The power of a post-presidency

Tags: Op-ed
The power of a post-presidency
Clinton Global Initiative
BEING PROACTIVE: Youth power at the 2013 CGI University; a gathering of 1,200 hyper-charged students feeding off of each other’s energy from 300 universities, representing all US states and 75 countries
When US pr­esident Oba­ma compl­etes his two-term presidency spanning eight years, he will be 55 years ‘young’. Potentially, he could have more than 25 years of an active post-presidency. It may be too early to speculate on what he might take on during his post-presidency. What is abundantly clear, though, is that the post-presidency itself was redefined by two of his predecessors, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.

Despite a not very popular one-term presidency, Carter is considered to have had, arguably, one of the most successful post-presidencies. The Carter Centre’s globally important work on human rights, conflict-resolution through peaceful means and election monitoring, not only won him a Nobel Prize for peace, but also helped raise the bar for what can be ac­hieved by a head of state, after he/she leaves office. If the US presidency is marked by hard power, the post-presidency can have enormous soft power.

Bill Clinton masterfully tapped into his soft power to create several “initiatives” under the Clinton Foundation. One such initiative is the Clinton global initiative (CGI) that strategically coincides with the UN General Assembly in New York, every September. Since 2005, the CGI annual meeting has been convening its members including, heads of state, Nobel laureates, business and NGO leaders, prominent media personalities and Hollywood superstars among others.

All members make an action-oriented commitment, using their own or combined resources, to deploy effective and innovative solutions to some of our most pressing challenges. The CGI platfo­rm allows a celebration of outstanding approaches aro­und which new partnerships can emerge. According to the CGI website, “To date, CGI members have made more than 2,300 commitments, which have improved the lives of over 400 million people in more than 180 countries. When fully funded and implemented, these commitments will be valued at more than $73.1 billion.”

Building on the success of the CGI, the Clinton Foundation launched the Clinton Global Initiative-University (CGI-U). If the big boys and girls come out to play at CGI, CGI-U takes a more long term view by selecting and engaging college youth, tomorrow’s leaders, to take on social challenges today.

The CGI-U model itself is, perhaps, the key innovation. First what it is not — CGI-U is not a physical university. It is an annual congregation of driven college students at a different partner university. The inaugural CGI-U was at Tulane University in 2008. Several campuses have been hosted since then — The University of Texas at Austin (2009), University of Miami (2010), University of California, San Diego (2011), George Washington University (2012) and Washington University in Saint Louis (2013).

At the most recent one in April this year, I experienced a gathering of 1,200 hyper-charged students feeding off of each other’s energy, reportedly from 300 universities, representing all 50 US states and 75 countries. Each one of them had been through a competitive selection process, at the heart of which, is an action commitment in any of CGI-U’s areas of focus: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

Universities are encouraged to join the CGI University Network with a minimum annual support of $10,000 for travel, project seed funding and mentoring to students selected from their campus. While most qualifying students get their travel, stay and local hospitality covered through this network or CGI-U, they have to be entrepreneurial in fulfiling most of the funding needs of their own projects. What they get at CGI-U is an opportunity to network with like-minded students, listen and learn from the experiences of well-respected change-makers, all under the Clinton aura embodied by Bill and his daughter Ch­elsea, who is also deeply engaged as board member of the Clinton Foundation. This year, the top draws were Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus and youth icon and comedian, Stephen Colbert.

Search “CGI University stories” on YouTube and you will get a taste of the range of student commitments. Ra­ghabendra KC of Rollins College and Sneha Bandari of Westminster College, for instance, started Mission Aqua to install water purifiers in rural schools in Nepal. They fundraised during the nine months in school and executed their project in Nepal over the remaining three months. Reporting on the progress of their commitment, they say that they have raised $75,000 and impacted 50,000 lives.

Tyler Spencer, Oxford Un­iversity and Jarrett James, Howard University teamed up for a unique commitment involving college athletes —many of whom enjoy superstar status — as health educators. After training, the athletes counsel middle school students in Washington DC area, which has one of the highest infection rates, on ways to prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

College students have made over 4,000 commitments since CGI-U’s beginning in 2008. That’s the power of a post-presidency, preparing the next generation of public service leaders. Just as Carter and Clinton redefined the post-presidency into a force for good, one hopes that other heads of state will also consider leveraging their post-head-of-stateship.

(The writer is a social entrepreneur and is on the faculty of IIM-Ahmedabad)


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