking lot at the University of Miami. Why not bring ourselves virtually to the students? We were excited. We could still make this work.
We flew home inspired, but we were again caught in our own web. We were entrenched in midterms, and applications for funding which we would never received yet applying to stole countless weekends from us. And then the summer came, and our partners were out of school and we were in full time jobs. India seemed like a distant dream. As school was just about to start in India, I was on a plane to Kenya, and Brooke a plane to Budapest. Though we tried to keep in contact with ourselves and our other team members I was basically off the grid. Now, being in the capital city Nairobi, I have access to WiFi and this access to my own thoughts I’ve been wrestling with for so many months. We had to reckon with ourselves. We let our project sit and stall. And after seeing so many goodhearted development projects miss the mark or pull out Kenya, I couldn’t believe our good intentions were going the same way.

We both return from our study abroad programs in late December. And though, we’ve slowed our progress, we are recommitted with new intention and new insight from our experiences abroad. We know what needs to be done to accomplish our commitment, and we know we can do it. We have the simple funds from GW to produce educational materials, to produce videos, and to give and on the ground donation for the launch of our program. We’ve learned more than we could have imagined and feel even more prepared to do something meaningful. Sometimes things don’t work out as you planned, but that’s okay, as long as you stay committed and benefit your community in the end.


New Direction of Venture

By: Liana Sherman

The initial social venture idea wound up not being the right direction for my efforts, as it proved incredibly difficult for me to reach one of the target beneficiaries–university students in Spain. After much thought and late nights, I decided to renovate the social venture in a way where I knew that I could begin to make an immediate and more likely impact. This meant having my social venture, which involved starting a translation company linking self-publishing authors with international university students currently studying in the United States (rather than in Spain). The aim is to better both groups by providing the writers with the opportunity of reaching an international market as well as offering international students a source of employment and way of earning credentials in the literary world. My social venture will utilize the bilingual capabilities of international university students by having those who I have trained translate and edit the literary writings of self-publishing writers who are interested in having their work reach global markets.

By starting at my own university, I will have a much stronger ability to develop the venture. Over the course of the past several months, I have mapped out what my plans include on launching this innovative version of my idea. Anticipated organizational partnerships include the Language Center at The George Washington University. The scope of the partnership will entail allowing me to have access to the international students who are currently employed or have had experience in working as a foreign language tutor. The tutors chosen by the Language Center will be good students to begin my social venture with, as the organization not only supports language teaching and learning and research, but also ensures that the students hired as tutors will provide the highest caliber language teaching.

Additionally, as the GWU Language Center provides a wide array of academic support for both faculty and students, I will be able to utilize the organization when seeking professors who are willing and able to assist in the initial training of the international students on the arts of translating and editing the translated works. Moreover, the GW Language Center offers English for Academic Purposes Writing Support Program, which provides service for GWU students with non-English backgrounds.

The tutors trained to provide focused support for non-native speakers and assist in educating on all stages of the writing process to work on audience, brainstorming, citation, drafting, evidence, grammar, organization and flow, outlining, paragraphing, revision, thesis, and tone. My social venture could utilize these tutors as they could help provide the initial education on editing written works. Other anticipated organizational partnerships include publishers and distributors such as Amazon and Smashwords.

This would be beneficial to these businesses as they could promote themselves by attracting attention to their partnership with a social venture (my social venture) that is helping combat worldwide youth unemployment as well as self-publishing authors. This would appeal to consumers as it provides a positive feeling knowing that one’s purchase is going to help address a prominent issue as well as attracting a larger market of international individuals who speak languages other than English. Partnerships like this are essential to my success, for they provide a way to interact with consumers and provide the market demand with the translated literary works.

An obstacle I am dealing with is the stress of classes and commitments in organizations and work. However, I am working through this time limit by reserving time each day to focus on working on detailing my new business plan and outline for how exactly I will launch the social venture.

I am applying to this year’s CGI U with this new direction to my venture idea.


By: Suzanne Cole

It’s important for me to start this blog post by expressing my gratitude to GW and to the CGI U foundation for all the experience and knowledge I have gained from participating in this program. I feel like I have learned skills that will continue to be applicable long into my future.

Unfortunately, my project has at this time, come to a point where it is no longer viable. There have been multiple problems I’ve tried to overcome, but the biggest has been a lack of funding, and with no financial support from any outside organizations, and specific time constraints that have since gone past, I feel that there is not much else I can do at this time.

I feel I need to justify my acceptance of this ending, since it may seem like I am giving up on my venture with no cause. When I applied to CGI U last December, I was a freshman, and like many things I have done since coming to college, it was something I applied to on a whim, with no real understanding of what I wanted to do, or what the program was asking of me. I had no idea of what I was interested in, not only in regards to my project, but in regards to my larger life path, and this translated into me picking something that just “seemed right at the time”, versus
something I really could commit myself to and get excited about.

