Fulfilling Their Commitments

Students who participated last year in the Clinton Global Initiative University at GW are still engaged in their promises.

students marisa ranieri and matthew wilkins george washington pedal forward clinton global initiative university
Marisa Ranieri and Matthew Wilkins in Tanzania, fulfilling commitments put forward at last year's Clinton Global Initiative University.
April 03, 2013

Just one year out from pitching a “commitment to action” for the Clinton Global Initiative University, George Washington students who participated in last year’s event have already made big strides toward their goals.

Take “Pedal Forward,” the commitment formerly known as “Panda Cycles,” which aims to build low cost, environmentally friendly bikes using bamboo and donating a percentage of proceeds to charity.

Since GW hosted CGI U last March, the founders of Pedal Forward have registered it as an LLC in Virginia, developed their manufacturing process and continued their search for start-up capital.

In the meantime, Matthew Wilkins, B.S. ’12, a Pedal Forward founder who is now a master’s student studying biomedical engineering, also raised $5,000 to help donate some bikes.

“What is simply a toy in the U.S. is one of the most useful tools in impoverished areas of the world, allowing easier access to water, education and health care,” said Mr. Wilkins, who used the money he raised to donate 35 bicycles to AIDS-affected, orphaned secondary students in Tanzania through the Tumaini Fund.

In Tanzania, Mr. Wilkins stayed with Marisa Ranieri, B.A. ’12, another past CGI U participant whose commitment was to raise $500 to purchase school supplies for her Tanzanian classroom, where she is currently posted as a teacher with the nonprofit WorldTeach. Ms. Ranieri, who also maintains a blog to share her experiences, helped Mr. Wilkins distribute the bicycles in Tanzania.

Although Ms. Ranieri has fulfilled her CGI U commitment, she is striving to do more.

“I started talking to local people and found that the biggest barrier when it comes to secondary school education is not lack of supplies, but lack of money from the families to pay for their children’s continued education,” she said.

So Ms. Ranieri, who has been in Muyenzi, Tanzania, for seven months, started The Nyota Fund, which provides full scholarships to 10 students for the duration of secondary school. She got the chance recently to personally tell those 10 students the happy news.

“My heart absolutely swelled,” she said. “Helping those who need it the most is the least I can do.”

Participants said they left CGI U last year with the advice that would help propel their diverse commitments into action.

Ms. Ranieri said she learned to have a sense of confidence. It helps to garner support and get others to care about your passion, she said.

“Learning that confidence was the secret ingredient was by far the best takeaway,” she said.

Mr. Wilkins—who is a mentor to participants this year and will speak during CGI U’s opening ceremony at Washington University in St. Louis alongside former President Bill Clinton this weekend—said he learned that the ideas and actions of one person really can make a difference.

“Ideas are great, but what CGI U is really about is how to turn ideas in to actions by creating new, specific and measurable initiatives that address social or environmental challenges around the world,” said Mr. Wilkins, who encouraged students heading to CGI U this year to network with as many peers and leaders as possible.

And don’t forget to take lots of notes, added Julie Blankenship, a second-year art therapy graduate student. Ms. Blakenship proposed an art-based suicide prevention curriculum for adolescents of the Oglala tribe in South Dakota as her commitment last year. Since, a student principal investigator has traveled to the reservation to collect data that will aid in developing the curriculum, set to be designed this summer.

“There are so many opportunities to learn in the different workshops offered, and the best way to take advantage of that is to participate and interact with others as much as possible,” she said.

GW Hosts Clinton Global Initiative University

An incredible group of the world's up-and-coming social entrepreneurs descended on the George Washington University campus, convened to build on their ambitions to change something for the better.