ST. LOUIS (AP) — Former President Bill Clinton and a panel of successful entrepreneurs had a simple message Friday for college students gathered in St. Louis: Dream big, have a social conscience and commit to your goals.
The former president brought his Clinton Global Initiative to Washington University. More than 1,000 university students from 75 countries and all 50 states are gathered for a weekend of sessions seeking practical and innovative solutions to the world’s problems.
Friday’s inaugural session, led by Clinton, was a discussion on helping young entrepreneurs and innovators get started. Clinton was joined by Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, a St. Louis native, along with Moving Windmills founder William Kamkwamba, Women for Women International founder Zainab Salbi and clothing designer Kenneth Cole.
Topics throughout the weekend will address a host of concerns: women’s issues, water shortages, prescription drug abuse, poverty in America’s Rust Belt, human trafficking, global sanitation worries.
“We’re here in no small measure because we trust you to shape the future of the world,” Clinton told the students in the packed auditorium.
Dorsey’s first tweet was seven years ago. Now, 500 million users tweet 400 million messages every day.
“That’s reasonable growth,” Clinton joked.
Dorsey said he wanted to create an instant communication vehicle that could be used by someone with a $5 cellphone in Kenya as easily as a wealthy celebrity or President Barack Obama.
“All you have to do is speak up,” Dorsey said.
Kamkwamba grew up in the poor African country of Malawi. His home had no electricity. At age 14 he built a windmill from spare parts and scrap that powers four lights and two radios in his family home. He is now a student at Dartmouth College and is collaborating with a Malawian organization to install solar panels and build windmills at schools.
Women for Women International helps women survivors of wars rebuild their lives. Under Salbi’s leadership from 1993 through 2011 the organization distributed more than $100 million to 315,000 women.
Salbi said she was new to the U.S. from Iraq and realized the plight of women in war-torn countries.
“I knew that there was an injustice and I was living in a country that allowed me to act, and I had the responsibility to act,” Salbi said.
“If I can do it in a foreign country than every single person can do it.”
Cole uses his fashion company to raise awareness about AIDS, homelessness, gun safety and other issues.
“It has been a privilege to be able to do this and it has changed me,” Cole said. “I can’t tell you we sell more shoes because of it but people feel better about the brand.”
Salbi said any organization has ups and downs.
“There are always times you doubt yourself,” she said. “What I learned in the process was to trust your instincts and trust your gut.”
Clinton said the important thing is to make the effort, recalling that he lost his first race for Congress 38 years ago and a few years later lost a re-election bid for Arkansas governor.
“I think we need to create a culture where failure is OK as long as it’s not the product of laziness,” Clinton said.