My decision to end the work on my project is something I have been grappling with for the past couple of months, and it is not a decision that came easily to me, but due to the nature of my engagement with this project, I have experienced a lot more anxiety and stress over it than I
think makes it worth continuing. However, I also do not want to fully give up on my work with CGI U, as I think it has been particularly beneficial to me, as I previously stated. Reflecting on that desire, I will make a commitment to revisit CGI U, whether with the same project, or a more
focused, compelling one, in future years, when I am more developed as a student, and more importantly, as a person. I think that I made a mistake in coming into this program too early, with too little idea of what I wanted to get out of it, but I refuse to let that sour me on the rest of my potential. One day, I hope to be able to reapply to this program, and enact real change in our world.

Again, I want to thank Melanie Fedri and everyone at GW for their work on developing our projects and helping us prepare for CGI U, as well as the Clinton Foundation for creating this amazing program that has helped turn a generation of socially-minded thinkers into a generation of leaders and social entrepreneurs. I hope to one day be able to work alongside them once again.

Project Dream Miles Making Strides

By: Yeshwant Chillakuru

Project Dream Miles has come a long way since we first started as just a concept. We’ve restructured to a solid team of 3 GW students, Charles Dorward, Danish Imtiaz, and myself. We faced several challenges but accomplished major milestones bringing us closer to the launch of the Project Dream Miles app where every mile you run raises money for a local charity of your choosing.

Our first challenge was communication over the summer. As a team of students scattered across the country, we were all working remote on PDM. We had to figure out proper consistent communication across multiple time zones (I was in England for a month) in order to ensure that we stay committed and move forward on such a young project. Despite this challenge, over summer we made strong progress and designed our application.

Our next major challenge was iOS app design. Creating an entire application and user experience from scratch poses a lot of risks. We have to understand how people interact with our product, what gestures feel natural, and what command flow makes the most sense. To address this properly, we created a prototype using Photoshop and Invision, an online prototyping tool, to simulate the experience of using the app before building a functional version of it. This way, we could gain valuable feedback from potential users to optimize our UX.

Now we have moved on to the development phase and are planning a launch in 2016. In the meantime, we are reaching out to charities to list on our app to which users can donate. Additionally, we have conducted surveys and receive hundreds of responses to help us figure precisely the amount to donate per mile and understand what other fitness related apps users are using.

The Washington Compost

By: Sophia Lin

Now that the pilot of GWU’s first residential food waste diversion has been completed, there’s been enough time to look back and realize that with all the hard work and collaboration that went into this project, it’s worth it. It’s so incredibly rewarding to go out and create the change you want to implement!

In launching this commitment, I wanted to address how waste is collected and diverted. Food waste diversion for composting would empower the university to following through on its commitment to zero waste, as well as make financial sense in saving the university costs in the long-run. By sending food waste to local sites in Maryland where they could be converted into fertile compost, generating both financial and literal growth, GWU can make greater strides towards becoming a leader in sustainability right in our nation’s capital.

I couldn’t do this alone, either. Along the way, I found a driven and passionate partner who wanted to make sustainability changes and fight climate change in Frank Fritz, and later, the equally driven and hard-working Celeste Aguzino, joining our leadership team.

With the help of starting funds provided by the GW Upstart grant, we were able to procure the necessary materials to begin, such as food waste bins, compostable liners, and compostable food items like apples and tea bags for our educational training and launch party. Later on, we had the generous assistance from the Student Association to continue our project.

We completed an eight-week pilot project in food waste diversion in Hensley Hall, on GWU’s Mount Vernon campus. The results were very successful in demonstrating that community engagement, basic education training, and consistent communications with all stakeholders involved, can lead to a successful food waste diversion program at the university.

Along the way, it has been great to receive the support from all these stakeholders in the university community. In addition, the students who we had the chance to work with – the fantastic residents, resident advisors, and Resident Hall Association members of Hensley Hall who agreed to carry out the pilot food waste diversion, the university staff that helped with logistics of moving out the food waste with their main waste collection, and the university recycling coordinator and division’s support from the start, it has been a major team and community effort.

We also were fortunate enough to generate some publicity, with coverage by GW Today and the GW Hatchet that helped spread the word on this initiative and the university’s sustainability efforts!

The goals for continuation and expansion of university food waste diversion are long-term goals. It’s been an exciting ride, especially for the team carrying on The Washington ComPost organization, in growing with it as it evolves into a peer education network for not just within our university, but in connecting with other Washington, DC area universities as well.

Our Facebook page is up and running, continuing to report on the progress of the initiative! Check it out at!

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The hard-working, change-making team has grown, with Frank Fritz, Celeste Aguzino, and Sabrina Freese heading up the organization since my time at GWU. They had the chance to take The Washington ComPost with them as they competed in Climathon, a hackathon-style competition to generate city solutions to tackling climate change, placing as a semifinalist! The Washington Compost will continue moving forward and expanding its mission, with support from GWU’s Office of Sustainability.

All of this was a simple idea to start, and now this commitment has continued to move forward and grow! I hope that this marks the start of a longer-term, positive impact in how our university and greater Washington, DC community more sustainable manage waste and move towards a greener, more sustainable future.

