Buy Local GWU

By Zach Komes and Noah Wexler

Washington, DC has experienced dramatic economic growth over the past decade; but that prosperity has not been broadly shared. The average black-owned firm in DC receives 8 times less revenue than the average firm in the city, limiting opportunities for hiring, raising wages, and increasing wealth in neighborhoods of color in the city. At the same time, “anchor institutions,” or universities and hospitals who are place-based and focus on mission, spend $2 billion per year on goods and services, only a small fraction of which remains in the DC economy, and an even smaller amount benefiting underrepresented businesses located in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8.

At the 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University Summit, former President Bill Clinton said that today’s young generation is different than past generations because, not only do they care about important issues, but they also work with their communities to find answers to the “how question.” While many of the 18 DC-based large, place-based institutions have a community focus as part of their mission statement, many lack the incentives, connections, operational structure, and accountability mechanisms to establish local procurement programs. The Buy Local GW initiative, a campaign of the Roosevelt Institute @ GW chapter, has designed a three-level strategy that is seeking to provide solutions to connect underrepresented businesses with purchasing opportunities at universities and hospitals.

City-level coordinated strategy: After a 9-month long research and outreach process, culminating in a whitepaper published by the Roosevelt Institute, we have designed an intermediary program that will make it easier for local anchor institutions to identify, train, and procure from underrepresented firms. Based on Chicago Anchors for a Strong Economy, a coordinated effort will help anchors reduce administrative costs for supplier diversity efforts and provide firms the training needed to compete for contracts. We are currently working with a local economic development organization and with city government to establish a public-private partnership, currently raising seed funding to launch.

GW-level strategy: After lobbying from Buy Local GW, GW has established the GW Task Force on Local Supplier Diversity to study and provide recommendations for a local procurement policy. Associated with the GW President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, the Task Force includes 2 student representatives and is currently being staffed by a student. We hope that this effort will provide a platform to bring university stakeholders together to determine how our university can better contract with local underrepresented businesses. Next year, Buy Local GW will gauge student opinion through petitions and referendum and will present this information to the Task Force. Additionally, over the summer, we will begin constructing a holistic database of local business resources that will be provided to the Task Force.

Student organization-level strategy: GW student organizations spend $2 million per year on goods and services, ranging from catering to transportation to printing to office supplies. We are creating a Buy Local GW purchasing guide, to be published in Fall 2015, that will make it easier for student organizations to purchase from local underrepresented businesses in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8. This semester, we are conducting outreach to businesses to identify firms that both fit the mission of the project, as well as will meet the needs of GW student organizations. We have tailored our outreach to catering, printing, and office supply businesses, and have received considerable enthusiasm from the DC small business community. Several businesses have agreed to participate in potential vendor fairs next fall. This event would provide more information about the local business scene to GW student leaders. We hope to eventually establish an incentive program to encourage student organizations to enhance their local impact.

As many local community members grow concerned about the future of racial equity in our city, Buy Local GW believes that the support of underrepresented businesses, their owners, and their workers by universities and hospitals can be part of the solution.


Relaxing at CGI U

By Yeshwant Chillakuru

This was my second time attending Clinton Global Initiative University, and it gave me a new perspective. Last year, I was rushing, competing the Resolution Project Social Venture Challenge, as well as trying to make as much out of the opportunity as possible. Returning the second time, I was much more relaxed (likely the California atmosphere may have helped as well. I landed Thursday late night, but the fun began Friday morning. I went on a pretty exciting run and discovered Mad Mark’s Castle and the beautiful garbage art on this park along the Bay, just past the Berkeley Marina.

At the conference I got to meet many old friends as well as make some new ones. I saw people from GW that I hadn’t been in touch with for some time, like Max Grossman. Also, I met many friends from the Resolution Project, both Fellows and the Resolution Team itself, and its always great to catch up and see how people are doing beyond just their commitment. At the networking event, I ran into people from University of Delaware, which is always exciting because there are so few Delawareans out there, especially in California.

The conference itself was a valuable learning experience. During the office hours with Bre from Indiegogo, I learned that Indiegogo opens up their API to certain development teams, of which is a huge resource for our venture to take advantage. Project Dream Miles has come along way since our original inception during CGI U last year. While our development timeline has been delayed, we learned strong lessons in team management, recruiting members, and project design. Now we are mid-development, and we have a strong team that can execute with Danish, Charlie, and Chanu. We are currently finalists for the GW New Venture Competition, so our prospects are looking strong and the changes we have made appear to be moving us in the right direction.

