30 Student Innovators from UC Berkeley Gear-Up for Clinton Global Initiative University

UC Berkeley student Connor Gallaher presents his innovation, PlasMachine, to President Bill Clinton.

By Francesca Munsayac  

In October, the Blum Center will send 30 UC Berkeley students to the 2017 Clinton Global Initiative University, an annual meeting sponsored by the Clinton Foundation. Each year, CGI U unites over 1,000 students from around the world to implement innovative solutions for global challenges. Students apply to CGI U with a “Commitment to Action,”—a concrete project that addresses an issue relating to one of CGI U’s five focus areas: education, environment & climate change, poverty alleviation, peace & human rights, and public health. An invitation to CGI U is a highly competitive process for students as their Commitment to Action (COA) must be new, specific and measurable.

CGI U provides support, mentorship, and resources to emerging student innovators, including opportunities for students to pitch their COA at the conference, win prize money, and learn from experts in the field of social entrepreneurship. Eleven of the 30 UC Berkeley students attending were also selected to present at the CGI U Exchange, an exhibition to explore partnerships and network with other participants. In addition, two students were selected for the “CGI U Commitment Challenge” – a crowdsourcing competition to raise money for their COA.

As a CGI U network partner, UC Berkeley has sent 350 UC Berkeley students to CGI U over the event’s ten-year history, and students have gone on to raise thousands of dollars in investment to launch impactful social ventures. This year’s CGI U attendees also include eight participants from Big Ideas@Berkeley; like CGI U, Big Ideas@Berkeley brings together students from multidisciplinary backgrounds who collaborate to develop innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and development challenges.

According to CGI U organizers, UC Berkeley has maintained a reputation for consistently sending large cohorts of students who produce high-caliber projects every year. The following UC Berkeley teams are among those that will present at the CGI U in October. Check back on the Blum Center News’ section for updates and to track their progress as the competition unfolds.


Social Innovator Spotlights

Aiding the Refugee Effort in Greece

Thanh Mai Bercher, UC Berkeley’s 2017 Activist of the Year, and Holly Wertman, Chair of the City of Berkeley’s Community Health Commission, joined forces to support The Melissa Networka Blum Center partner organization that provides critical services to female refugees in Greece. Bercher and Wertman are supporting the Melissa Network to develop a long-term women’s health program, which will be widely publicized through UN-based and local agencies, filling the information gap of where and how female refugees can seek health services.

Maximizing Social Relationships to Improve Women’s Health

Osman Shokoor, former Vice President of UC Berkeley’s Afghan Student Association, is building a comprehensive community-based program that connects Afghan refugee mothers, and uses modeling of positive peer behavior to demonstrate how to achieve positive health outcomes.

Shokoor will coordinate an interactive weekly women’s exercise program that includes reflection sessions, and group seminars that provide a platform for Afghan women to discuss issues related to mental health, PTSD, intergenerational trauma, and common health concernssuch as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease. To recruit participants and volunteers, Shokoor will partner with the Afghan Coalition, the oldest and most recognized Afghan community organization in the Bay Area.

CGI U 2016: Committing to a Better World

By Nicholas Bobadilla

The campus was abuzz with excitement as over 1,200 students from around the world gathered at UC Berkeley for the Clinton Global Initiative University from April 1-3 to discuss and amplify their ideas for global change. In attendance were field experts, social entrepreneurs, and celebrities, including Kate Brandt, Google’s Lead for Sustainability; Obiageli Ezekwesili, Senior Economic Advisor of the Africa Economic Development Initiative; Salman Khan, Co-Founder and CEO of Kiva; Georgia Congressman John Lewis; and talk-show host Conan O’Brien.

This year’s CGI U attracted the largest group of students in its nine-year history, and was the first to raise over a million dollars in venture investments. To earn an invitation, students had to commit to a novel idea for change in local or global communities. “The price of entry is to commit to something,” said former President Bill Clinton. Participants committed to initiatives addressing climate change, poverty, public health and education. Among them were coding workshops for refugees, a comprehensive mental health curriculum pending as a bill in the Massachusetts State Legislature, and the use of drones to combat illegal poaching in Benin, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

Kicking off the conference was the Clinton Foundation’s Codeathon, an effort to leverage the technical skills of developers to develop technical solutions that promote health and wellness on college campuses.  From Thursday afternoon to Friday morning, coders worked in teams to create platforms judged by Chelsea Clinton, Cisco’s Laura Quintana, and Kiah Williams of Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine. Winners were announced at the closing plenary—tied for first were Quikko, an app that helps new students adapt to new college environments; and BeWell, which allows users to reflect and share their mental health challenges and experiences on a mobile platform.

