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CGI University (Day One) -- A.M. Working Session

March 15, 2008

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("Live posts listed in reverse chron order; read from bottom up.)

12:45 p.m.: Breakout sessions over, panelists back with answers to three questions:

1. How do you keep students motivated when they see little evidence of change happening?

Stephanie Nyombayire: You have to remember that change will come, even if it comes slowly. Don't forget to list your accomplishments, however small, on a regular basis. And don't forget to thank people for their good work and participation.

Courtney Spence: Keep your eyes on the goal. And don't forget about the people coming up behind you -- think of it as a relay race.

2. What advice can you give students tackling issues too large to have easy solutions but too important to ignore?

Stephanie Nyombayire: You have to believe in your cause -- that's the starting point. After that, the Big Three are: Educate, Advocate, Fundraise

Courtney Spence: Advice from dad -- "You get to be big by thinking small"

Gideon Yago: Be encouraged that America truly is the world's melting pot.

3. With so many organizations already doing good work, how do you know whether to join an existing effort or to launch something new?

Stephanie Nyombayire: If you don't see something happening, then you know it's up to you to make it happen. If you think yu can invent a better mousetrap, go ahead and do it. Regardless, don't forget to work with others.

Eboo Patel: The "hardship-to-hero ratio" in starting any organization is at least 100-to-1 -- and your parents are sure to give you hell. If you are meant to start an organization, you must do it. But if you do start an organization, be sure to network it.

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And, except for announcements of additional commitments, that wraps it up for the morning. The afternoon working sessions are scheduled to start at 4:30 (ET), but it doesn't look like they'll be Webcast.

Hope you enjoyed our little experiment. Back tomorrow with the weekend roundup.

12:05  p.m.: After Yago, the moderator, gives the panelists a chance to talk about their organizations and why they were drawn to social-change work, he poses the "how" question. How do you do this kind of work? How do you get started and how do you sustain it? Here, briefly, is their advice:

Stephanie Nyombayire:

  1. Seek out information
  2. Enlist support of fellow students
  3. Remember, it's a marathon, not a sprint -- "Arm yourself with patience and persistence"

Eboo Patel: Think like a social entrepreneur ("Somebody who turns an idea for social change into reality"); look for the patterns underlying a persistent problem and, as Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus did, figure out a way to alter those patterns.

Courtney Spence:

  1. Don't be afraid to talk to -- to talk with -- anyone; it doesn't have to be about anything specific. Be a sponge. Make connections.
  2. Yes, you have to be in it for the long haul and focus on the end result. But you also have to take the time to enjoy the journey, because in the end it's all about the journey.

Good advice. Next up, working groups in which the What? question will be addressed. The webcast will resume in twenty minutes.

11:45 a.m.: As I supected, blogging the concurrent working sessions is going to be impossible. (At the big annual CGI event, the Clinton folks provide simultaneous closed-circuit feeds of all working sessions for the media.) So I've decided to "attend" the peace & human rights session, "Building Peace on Campus and Beyond," in part because, as panel moderator Gideo Yago, a journalist, says: Peace and conflict resolution is "the most difficult" of all the topics tol be discussed at CGI U.

In addition to Yago, the panelists are:

  • Stephanie Nyombayire, Swarthmore senior and spokesperson, Genocide Intervention Network
  • Eboo Patel, Ph.D., founder/executive director, Interfaith Youth Core
  • Courtney Spence, founder/president, Students of the World

-- Mitch Nauffts

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