Round II at CGI U

By Nicholas Johnson

Attending my second CGI U was a great opportunity to report on the successes and challenges of implementing my commitment during its first year. The working sessions provided important tools that seem much more relevant now that I am in the operational stages of my commitment, and the plenaries provided diverse insights from leaders in all sectors. This year I was also able to spend more time engaging with other projects and commitment makers, some of whom even came directly from Haiti, the location of my commitment. It was great to meet with them and discuss opportunities to meet in the future and collaborate. I look forward to keeping up my engagement with CGI U, and the announcement of the commitment maker funding opportunities was especially exciting.

Peace Garden Progress

By Max Grossman

As it was last year, CGIU proved to be fast passed. Without a plan it can easily pass one by. Recognizing this, I went in with a list of people to meet, my pitch memorized, and a strategy to build 51% relationships in which I always offer (help, access to my network, ext.) to my counterpart before asking the same of them.

I have two personal highlights. First, USAID’s Ann Mei Chang gave GW’s geography department a shoutout for supporting USAID’s efforts. Second, I learned that the startup BioChemical Engineering is using drone-captured aerial imagery and remote sensing techniques to reforest the world’s threatened forests. As a to-be geographer, it was re-assuring of my path that the work I am capable of now and that which I hope to do in the future both make real social & environmental impact.

As it relates to the Peace Garden and social entrepreneurship more generally, President Clinton’s (may I say grand-fatherly) words of advice were most relevant to my work. Reading glasses and all, he told all those in the room that our generation (perhaps the first ever) truly has a choice to decide what it is we want to do during our time on earth. We can take a path that addresses humanity’s prevalent challenges and shape a better future, or not. I hope to choose the former.

As for the Peace Garden’s progress, we have finally completed the long awaited, at times seemingly insurmountable goal of building our rain barrel. It took two mini-van trips (one to Home Depot, the other to the Perry School) and a Friday night and Saturday morning pulling out rocks with a post digger, but we have prevailed! In fact, just this week the LFFP students unveiled, took water from, and learned about the importance of the barrel. Future goals include a family night with students and families, and generating our healthy eating resource to give to them.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

By Madison Califfo

Confession: I submitted my commitment to CGIU two minutes before the deadline. 11:58 on the dot.

Fast forward four or so months and I can now say that this choice to submit was one of the most meaningful decisions I have made since my time at GW.

My commitment, Di^2alogue, the commitment that brought me to the 2016 CGIU conference in Berkley, CA, aims at resolving generationally-rooted cultural divides through inciting cross-cultural and cross-generational dialogue. While the CGIU conference essentially serves the intent of jumpstarting and fine-tuning a commitment, whether in the form of networking, personal endorsing, or locating the necessary business partners, I made a conscious effort to be open. I reminded myself that while I had a lot to say, I had far more to hear. If I wanted to learn, I had to be willing to listen. My time at CGIU reinforced in me the power of actively listening and learning.

If you had asked me beforehand what I would have liked to gain out of the conference, I would have replied simply, an answer to all the madness. I had always known I had wanted to make a difference, but did not where to start. I had hoped that CGIU would have given me a place to start. While CGIU did not equip me with the conventional response, I learned to listen to the personal testament of the individual. Through understanding and acknowledging the power of the personal testament, I believe we will one day be able to solve all the “madness.”

Of all the sessions, my favorite session, Rethinking High Schools, iterated this point powerfully and perceptively. As the title aptly alludes, this session dealt with reworking the High School system. Despite many attempts at educative reforms in the past, the “system” is still broken. The session noted that this may be attributed to the fact that students themselves do not play in an integral role in reworking the system. The session opened with all of the panel members shedding light on their high school experiences.

Following this session, I got to know Able. Able is a high school student from Oakland, CA collaborating with XQ Institute, the organization at the forefront of the panel, in its effort to reimagine the system. Growing up near Silicon Valley, Able learned at a young age that he was passionate in matters of technology. His high school however, did not foster this passion. So, Able started a Computer Science club. At a school of just under two hundred students, his club has twenty five members. While Able plays a pivotal role in shaping the high school experience for his peers, it is to be noted that his efforts would have been largely ineffectual, were it not for attentiveness of XQ Institute in taking the time to listen to and respond to Able’s voice. It is this collaborative type of insight that I think wields the power to enact change.

