From Curiosity to Commitment

CGI U: Turning Ideas into Action. Just four words, but four of the most important, challenging, and demanding words ever pieced together.
Starting a startup is all about, well, starting. There are millions of people out there who think that they have a million dollar idea. Ideas are a dime a dozen, but people who can come together and execute great ideas are the people who can really make change happen. Entrepreneurs can’t be afraid to take risks, and they can’t be afraid of failure. Most importantly, they have to give themselves a chance to succeed. For me, that’s what CGI U is about – people coming together to learn collaboratively and give their ideas a chance to succeed.
Built off of the model of the Clinton Global Initiative, Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) was launched in 2007 to engage the next generation of leaders on college campuses around the world. CGI U 2013 brought together over 1,000 students working to make an impact in five focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health. Hosted this year at Washington University in St. Louis, CGI U is a growing community of young leaders who don’t want to discuss challenges – they want to take real, concrete steps towards solving them.
CGI U helped remind why I get excited about entrepreneurship: curiosity. It’s the opportunity to understand and think about something that’s important, impactful, and empowering.
On the first night of CGI U, President Clinton moderated a panel discussion entitled Getting off the Ground: Stories of Starting Up. The panel had three people I was excited to hear from – Kenneth Cole, Jack Dorsey, Zainab Salbi – and one person I’d never heard of – William Kamkwamba. It was Kamkwamba that helped remind me why I was at CGI U.
Kamkwamba, a 25 year-old Dartmouth student from Malawi, is known by many as “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind.” After being forced to drop out of school because his family couldn’t afford the tuition, Kamkwamba found a picture of a windmill and used trees, bicycle parts, and materials collected in a Malawian scrapyard to build a windmill capable of powering electrical appliances in his family’s house. After completing the windmill, he went on to build a solar-powered water pump that supplies the first drinking water in his village.
However, it wasn’t Kamkwamba’s story of the windmill, the water pump, or his trip out of his African village that had the most impact on me. It was his story of when his parents left him home alone and he wanted to meet the little people who talked to him from inside of his radio so he decided to take it apart. Although somewhat hilarious, this is the story of a boy whose remarkable curiosity has driven him to have the impact that many dream of, but few achieve.
My commitment project for CGI U is a two-week service-learning program called Mentor for America that will pilot this May. Through the program, ten rising college seniors will spend full workdays with high school students for 90 minute one-on-one and small group settings. Outside of the school day, participants will engage in a speaker and workshop series focused on developing a deeper understanding of educational inequity, poverty, and social change and work with with local Durham organizations to gain a better understanding of community resources and the different ways that people are going about reducing educational inequity and poverty in Durham.
Through Mentor for America, we aim to use our collective experiences, varied perspectives, and personal networks to bring new ideas and energy to those we talk and work with. Curiosity is what will allow us to see people as resources, and problems as opportunities. It will lead us to ask not what are the problems, but how can we make a positive impact. A commitment to curiosity, a demand to transcend the “what is” and explore the “what could be,” is what will drive us to turn our ideas into action.