CGI U 2016 - Codeathon

Plenary sessions marked the beginning, middle, and end of the conference and involved remarks from social entrepreneurs, entertainers, and political figures who attested to the challenges and opportunities facing the crowd of young innovators. “We believe no one is ever too old or ever too young to make a difference,” said Chelsea Clinton in her opening remarks. “And that the earlier we start, the more likely we are to find the right partners for our efforts and have a better chance of making the positive difference we are called to do.” She pointed to the success of the Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition as an excellent example of how universities can support students trying to make the world a better place.

Former President Bill Clinton kicked off the conference with a theme that threaded throughout the weekend. He emphasized the urgency of climate change, global terrorism, and economic inclusion, yet he expressed confidence in efforts to counteract these problems. “It’s an exciting time to be alive, but it’s a constant race between positive interdependence and the forces of negative interdependence.” Backing his faith in the CGI U mission, he conveyed a sense of hope in students’ potential to make the world better. “Every time I see you, I become convinced that the positive forces will win.”

Additional topics at the forefront of the weekend’s plenaries included efforts to build inclusive communities as well as the “unintended consequences” of social impact work. Tied deeply within these conversations was the value of failure on the path to success. “Beyond every failure is an insight that can lead you to success,” said Catlin Powers, Co-Founder and CEO of One Earth Design.

Unintended consequences, according Dr. Powers, should be leveraged to support communities, who should be made an integral part of any social impact project. “Listen to the communities you’re allying yourself with,” said comedian and disability advocate Maysoon Zayid. In support of that mission, Zayid encouraged the audience to forge alliances with opposition groups, as finding commonalities is the best way to create sustainable and universal change.

Throughout the day, students attended working sessions focused on topics that spanned educating refugees during a crisis, developing a more sustainable economy, and boosting diversity and inclusion on college campuses. Students gathered before entrepreneurs, university officials and fellow students. A standout remark from Falkora co-founder Khaliya offered advice to prospective social entrepreneurs during a session dedicated to dismantling stigmas around mental health: “Starting a social enterprise doesn’t make me a social entrepreneur,” she said. “Social entrepreneurship is a mindset and thought process.” CGI U 2016 - Working Session - Educating Refugees and Children in Crisis

Following an impassioned speech on the durability of public education by UC president Janet Napolitano, audiences were treated to an interview between comedian Conan O’Brien and Bill Clinton, who again touched on his hope for the coming generation of change-makers. “They are the most poised to make change, because they ask the ‘how’ question.”

In support of CGI U’s commitment to community service, the conference ended with a Day of Action, led by President and Chelsea Clinton, who partnered with the Oakland Unified School District and Oakland Public Education Fund at the Havenscourt and Lockwood Campuses in Oakland. Students worked with community organizations to improve the area around campus by planting trees, organizing libraries, and painting murals. Also in attendance were UC Berkeley alum and NFL All-Pro and Co-Founder of Fam 1st Family Foundation, Marshawn Lynch, and Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf.

As much as the conference focused on pragmatism, participants were sent off with calls to commitment and passion. Premal Shah, Co-Founder and President of Kiva offered this advice: “First, design for love, then figure out how that can be scalable.” Congressman John Lewis advocated for a stance shaped by devotion and gratitude: “Stand up for what’s right and just,” he said. “Live a life of hope and be happy doing so.” And in his closing remarks, President Clinton reiterated what was perhaps the conference’s prevailing theme: “We can’t build a perfect world, but we can build a better world.”

CGI U 2016 - Reinventing High School: How Young People Can Transform Public Education

Berkeley to Host 2016 Clinton Global Initiative University

By Nicholas Bobadilla

Clinton Global Initiative University

From April 1st through 3rd, students, university representatives, policymakers, and topic experts from around the world will convene at Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U), a three-day conference hosted by the Clinton Foundation that allows students to jumpstart and share innovative ideas for global change. Since 2007, CGI U has spurred thousands of change-makers to pledge their “Commitments to Action” in one of five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health. “Making a public commitment enhances personal accountability,” says Thato Keineetse, one of dozens of Cal students chosen to participate in the event. Former President Clinton and Chelsea Clinton will oversee the ninth edition of CGI U at UC Berkeley, which will host undergraduate and graduate students seeking to make the commitments that will usher their projects to completion.

The conference will include opportunities to exchange ideas, develop partnerships, network, and apply for funding to launch or expand projects. Universities in the CGI network must pledge at least $10,000 in support to participants, meaning over $750,000 will be made available for students to convert their ideas into action. Since 2008, CGI U participants, formally known as “commitment-makers,” have received $2 million in funding support and have made over 5,500 Commitments to Action.  The conference will end with a Day of Action, in which students participate in a community-wide service event alongside local nonprofits or community organizations. This year, commitment-makers will work with Havenscourt Campus in East Oakland, a shared campus of four schools in the Oakland Unified School District that serves over 1500 students. Activities will include urban agriculture, mural painting, leveling books for the library, and cleaning the athletic facility.

