Ryan Olson | Palladium - Dec 21 2018
Reflections from a Clinton Global Initiative Mentor

This year I had the honour of being invited to provide opening remarks to over 1000 students at the 11th annual Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of Chicago. CGI U is an annual educational conference that brings together student leaders, activists, social entrepreneurs, and civic society members to address some of the world's most pressing challenges. The Initiative was created to inspire our youth to take action as global citizens and equip them with the skills and knowledge to make a meaningful, measurable impact.

The Next Generation
Each CGI U attendee has made a Commitment to Action: a concrete plan for a social enterprise or charitable project that makes a measurable difference in at least one of following areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation, and public health.

For the past seven years I've served as a commitment mentor, helping over 100 students plan and navigate how to implement their commitments, facilitate impactful connections with other changemakers, and share my own professional experience. My work at Palladium helps me see just how important it is that we value the next generation of social entrepreneurs and innovators who are committed to the positive impact we are all seeking to create.

This year's annual meeting was one of the most powerful meetings I've attended. You could feel the sense of commitment to fight for change, and of course there was the Hogwarts-like University of Chicago campus. Most notably, I was struck by the students themselves who are all making a difference within their own spheres of influence.

One student I met had created a prototype of clothing that could monitor your vital signs, similar to an Apple Watch or FitBit, that could have impacts in public health. Another student from Morocco had started a programme to give vocational education to young girls, linked to professional career opportunities. Another has developed a computer programme to monitor the use of plastics on his campus in Ghana to help reduce waste.

There are more: One student's commitment was to help educate young people with disabilities - particularly those who were blind - in Lebanon. Another from Brazil had committed to developing a comprehensive sexuality education programme for young people in the Favelas where she lived.

And there were a thousand others who all had similar commitments to make a difference.

A Panel with the Clinton Family. Photo by Adam Schultz / Clinton Foundation at The University of Chicago
A Panel with the Clinton Family. Photo by Adam Schultz / Clinton Foundation at The University of Chicago

These commitments demonstrate a generation of young people with the capacity and willingness to do what they can to make a positive impact, whether locally or globally. I am once again reminded of how young people are essential to creating change. Often with the projects I work on through Palladium, it is the youth that are the tipping points to scale our work and have a greater impact.

CGI U reminded me of the immense power that the next generation has, which we cannot underestimate as we all work to make our world a better place.