Students explore global issues at Clinton Initiative


Former President Bill Clinton opens the Clinton Global Initiative University at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, Friday, April 16, 2010. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/MCT)

Two UK students spent the weekend around the likes of celebrities Heather Graham, Mandy Moore and Pharrell, but it was not for a red carpet event. Instead, they were exchanging ideas and methods for social activism on a global level.

Lindsay Griffith and Jill Thompson, both public administration graduate students in the Martin School of Public Policy and Administration, attended the Clinton Global Initiative University in Miami over the weekend.

The event is a meeting of students and university officials to discuss solutions for world issues. President Bill Clinton created it in 2007 to focus on five areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

“It is basically a conference gathering social entrepreneurs who made a commitment to a social project,” Griffith said.

Griffith and Thompson heard about the conference through an e-mail and decided to submit a proposal for consideration. Their idea to create a refugee mentoring program in Lexington was one of 1,000 proposals chosen out of 4,000. The two hope to have the program running by the next academic year.

“I studied abroad in Germany, and I know Lindsay is interested in working internationally, so we wanted to work with an international issue but bring it to Lexington,” Thompson said.

Past projects from the Clinton Initiative include a program to introduce tennis to at-risk school children in post-Katrina New Orleans, a program to establish gardens for HIV-positive people in Rwanda and a program in Texas to teach the therapeutic art of origami to 1,000 hospital and health-faculty patients, focusing on children and Alzheimer’s patients.

Griffith said the conference included other events such as panels on the future of the water supply and work sessions about grassroots organization, using social media and poverty alleviation.

Griffith said her experience at the conference allowed her to connect with college students on a whole new level.

“I think it’s important for students to be exposed to more than just campus,” she said. “We were with students from Dubai, Hong Kong, Switzerland … It was really enlightening. We heard from people who had been through the earthquake in Haiti and it’s crucial as college students to have those experiences.”

The discussions of the devastation in Haiti particularly moved Thompson, and she said becoming involved in a social issue, whether international or local, is vital.

“I learned more about the impact on Haiti, I think President Clinton said it would have been like the U.S. losing eight million of our people, so that affected me,” she said. “I think it’s important to be aware and involved, not only internationally, but in your own community and for (students) to understand they can make a difference, no matter how small.”