Six students represented NYU Abu Dhabi at the Clinton Global Initiative University 2017 (CGI U) at Northeastern University in Boston, US, which brings together leaders to address multiple pressing global challenges. The idea is that university students will engage in conversations to share the approaches they are taking to promote social change in their communities. More than 1,000 students explored a variety of topics within the CGI U’s focus areas:
- environment and climate change
- peace and human rights
- poverty alleviation
- public health
What makes the conference special is that students are able to engage in conversations and share their Commitments to Action, which are projects considered new, specific, and measurable that address pressing challenges on campus, in local communities, or around the world.
My own Commitment to Action is called Bedaya, a Dalai Lama Fellow’s program already happening at NYUAD that promotes social integration of female migrant workers and university students in Abu Dhabi through the practice of volleyball and fitness training. At CGI U 2017, I got the chance to present this project in an exchange fair.
I also got the chance to interact with a law graduate school student from Cuba, Syria, and the United States at Northeastern University who is currently running a project in Greece providing legal support to Syrian refugees. I also met a student from the US state of Alabama who is running a project that provides diabetes medical services to marginalized members of his community, and I connected with a group of students in Dominican Republic who created a program to provide leadership and management education to underprivileged communities in their country.
The opening panel’s talk was called "What Unites Us: Building Community in a Divided World." President Bill Clinton, Chelsea Clinton, and former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright were part of the panel.
In another panel, Joseph Aoun, President of Northeastern University, developed multiple arguments as to why experiential learning is important in education. He moderated the talk called “Skills vs. Degrees” where we discussed the role of vocational training in our current educational world, and the importance of an interdisciplinary education and of skill-building.
Daryl Davis, musician and race relations experts at Lyrad Productions was a member of another panel on social integration. He is a strong believer in dialogue as a medium to promote integration and overcome discrimination. As a black American, he has engaged in dialogues with members of the Ku Klux Klan to change mindsets and break oppression. He said, “he is a firm believer that dialog is the key to solving race issues in this county, not talking about each other, nor talking at each other, but talking with each other."
There were also working sessions for smaller groups to improve students' Commitments to Action and I got the opportunity to attend a seminar with Professor Margaret McKenna who served as president of the Walmart Foundation. We talked about pressing issues on food security, as well as about core aspects of project management and sustainable programming that were useful insights to improve the approach to my own Commitment to Action.
At the end of the conference, students got the opportunity to participate in a day of action, collaborating on different projects in the Boston community. I feel grateful for this opportunity and I hope that more NYUAD students will be able to attend CGI U in the future.
NYUAD Student Attendees
Sara Pan Algarra