My time at CGIU was colored by the talks I listened to and the conversations I engaged in. It was made memorable by the people I met and impactful by the flags the fly. Thank you, CGIU for the chance to learn beyond the classroom. Thank you, CGIU for challenging my world vision. Thank you, Melanie for making this all possible. You’re a real life superhero.

Just Go For It

By Hana Kim
CGI U was such an amazing experience, where I was able to learn and become so inspired by others around me. The environment at CGIU was so welcoming and innovative, where I really felt like the people around me were able to make an impact and solve some of the toughest world problems. Even though none of us had ever met, I felt like I was part of a community. This was a community where we inspired and motivated others to continue and create their projects. It was also a comfortable learning environment, where we would share ideas and discuss society’s problems. The speakers and workshops were all incredible and I was able to take back something new from each one. It was such an amazing experience when I was somehow able to sit in the front row seat for Conan’s talk with President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton. I was also had the great opportunity of asking President Bill Clinton about how to change this mindset of issues that are not seen as true problems. During the course of all this, I was sitting next to Haben Girma, a lawyer who was the first deaf and blind person to graduate from Harvard. My favorite moment at CGIU was probably the first panel. It was so inspiring to see what people had to overcome to make their dreams and achievements possible as well as the failures or initial visions they had for their social ventures. I’m still in the process of researching for my social venture, but I have never been more inspired and motivated to continue researching and creating. I always felt that my vision was too big and it would take so long, but going to CGI U motivated me to see that a lot of people just went for it and the first step is believing in your project no matter how far off it may seem.

A Drive to do More

By Grace Fisher

The world is an ever-growing, yet paradoxically, ever-shrinking place. As the world becomes increasingly interdependent it is made clear that there are so many parts of the world that need help. For some areas this means improving access to healthcare, for others it might mean reducing waste and pollution. These problems are not isolated to one region of the world, nor are they absent from the United States; these are problems that the world faces in unity, and they are being addressed by some amazing students across the globe. Meeting such students was one of the highlights of attending the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), as well as learning about all of the impactful work that they are doing. However, before going too deeply into discussion regarding the people I met and heard from, it would be wise to first share my own commitment.
I attended CGI U alongside two other women with whom I worked to apply for a grant that would allow us to enhance a currently existing project. The program that we are working to enhance is part of the Latino Student Fund (LSF) which provides a variety of services to under-served families and students. One of their services is aiding families and their children in applying to private, parochial, and charter pre-k through 12th grade schools in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia area. The application process is strenuous and the LSF program seeks to work with individual families and in group settings, on weekends, to ensure families have opportunities and are aware of them. The enhancement aspect of this project will connect student volunteers from the George Washington University with five families each to guide families through the application process. LSF is currently able to work one-on-one with 35 families, and Juntos (the enhancement project) aims to expand support to an additional 50 families. This market is also in dire need of help due to the massively disproportionate ratio of students to counselors in the DC Public School system.

It was fascinating to discuss one’s own project with those of fellow CGI U commitment makers. Each student or group had a dynamic project about which they were passionate and it was wonderful to see them all converge on the University of California Berkeley campus. It created an environment that fostered innovation and a drive to do more. This manifested in asking probing questions of various projects and working to gain both a better understanding of the project and share input. Some of these questions derived from listening to the speakers that orated throughout the weekend, each one detailing their perspective on today’s most pressing issues. CGI U was focused on addressing the problems that plague the world today by gathering together a group of individuals looking to improve the world in myriad ways. I am incredibly grateful that I had the opportunity to attend the conference and hear a diverse group of perspectives and see how my generation is tackling the dilemmas that plague the globe. Congressman John Lewis said it best when he noted, “If you see something that is not fair, not right, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something.” Let us all find ways in our lives to embody these words and stand up for injustices and inequalities, for no act is too small. 1

Turn Ideas Into Action!

