The University of Nebraska at Omaha recently became the first Nebraska school to join the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) network. Consisting of around only 50 universities, CGI U is a network devoted to promoting and financially helping students and entrepreneurs who want to help solve and address global problems.
Students propose ideas to help solve world problems by designing “Commitments to Action”. Commitments to Action can be distributed through five different areas: education, environment and climate change, public health, poverty alleviation and peace and human rights.
UNO’s decision to join the CGI U conference has opened the door to many opportunities for students and staff.
“We believe it is a wonderful learning opportunity for students to meet other like-minded students, and it’s also an excellent opportunity for the university to meet with other like-minded universities. This gives a broader perspective of what’s possible and of how to network with other people across the world,” said Kathe Olson-Lyons, UNO’s Director of Civic and Social Responsibility. “It’s an excellent experience for everyone within the university community.”
UNO’s involvement with the CGI U conference involves committing a minimum of $10,000. The money, which can be divided in whatever way the school chooses, will go to helping those who attend the conference and for funding those who apply for seed projects. This March, there will be two or three students attending the conference at Arizona State University. UNO will also start spending time promoting student applications and encouraging them to apply for next year’s conference.
There are many qualities that are important for someone who wants to create a Commitment to Action plan.
“They have to be oriented to positive social change and have to want to be civically engaged,” Olson-Lyons said. “They need to have a strong sense of mission and purpose, with informed risk-taking.”
One person who has displayed these qualities is Sister Rosemary Arrah and her partners Benadette Ngamelue and Larisa Akah, who made a Commitment to Action at the 2013 conference. Their project, called “Readingdrive,” is focused on building libraries and promoting literacy in their home country Cameroon. So far, Readingdrive has sent over 13,000 books to two libraries in Cameroon.
Sister Rosemary is submitting another Comitment to Action to this year’s CGI U conference that is focused on furthering the work of Readingdrive. The proposal is planning to establish three more libraries in Cameroon this year, along with one in Nigeria.
“We also added a book ownership component,” Arrah said. “For all the schools we will work with this year. We want to give every student a book to take home. We are hoping to collect 2,000 new books for elementary and secondary school children. We believe that owning books also motivates students to read.”
CGI U has helped jumpstart Readingdrive and transform it into an inspirational program. The Omaha community has also helped support the team’s project. “I have gotten tremendous feedback and encouragement from UNO and the Omaha community,” Arrah said. “The parents, students, teachers, and members of the school community in Cameroon are excited about having an elementary school library.”
Readingdrive is currently receiving even more requests from Cameroon for books and libraries. “We are in need of more support from everyone to make reading fundamental in the schools we serve.”
Arrah has also found the experience with CGI U extremely rewarding. “The most rewarding part is that CGI U motivates me to make a difference in the world one child at a time. I am always thrilled to see pictures of students in Cameroon holding books in their hands in a library. This is rare,” Arrah said.
Lyons has advice for students who are interested in getting involved with the global research network. One way students can get involved is by participating in one of the UNO sponsored service days. This is a great chance for students to get experience with volunteer work and to meet like-minded students. Being aware of global and local community needs is also important. Students who want to get involved should also learn about the non-profits that the department works with.
Since CGI U is just getting started, Lyons said he predicts that the program will be even more exciting and well-known by next year, with many more creative ideas being added.