CGI U participants undergo a competitive selection process. This year, Cal’s participants are engaged in projects ranging from 3D printing to microfinance to lobbying for LGBTIQ+ legislation. Find out more about them below.

Michelle Nie will employ the skills she has developed as a Business major to launch Māk, a social enterprise that empowers low-income youth by training them to design 3D printed products. Through an intensive, skill-building boot camp, the youth will learn to use 3D printing software. They will then work as interns for Māk, creating consumer products to be sold through the enterprise’s e-commerce website. Profits will be reinvested in future cohorts and more resources. Nie founded Māk alongside fellow business majors Ankita Joshi and Aubrey Larson, who started it as a project for a Social Entrepreneurship course. “I’m excited to learn about the amazing projects my Berkeley peers are working on and to connect and collaborate with students from around the globe,” said Nie.

MBA student Thato Keineetse’s Mo’H2O is committed to alleviating energy poverty and water scarcity in sub-Saharan Africa by making sustainable clean technology solutions more affordable. Mo’H20 will assemble, distribute, lease and service integrated solar water pump systems for low-income smallholder farmers in East and Southern Africa. Using an innovative business model, Mo’H2O will make it easier for people to pay for clean technology, while benefiting from increased productivity driven by a constant supply of water and access to cheap and reliable energy. “I’m excited to meet, share ideas, and work with others who have taken this step to transform their ideals into actions,” said Keineetse.

Big Ideas Finalist and MBA student Sneha Sheth seeks to give low-income mothers in India a leg up on their children’s development and educational readiness via an automated voice call service called Dost. The service provides a mobile platform that combats illiteracy by empowering mothers to deliver early learning experiences to their children. In giving mothers activities that fit into their daily routines, Dost represents a simple, innovative method of cultivating the potential of low-income Indian children. Sheth believes education to be the best way to alleviate poverty.

MBA student Zoe Beck will partner with UC Berkeley to produce and distribute a new MOOC on economic inequality. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich will teach the course, which will explore the ongoing economic inequality in the United States, its impacts on the nation’s economy and democracy, and what can be done about it. Intended to inform and engage, the course will feature filmed lectures as well as live interactive forums, and will emphasize steps students can take to make a difference.

Dedicated to alleviating poverty in the Bay Area through financial inclusion, Amanda Ng will work with a technology start-up called Insikt to find banks, insurance companies, retailers, and other businesses in Berkeley and Oakland that target low-income consumers whose credit histories make them ineligible for loans. Ng will lobby businesses to use Insikt’s lending platform, which employs an underwriting algorithm to assess the creditworthiness of potential borrowers, and determines a loan size and interest rate that maximizes repayment rates. Insikt’s efficiency in gauging financial potential, along with its current array of partners, make it a viable and accessible method of building capital among the poor.

36 UC Berkeley Students Make “Commitments to Action” for 2015 Clinton Global Initiative University

By Andrea Guzman

cgiu2The Blum Center for Developing Economies is supporting 36 ambitious UC Berkeley’s students to attend the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Conference in Miami, Florida this coming March.

Launched in 2007 by former President Bill Clinton, CGI U hosts student leaders, university representatives, topic experts, and celebrities to come together to discuss and develop innovative solutions to pressing global challenges. This year’s conference, held March 6-8 at the University of Miami, will convene more than 1,100 students to discuss how they are taking action to address challenges in the following five areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.

The Blum Center has sponsored UC Berkeley’s participation in the CGI University Network since 2012, supporting students through travel assistance and yearlong advising on student projects. The Network is a distinguished body of higher education institutions throughout the world that have made a robust commitment to the principles of Clinton Global Initiative.

In 2015, the number of UC Berkeley students attending the conference jumped to 36 from 28 in 2014, with approximately 65 percent of the students having additional affiliations with the Blum Center. These affiliations include participation in BigIdeas@Berkeley, the Development Impact Lab, the Social Innovator OnRamp course, and the Global Poverty & Practice minor.

“Student-led innovations and community projects are better positioned to thrive when they have a wide spectrum of support and mentorship,” said Sean Burns, Director of Student Programs at the Blum Center. “Because of this, we are thrilled when we see Cal students participating in CGI U, who have been developing their ideas through some of our other Blum Center programs.”

A total of 24 projects will be presented, consisting of 17 group projects and seven individual projects.  The projects range from educational programs for survivors of human trafficking to improving energy access in rural, developing areas.

