Building Connections: My Weekend at the Clinton Global Initiative U Conference

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On October 13-15, I attend the Clinton Global Initiative U Conference in Boston. The conference was hosted by Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton, and I was beyond honored to be selected out of thousands of applicants to represent the University of Oregon at this incredible event. The speaker list was stacked with impact-makers from across the world including people like the 19th Secretary of State Madeline Albright; Alan Khazi, founder of City Year and national service champion; Daryl Davis, who did amazing feats to strengthen race relations; Massachusetts Rep. Joe Kennedy III; David Miliband, current CEO of International Rescue Committee and former Foreign Secretary in the UK; Olympic medalist, Ibtihaj Muhammad; and 19th Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy.

I heard inspiring talks on a variety of global issues, but to me, one key theme emerged: connection. It is the conversations between people that drive empathy and understanding, it is the partnerships between organizations that create massive change, and it is the networks each person at the conference had that allowed them to get where they are today. We are a global community that needs to work together to reach a common purpose, peace, and quality of life for every person. As President Clinton said, it is not division and subtraction but addition and multiplication that will help us create a better future.

I was particularly inspired by panelist Daryl Davis, an African-American man who decided to write a book on the Ku Klux Klan at the height of the civil rights movement. Like any good author, Davis needed to interview the subjects of his book, and he put himself in great danger to do so. But the conversations he had with KKK leaders also broke down walls. Through these conversations, Davis befriended 1000 Klan members who subsequently quit the organization. His words will stick with me forever, “It is when the conversation ceases that the ground becomes fertile for violence.”

Seeing the theme of connection played out so strongly was especially empowering for me, because it’s something I’m focusing on here at the Oregon MBA. The application to attend Clinton Global Initiative U required a commitment to action. For me, that commitment is a program I developed called the Sustainability Hyperinnovation Collaborative (SHIC). It’s an event series that brings together multiple stakeholders to co-create sustainable solutions to the problems we see today. The inaugural event for SHIC will take place April 20-21 and will focus on creating integrated transportation platforms that will help cities and businesses create cohesive public and shared transportation systems. Government officials, transportation executives, university researchers, and passionate graduate students will be divided into teams and lead through rapid innovation processes to create a product in just two days.

It has been a challenge to develop an event like this, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without the support of faculty members at UO who gave me the tools and connections to help this idea grow. With the help of my network, I hope to grow SHIC into a network of universities hosting annual events that support sustainable business through collaboration. Together, we can create bigger, faster, and stronger impacts; something that CGI U is working to accomplish as well.

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My take away from CGI U is this: connect with others. Impactful projects are only successfully with the help of a network and a team. Political and social divides can only be broken through mutual understanding, one conversation at a time. We can all do something to impact the world: communicate, listen, understand, grow, connect.

Written by Leah Goodman

Leah is a 2018 MBA student focusing on Sustainable Business Practices and Strategy. She is a Clinton Global Initiative U '17 class member and a Net Impact Climate Fellow. Currently, Leah is developing an innovation lab, the Sustainable Hyperinnovation Collaborative, and hopes to grow this business after graduation.