Looking at Global Challenges

USF student Guillermo Rodriguez writes about his experience attending the Clinton Foundation’s Global Initiative University conference.



By Guillermo Rodriguez

Special to USF News


TAMPA, Fla. (April 23, 2013) – If you’re a college student like myself, then maybe you’ve also had thoughts about your future career and what you want to do after you graduate. 


Some thoughts may seem crazy now, like how you want to help others in a particular way, and how that’s impractical, or inconvenient. But these thoughts are not uncommon.


In fact, the Clinton Foundation established the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) to bring together college students for brainstorming solutions to local and global challenges. Attending CGIU this year was an inspirational experience, and I hope I can demonstrate that hard work, imagination, and perseverance can greatly improve yourself and others.


On April 5th, I got to Washington University in St. Louis and gathered together with 1,200 attendees and expert speakers to discuss pressing issues in various topics such as education, poverty reduction, human rights, environment and climate change, and public health.


At CGIU, I was representing Advocates for World Health (AWH), a nonprofit organization based near the University of South Florida, where I am majoring in Chemical Engineering. AWH collects surplus medical supplies from the United States and sends them to medically underserved populations.


My objective was to connect with other conference attendees, and either inspire them to start their own AWH chapter on campus, or work with other attendees and provide them with any medical products that they need for their projects. This plan may seem well organized now, but I made many mistakes before in school and in life. Gaining tenacity and determination led me to the success I’ve had in my academics and volunteer work, and other people I met at the conference shared similar life stories as well.


After arriving at CGIU, I was overwhelmed by the vast amount of students so eager to meet, talk, and listen to my story, before they shared theirs with me. 


The attendees ranged from first-year undergraduate students, to students in post-graduate programs. Some students were starting up their own ventures, while others already had well-established non-profit organizations.


From creating local farms for feeding hungry Nepalese elementary school students and building refugee homes in Lebanon and Jordan to creating a cost-effective water filtration system and starting a social movement advocating sexual assault prevention through the use of tank-tops in the U.S. (I’m actually trying to start this here at USF too!), each of the students’ stories were so inspirational that meeting each of them and learning from their failures helped me to learn more about what I wanted to do.


The conference was not all networking. It also brought together speakers with vast experience who shared their stories of failure, innovation, and success. The first plenary session featured Jack Dorsey, the co-founder of Twitter; Kenneth D. Cole, designer and CEO; Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International; William Kamkwamba, Malawian author and inventor; and President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea.


I sat in the athletic complex in awe, listening to Kamkwamba describe how he created a windmill to power electricity in his home without having had any formal education. He only read a book on windmills at the age of 14. As he spoke, I thought to myself, “This man had no money for education, and was able to construct a windmill from seeing a picture in a book and believing he could do it.” I thought it was simply amazing. Kamkwamba spoke about those who tried to deter him from the project, including friends and even his mother. But, he was able to overcome those obstacles and create what he believed was possible.


After a couple hours of sleep, the second day of the conference separated us into different workshop sessions arranged by topic areas.


I attended the workshop entitled, “Ensuring Medication Safety: The Overlooked Epidemic of Prescription Drug Misuse.” We listened to testimonials from those who struggled with drug misuse and overcame the addiction. I spoke with others about ways that students can change the world in our local communities.


After the workshops, the attendees gathered again to end the formal conference. Comedy Channel’s Stephen Colbert, hosting his Closing Conversation, reminded us that humor is important and essential in life, as well as in politics.


Following another night of little sleep and some coffee, the final day of CGIU had attendees gathering at the local Gateway STEM High School to volunteer and create change in the community. I went together with a few friends that I made at the conference, and we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves by planting trees and picking up litter around the school.


The conference was only three days long, but the lessons learned are enduring. I gained many new acquaintances across the country, and some of them are looking into creating their own campus-based AWH chapter.


More personally, I acquired a new outlook on life and about attaining one’s goals. If you want to make a positive impact, but don’t know how to get started, I’d encourage to apply to CGIU next year, and make a difference in your own, creative way.


Check out Advocates for World Health's Facebook page.