CGIU 2009 – Jon’s Impressions

I thought that this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University was a really impressively run conference where I had the opportunity to meet an incredible number of equally impressive students who were passionate about making a positive change in the world. However, I can’t help but feel that there were many things missing. Sure, President Clinton showered us with praise for our commitment and energy, he paraded around his celebrity friends, and he threw one hell of a party, but I felt that what the events had in glitz and glamor, they lacked in substance and depth.

A frequent refrain was that the conference was an opportunity to focus on the “how”: how can we as students go out and build a better world. Unfortunately, the conference was completely lacking in any conversation of the “why”: Why is the world the way it is? Why is it that a person in Zambia is expected to live until their mid 30’s while the Japanese live to be more than 80? Why should we as students even engage in these issues?

I think that the question, “why?” must be the starting point for any well planned student led initiative in global health or development. This is because insightful reasons for why the world is how it is must inform and drive how we proceed with our intervention. If we fail to think about why the world is unequal, unjust, unsustainable, and unstable, then we are much more likely to create “solutions” that unintentionally perpetuate or reinforce the very harmful social structures that we are trying to dismantle.

I guess I just feel like these are immensely complex problems which will require equally complex solutions. The CGIU did not reflect this reality at all, and infact, it presented global problems as having relatively simple, one step solutions. If anything, the conference reinforced the idea that by the virtue of being young, American, wealthy, and powerful: we can walz in anywhere and simply fix stuff. Ivan Illich is rolling in his grave.


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Welcome to the Students for Global Health Equity (SGHE) blog. Published by university students, the SGHE blog seeks to explore news and issues related to global health.

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