Thir­teen North­eastern under­grad­u­ates joined more than 1,000 stu­dents from around the world at the 6th annual Clinton Global Ini­tia­tive Uni­ver­sity meeting ear­lier this month in St. Louis. Stu­dents selected to attend the pres­ti­gious event were brought together with inno­va­tors, thought leaders, and civi­cally engaged celebri­ties to dis­cuss solu­tions for the globe’s greatest challenges.

This year marked the first time North­eastern was rep­re­sented at the annual event. Stu­dents selected for the pres­ti­gious event had to submit action plans that address global chal­lenges in one of five areas: edu­ca­tion, envi­ron­ment and cli­mate change, peace and human rights, poverty alle­vi­a­tion, and public health.

The CGIU meeting was held April 5–7. Stu­dents par­tic­i­pated in engaging work­shops, learned about each other’s idea, and lis­tened to a series of dynamic global leaders speak at ple­nary ses­sions. The expe­ri­ence enabled stu­dents to net­work, develop poten­tial future part­ner­ships, and build upon the “Com­mit­ment to Action” plans they will accel­erate back on their cam­puses and around the globe.

The North­eastern con­tin­gent fea­tured four social-​​enterprise projects all borne out of the inno­v­a­tive pro­gram­ming and experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­ni­ties offered through the university’s Social Enter­prise Insti­tute. Jonna Iacono, director of the Office of Fel­low­ships, accom­pa­nied the stu­dents at CGIU.

(Left to right) North­eastern stu­dents Michael Behan, Caitlin Fer­guson, and Robert Gulick.

In 2010, senior busi­ness major Michael Behan founded Njabini Inc., which helps poor fam­i­lies in rural Kenya grow income-​​generating projects that sup­port their fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. Njabini’s latest endeavor, the Potato Project, is a col­lab­o­ra­tive model that brings potato pro­ducers together to col­lec­tively increase their pro­duc­tion and profits. Behan recently launched an Indiegogo cam­paign to raise $35,000 online for the project.

Behan said the CGIU meeting cre­ated an inspiring atmos­phere in which a diverse cross-​​section of stu­dents shared their inno­v­a­tive con­cepts. He noted one dynamic ses­sion he attended in which two young social entre­pre­neurs dis­cussed how to uti­lize stronger met­rics that better mea­sure a venture’s impact. For example, he said his Potato Project com­mu­nity sur­veys have only col­lected quan­ti­ta­tive data, but the ses­sion explored strate­gies to gather impor­tant qual­i­ta­tive data.

Former Pres­i­dent Bill Clinton estab­lished the Clinton Global Ini­tia­tive in 2005 to con­vene global leaders to create and imple­ment inno­v­a­tive solu­tions to the world’s most pressing chal­lenges. In 2007, Clinton launched the CGIU to engage the next gen­er­a­tion of leaders from col­lege cam­puses world­wide in the conversation.

This year’s CGIU meeting fea­tured a range of impres­sive speakers including Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi banker who won a 2006 Nobel Prize for his efforts to create social and eco­nomic devel­op­ment through micro­fi­nance, and Stephen Col­bert, host and exec­u­tive pro­ducer of the hit TV show The Col­bert Report.

Habib El Magrissy, a busi­ness major orig­i­nally from Egypt, is part of a stu­dent team whose project involves installing irri­ga­tion sys­tems in the Dominican Republic to help undoc­u­mented Haitian immi­grants estab­lish sus­tain­able agri­cul­ture prac­tices. Magrissy and his team could hardly con­tain their excite­ment when during one of Clinton’s speeches at CGIU, the country’s 42nd pres­i­dent stressed the impor­tance of helping small­holder farmers develop eco­nomic oppor­tu­nity to lift them­selves out of poverty.

That’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” Magrissy exclaimed.

Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus (second from left) meets with North­eastern stu­dents (left to right) Abhi Nangia, Anahi San­toyo Del­gado, and Rebecca Darling.

Behan’s Potato Project and the Dominican Republic Irri­ga­tion Project were both invited to present their work at a spe­cial exhi­bi­tion at the con­clu­sion of the weekend meeting.

The two other North­eastern stu­dent projects fea­tured at CGIU were Camino Nuevo and the Social Enter­prise Review. Camino Nuevo works with women living in Nicaragua atop La Chureca—the largest open-​​air land­fill in Cen­tral America—empowering them to design cre­ative and durable prod­ucts made from recy­cled mate­rials found in their com­mu­nity and helping them to pro­vide schooling for their young chil­dren. Camino Nuevo was a finalist in CGIU’s Social Ven­ture Chal­lenge, a highly com­pet­i­tive con­test to win $5,000 in seed funding.

The Social Enter­prise Review is an online and in-​​print student-​​led pub­li­ca­tion fea­turing arti­cles and op-​​eds on the latest news and trends in global social enter­prise. Its editor-​​in-​​chief, senior Caitlin Fer­guson, said the publication’s web­site launched this semester, and group mem­bers brought copies of its first print edi­tion to CGIU. She said Northeastern’s com­mit­ment to social enter­prise ini­tia­tives at the under­grad­uate level stood out at the meeting.

Ours is one of the only under­grad forums for this social enter­prise dis­cus­sion,” she said. “People were really excited to learn more about it.”