Undergraduate business students Camilo Ossa and Elizabeth Mossessian will be attending the conference representing their project SeedEd Capital. Mentored through the Blum Center’s Social Innovator OnRamp course and a current Big Ideas finalist, SeedEd Capital is an online platform that facilitates investors and donors to support underprivileged “seeds,” or students, with financial resources. It intends to connect individuals who are passionate about education with students across the Bay Area who need financial resources and other support to pursue higher education. In addition to facilitating student-donor interactions online, SeedEd works to mentor and tutor students so they can achieve their academic goals.

Ossa and Mossessian said they are excited to meet like-minded students at CGI U and to connect with experts and influencers in the fields of education, economic empowerment, and youth support programs.

“We believe the interaction that we can get with experienced individuals, who can mentor us and provide feedback, is going to be immensely helpful in the development of the project,” Ossam and Mossessian said in an email.

Twenty-eight Ambitious Changemakers from UC Berkeley Set Out for Clinton Global Initiative University

By: Abby Madan, 2nd Year Political Economy Major

“What I’ve found at Cal is that the greatest wealth of knowledge is our peers,” emphasized 100 Strong team member and CGI-U attendee Ruhi Nath (pictured above with teammates Vrinda Agrawal and Julie Brown), who is looking forward to networking with socially-minded peers from across the country and around the world. “The Blum Center and Big Ideas@Berkeley have been really supportive of 100 Strong, not in just the funding but with all of their guidance and advice, too,” Nath added.

March 21, 2014 – This weekend, twenty-eight UC Berkeley student innovators are headed to Arizona for the annual Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI-U) conference. The students, who were selected on the strength of their “Commitment to Action,” are eager to explore how they can make a difference in the world.

CGI-U 2014 will host the largest cohort of passionate UC Berkeley students ever to attend. Hosted annually by former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, the conference gathers over 5,000 students from 135 countries.

The Blum Center for Developing Economies, UC Berkeley’s lead representative within the CGI-U Network, supports students who travel to the event and offers year-long advising to help students accomplish their project goals. Since its founding in 2006, the Blum Center has been a campus hub for social impact, inspiring and fostering an ecosystem of change-makers. This year, nearly three-fourths of the Berkeley projects featured at CGI-U have a Blum Center affiliation – either as participants in the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest, the Global Poverty and Practice Minor, or the Development Impact Lab.

Students attend CGI-U with a specific challenge and a defined one-year plan called a “Commitment to Action” that addresses a global issue in education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, public health, or a related field. The weekend conference is packed with workshops and plenary sessions for students to build relationships, share ideas and solidify their action plans.

Junior Asad Akbany is looking forward to the opportunity to engage with CEOs of companies that aim to address social problems. His project, “Kanga Kare,” aims to prevent pre-natal deaths by providing rural hospitals in developing countries with safe, low-cost baby incubators. “Working with people you’ve never interfaced with before, working with a team that’s based remotely, or learning how to make sure people stay motivated — hearing speakers address these things will be very helpful,” says Akbany, a member of a team of seven.

Cal students Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher had an opportunity to share their project, PlasMachine, with President Clinton at last year’s CGI-U gathering. This year, the team returns to CGI-U before traveling to South Africa for the next phase of their work. Photo credit: Barbara Kinney / Clinton Global Initiative

Matt Pavlovich and Connor Galleher, CGI-U veterans from 2013, received recognition from Bill Clinton himself for their project “PlasMachine” at the conference last year. The PlasMachine team constructs atmospheric pressure plasma devices that address water and sanitation needs in developing countries. Pavlovich and Galleher spent the past year revamping their prototypes and are ready to move closer to the implementation phase. “I think it really helped us in learning how to market what we’re doing in a way that makes sense to the average person, so that someone who’s not in plasma physics can approach it and understand it,” Pavlovich shared about last year’s conference. “It also lent our project a certain credibility.” The two will be traveling to South Africa on a Development Impact Lab Explore Grant to build partnerships and assess consumer needs.

Teammates Ruhi Nath, Vrinda Agarwal, and Julie Brown will attend CGI-U and represent their initiative, “100 Strong,” which aims to empower local women to maximize their leadership potential. 100 Strong was a 2013 winner of the BigIdeas@Berkeley contest; the team members now look forward to joining CGI-U’s diverse student community. “Having a community of really different people who are interested in changing the world for the better in their own specialty — I think that energy and excitement is really powerful,” reflected Brown.

For updates about the CGI-U gathering and the student attendees, read our CGI-U 2014 student wrap-up or follow #CGIU and the @Blum_Center on Twitter and Facebook.