Bill Clinton hosts expert panel on global progress at Haas Pavilion

Karin Goh/Senior Staff

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On Friday evening, former U.S. president Bill Clinton and his daughter, Chelsea Clinton, convened an expert panel at Haas Pavilion to discuss creating technologies and social movements that bring about global change.

The event was the opening plenary session of the annual Clinton Global Initiative University, or CGI U, conference, which is being held at UC Berkeley from Friday to Sunday. The panel participants included founder of Khan Academy Salman Khan, NASA astronaut Catherine Coleman, Egyptian Internet activist Wael Ghonim, co-founder and CEO of Pinterest Ben Silbermann and founder of Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

The initiative, first established in 2007 by Bill Clinton, intends to bring together experts, university representatives, students and celebrities to find creative solutions to pressing challenges.

The session, titled “The Courage to Create,” kicked off with remarks from Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, who noted that this was the largest CGI U event held yet.

The purpose of the initiative is to provide funds and resources to those who have ideas with the potential to change the world but who lack the means to take action, according to Bill Clinton.

“One good idea, with teams using their best experiences together maximizing both human ingenuity and the potential of technology, can change the world,” Bill Clinton said at the event.

In his remarks at the session, UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks emphasized the role of public universities and research in contributing to this progress, adding that they serve the public good and therefore deserve public funding.

Members of the panel discussed their motivations, inspirations, challenges and failures on their way to success.

Silbermann detailed how before he developed Pinterest, several of his previous business ideas failed, whereas Khan noted that before he used the Khan Academy website to launch his education platform, he thought “YouTube (was) for cats playing piano.”

Khatahtbeh said change often begins with and is strengthened by humble beginnings.

“We should never shy away from our personal stories — stories of adversity, stories from our own marginalization, our own communities,” Khatahtbeh said at the panel. “Those stories are what make us human. Those stories are what allow us to empathize with each other, to connect with each other, and it’s only through that that we can really change the world.”

Student leaders selected to attend the conference have each developed “commitments to action” to address CGI U’s five major focus areas: education, environment and climate change, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.

1,200 students were chosen to participate in this year’s conference, 150 of whom are UC Berkeley students.

CGI U participants are returning to the conference Saturday to attend expert panels on the refugee crisis, gentrification and transforming public education, among other issues. They will conclude the meeting Sunday with a day of “action” in Oakland, where participants will work on neighborhood- and school-improvement activities.

Contact Anna Dell’Amico and Jessica Lynn at [email protected].