Family Night

By: Max Grossman

It has been over a year since Kristen, Meghan, and I wrote the Public Service Grant Commission proposal for the Family Night at Perry School. Since that time we have organized six Family Night events – each filled with highlights, challenges, and lessons.
I think the key takeaway we learned is to be patient and willing to re-evaluate how we go about achieving our goals. For example, a key component to the project was parent and caretaker attendance. Attendance proved to be consistently inconsistent – a handful of parents attended month to month, however others, despite many reminders and handed out flyers, did not. There also was a persistent issue of parents arriving late (which we soon realized was a scheduling blip on our end, and adjusted the event timing accordingly).
I remember emailing De Nichols, our CGIU mentor, about this issue 3 months into the program. In addition to some general promotional suggestions, she hit us with a massive insight – embrace the intimacy of each event. This was very powerful. It both helped inform how to craft smaller group activities so to make events more personal and meaningful for participants. It also helped build connections with key parents and caretakers who’s answers to questions about scheduling and activities improved people’s receptiveness to events over the project’s six months.
The family night team will continue to play role in facilitating the events, however thanks to last years experience and increased capacity, Little Friends for Peace is now able to take on a larger role in the pre-event planning process. In fact, just last week they hosted a very special Halloween Family night!

For a detailed report of last year’s family nights here!

By: Nicole Miller

There were moments when I thought I AM disABLE would not come to fruition. Hectic schedules often shifted and at times halted development of the awareness campaign. My deep desires to help the disabled community at The George Washington University (GW) supersede my feelings of doubt. Wade Fletcher, a Learning Specialist for Disability Support Services (DSS), offered extremely beneficial and insightful thought points towards the creation of the awareness campaign. The proposed plan is to turn DSS’s offices (Rome Building on the Foggy Bottom campus) into a hub of information and imagery celebrating the disabled community at GW. By taping tiled 11×17” posters to the windows of the buildings staircase, we will offer calls of action of the university community to imagine life as a disabled student.

Being a full-time working, part-time graduate student calls for long days and even longer nights. I often find myself questioning my rational for taking on such a project as I AM disABLE. I quickly force myself to recall memoires of the CGI U conference in Miami and the electric buzz of hope in the air. I am reminded why I became a social activist and why I AM disABLE must prevail. As I continue to push towards my goal of March 2016, I look forward to the awareness and inclusion I AM disABLE will create for GW’s disabled community. This week will allow these amazing students an opportunity to share their side of the story with the entire university community.


Proposed campaign items of large-scale photography alongside statistics, calls to action, facts and information to bring awareness.

A Long Winding Road

By Evan Young

When you start something that tries to find a comprehensive, sustainable solution in a field as complicated as sanitation, you’re bound to run into some obstacles. These can be anything from unexpected realities to stifling bureaucracy to an absurd amount of externalities you never took into account. The key, at least from what we’ve found, is to embrace these obstacles; take them in; embrace them; and forge on.

The direction in which you forge on is always a mystery. Nearly a year after Maz and I started our Project Dharavi solution from inside the GWU classroom of Matthew Wilkins, we’ve been taken for a wild ride. After receiving the D-Prize Grant and seeing success in the GW Business Plan Competition (where we came in Third Place Overall and won the Best International Venture Award), we saw an entire world open up in front of us that we felt compelled to explore. We needed answers to some of our most pressing questions and assumptions. So we went to find them.

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This search took us to Nicaragua and India over this past summer. In Nicaragua, we went with em[POWER] Energy Group not only to explore the potential of a pilot project at their sites, but to learn as much as we could about the lived experiences and realities of sanitation on the ground. We met families, community leaders, and organizations working on the front lines of the sanitation crisis. In India, we saw the issue of sanitation manifest itself on a complex, massive scale that only India could provide. It was in India, however, where we found something else.

Here, we came upon the realization that our Project Dharavi solution needed time and development, as we did. We saw that pressing social stigmas and governmental bureaucracy would hamper the ability to make the immediate impact we wanted. So we pivoted. It was hard, but necessary.

Instead of solely focusing on our own model, we saw the potential of working with organizations that already have great connections to the communities in which they work and best practices that have been proven over time. This was the case for ASHA (Association for Sanitation and Health Activities), a grassroots organization working to build toilets hand-in-hand with economically and socially marginalized villages in Odisha. Their deep connections to these communities foster open dialogues that lead to awareness and training on the importance of sanitation, changing and improving lives. young

Photo taken by Maz in Delhi

We hit it off with them and saw that we could provide immense value for them in a different way than we originally realized. We could help rally support for them and, in the process of doing so, change the way the world views the sanitation crisis. We realized that we had not come to see the depth and reality of the sanitation crisis until we were forced to confront it and see it for what it was. As an organization based in DC with access to a diverse network of actors, we could make this happen on a much larger scale. We could put a face on the sanitation crisis, making it real and compel people into action.

So here we are. Not quite where we thought we would be, but where we think we need to be. Over the next two months we will be launching a crowdfunding campaign to work with ASHA in the construction of 231 toilets for 231 families. This will also run in tandem with our Coming Clean Campaign, which will try to bring photographers from around the country to translate the story of the sanitation crisis for the world. (For more information on this visit

It’s been a wild ride and we could not be more excited for where it takes us now.Young2.jpg

Evan discusses sanitation conditions with slum-dwellers in Delhi