By Valentina Barrera Vasco

I’m glad we had some time before having to turn in a reflection to mentally embrace all of the amazing and inspirational things that happened at CGI U. Nothing like seeing a real life president of the United States to make you forget how jet-lagged you are…

The first night was my favorite because we discussed something that I struggle with in all of my endeavors. The first plenary session was called The Courage to Create, and we heard from such an extraordinary panel about how they found the audacity to take on such notable projects (moderated by Mr. President himself). My favorite person on this panel was internet activist and co-founder of Parlio, Wael Ghonim. He spoke about his participation in promoting democracy in Egypt in 2011, and if that isn’t courage to promote change then I don’t know what is. It’s very difficult to step out of your comfort zone, and in Ghonim’s case, past what is even legal and could lead to death. However, change happens beyond this fear. Yet, as Ghonim pointed out, it is not that we are fearless, but that we fail and we keep trying, and that we don’t feel guilty when we fail, but rather stronger, braver, and more capable. This discussion greatly impacted me not only in terms of staying persistent with my commitment but also as I think of my own leadership and personal development.

Finally, my team and I feel revitalized and ready to take the next steps towards making our commitment a reality! #turnideasintoaction #cgiu

Making Connections at CGI U 2016

By Gidon Feen

It was with great excitement that I boarded my plane at Reagan National. I was ready to head to Berkeley for the Clinton Global Initiative and even with TSA Pre-Check, I still wasn’t getting off the ground fast enough. I was coming to the conference with an ambitious commitment, but one that I felt confident would be well received. I hoped to establish a faith-based leaders initiative in African countries to combat homophobia. In many countries, such as Uganda, Nigeria, or Cameroon, high levels of homophobia exist, often with the support of the religious leaders. By creating such an initiative, a dialogue, and bringing on religious leaders in the fight against homophobia, I believe that these countries can see a paradigm shift in their hatred towards LGBTQ people.

CGIU did not disappoint. From the opening session to the closing plenary, I was constantly amazed. President Clinton was illuminating, as was Chelsea, but so were there broad array of speakers they convened for the weekend. One of my favorite was Maysoon Zayid, a comedian and an advocate for those who are disabled. Her comments were both funny and profound; her message resonating strongly with many in the room. I was most struck, however, by the message that President Clinton kept returning to: it is ok to fail. I found it particularly important to hear as a student at GW, where so often I see my peers in a never ending cycle of internships, non-profits, and successes. It was heartening for me to hear from a president that failure is fine, and even helpful!

I was able to make important connections for my commitment at CGIU, in particular with my mentor, Ryan Olson. The two of us had many mutual connections in the LGBTQ international affairs community of DC, and he has said he will help me find the right people to see if they can help with my idea. This would not have been possible without the support of The George Washington University, and I am extremely grateful to them for assisting with funding to get me to the conference.

Engaged In Discovery

By Eleanor Davis

“Are we alone [in space]?” President Bill Clinton asked NASA astronaut Cady Coleman at the 2016 CGI U. While musings about outer-space might seem off topic for an action-based student conference, the themes of curiosity, discovery, and pushing the limits of possible are not.

Whether or not we are alone in space, for the foreseeable future we as humans are dependent on this small blue planet for life. To ensure a healthy, safe, and equal future for current and future generations, we are going to need many creative innovations. At CGI U student innovators committed to projects that ranged from creating backpacks that carried water to help farm workers combat kidney disease to creating social networks that support foster children in the mid-Atlantic. No idea is to big or to small and the only limitation is your imagination.

CGI U gives a platform for students to discuss ideas and share best practices. New ideas and partnerships are born over the two day conference. Even if other students’ ideas are not related to your own commitment, the energy and optimism fuels progress and reinvigorates our drive to innovate. One student I met is trying to put mussels in the Chicago River to clean the water and prevent the costly dumping of germicides into the river to “clean” it as per EPA regulations. Her excitement was infectious and even if it was not completely relevant to my commitment, we all have the same goal — help our fellow humans.

As my commitment is about two months from its end, I was able to share experiences and insights with other, early-stage, commitment makers. I also got ideas on meaningful ways to wrap up the project. I have worked with a team to teach middle school students in Ward 8 of Washington, D.C. about geography through open source mapping software, topical lessons, and exciting speakers. We have learned many lessons along the way but the one I shared most often, is the idea that you need to be flexible and listen to your community partners. We could not have completed this project without the help of Higher Achievement. Flexibility is key and all plans change.

In the end, I am grateful for the chance to have attended CGI U and I know even after my commitment is finished, I will use these memories and lessons as motivation to continue discovering and innovating. But for now, I know the answer to the 42nd President’s question, we are not alone because we are together.