Clinton Global Initiative: A Chance to Change the World

Do you want to change the world?  Here’s a place to start….

Last October, Awet Woldegebriel ’14 submitted an application to attend the fifth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), launched in 2007 by President Clinton to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world to turn ideas into action. CGI U builds on the successful model of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), which brings together world leaders to take action on global challenges.

Awet’s passion and commitment, coupled with his story of an early life as a refugee, stood out. He was not only invited to attend, but asked to be a speaker.

Awet was welcomed to the stage by The Daily Show‘s Jon Stewart, which he says was “a true honor.”  During his speech, he talked about his nonprofit Knowledge Aid, which gathers and ships books from the United States to libraries in Eritrea, Ethiopia, and Kenya. “The initiative,” he explained, “is driven by an old but still widely referred to proverb that states: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

The goal of Knowledge Aid is to make aid sustainable and to offer children the chance to enjoy their childhood through books. Awet, who still has memories of the devastation he faced in war-torn Ethiopia and his home country of Eritrea, was able to regain some of his lost childhood through reading books by Dr. Seuss.

“They made me laugh, they made me silly, they made me imagine what a full childhood would have been like,” he says. “And that is why my initiative is so important to me… whatever your initiative, make sure it does justice and represents the passion you have for it.”

Thanks to Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Awet was able to meet and gain support for Knowledge Aid from many influential people, including former journalist Amanda Lindhout, musician Hugo Levy, supermodels Christie Brinkley and Anna Maria Lewiarz, and Argentinian Education Minister Esteban Bullrich.  His facebook page for Knowledge Aid, which had 147 “likes” before the conference, now has over 2200.

Awet, who is now a CGI ambassador and recruiter, will be co-hosting an informational meeting with President Larry Schall on Monday, October 22, from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in Lupton Auditorium.

“We want to encourage more Oglethorpe students to take part in the conference and also grow their ideas,” said Awet. “You (will) have access to the people you don’t have access to, so your ideas can expand and grow through CGI. We will help you to accomplish those ideas and initiatives.”

If you’re interested  in nonprofit work, social enterprise, or in giving back—then this meeting is for you! Come learn more about CGI’s purpose, benefits, and how you might get the chance to attend the next CGI meeting…and learn how you can propel your ideas and make a difference.

OU’s Social Enterprise Fellowship Makes an Impact

Through the IDEX program, ten recent college graduates have traveled to Hyderabad, India to develop and implement business plans for some of India’s low-cost education schools.

In the summer of 2010, Oglethorpe University partnered with Gray Matters Capital to take three OU alumni and seven other recent college graduates to Hyderabad, India.  These young professionals are part of the IDEX Fellowship in Social Enterprise program and are using what they learned in the classroom in the real world.  IDEX comes from IDeate, EXecute, and Solve—which is what these talented young people have put into action during the past six months.

The fellows are using social enterprise, a fairly new concept in the business world, to better India’s Affordable Private Schools. These fellows are not teachers, however.  They are working on the business-end of the system to implement programs that can change and develop schools that primarily serve underprivileged youth in India.

One OU alumna, Ember Melcher ’09, decided to start an in-house library at the school in which she works.  After noticing boxes of books collecting dust, she implemented a plan of action to advance a library, including working around financial barriers by “hiring” student workers in exchange for free tuition. Ember’s operation illustrates what IDEX is all about—tackling social problems with sustainable business models.  The idea is that years after she and her colleagues are gone, the school can still operate an economical library within the school, using her business model as a foundation.

Beyond these fellows’ nine months in the country, IDEX plans to make a difference in years to come.  In 2011, the program sent 40 new fellows to the country. View this video, produced by the IDEX Fellows, to learn more about the Fellowship and the work they’re doing:
Or, view directly on YouTube:

OU in India: Investing in Change through Social Enterprise

OU President Larry Schall journeyed to India to participate in the 2010 Enterprising Schools Symposium, along with the inaugural class of the IDEX Fellowship for Social Enterprise. Launched in early 2010, IDEX is a unique early entry professional development program for recent college graduates interested in the field of social enterprise. IDEX is managed by Oglethorpe University and sponsored by Gray Matters Capital.  

From Hyderabad, India:

I will never complain about Atlanta traffic or Atlanta drivers again. Today I ventured out on the street on foot for the first time and crossing the street is virtually impossible for the faint of heart. After standing and waiting for an opening for 15 minutes I finally found someone else crossing and attached myself to his hip as he just wandered out amidst hundreds of cars and cycles zipping by.

I am in Hyderabad visiting Oglethorpe’s 11 IDEX fellows, a group of recent college graduates, from OU and five or six other colleges in the States, spending a year in India working in what are called Affordable Private Schools or Enterprising Schools. Their mission is to assist the owners of these schools—in Hyderabad alone, there are over one thousand in operation–to develop sustainable business plans and improve the quality of education across the sector. These schools are also known as slum schools because only the poorest of the poor attend these places in a attempt to improve the lives of the lives of their children (the public system is a disaster here at least for these children). So the parents pay a few dollars a month in tuition as an alternative.

Each of our fellows is placed in a different school and the schools vary widely. One I visited yesterday had 600 students enrolled, from age three to sixteen, in a building a whole lot smaller than our homes. The first grade had close to 90 students in a room about 20 feet square. Yet, it was all orderly and there was learning going on, although certainly not at a level any of us would accept.

Grace Model is Ember Melcher’s school, a 2009 OU graduate. I spent a couple hours with her school owners, an amazing couple who have put everything they have into this cause. Ember is trying to help them figure out how much revenue they bring in and what they are spending. Their tuition is the lowest of all the schools we are working with and it has remained virtually the same for all nine years since the school opened. Despite that, about 25% of the parents are unable to pay and the owners cover their costs from their own pockets and with the help of a few donors. Ember has started a library at Grace Model, their first.

Allison Grossman’s (Emory, 2010) school, Lohia’s Little Angels, is run by Miss Lohia, and if you ask me, she is an angel. I got to spend some time with the eighth grade girls who have become Alli’s little posse. In just a few weeks, the attachments are palpable. This little gang of six who performed a dance for us last night at the international symposium on APS schools that is being held in Hyderabad this week were as poised and outgoing as any 13 year olds I have ever met. I am already trying to figure out how to get Alli’s entire posse to Oglethorpe.

It’s just remarkable to me how much our fellows are accomplishing. They are changing a little part of the world as their own lives are changing in ways they could not have imagined.