SFS Students Make “Commitment to Action” for Social Entrepreneurship with Clinton Global Initiative University

Joe Lanzilla and co

May 3, 2016 by Aislinn McNiece

Six SFS students put the Jesuit ideal of “men and women for others” in practice at the recent Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) 2016 meeting with their Commitments to Action – projects that translate practical goals in Education, Environment and Climate Change, Poverty Alleviation, Peace and Human Rights, or Public Health into meaningful and measurable results.

“During my introductory major class for STIA [Science, Technology, and International Affairs] I became interested in the intersection of technology and governance. I started brainstorming ways that we could use technology to better improve the democratic system and education on political ideas,” said Katie Schmidt, SFS’18. “After talking to a few friends and professors about my ideas, I decided to apply to CGI U.”

Clinton Global Initiative University

CGI U follows the model of the Clinton Global Initiative, bringing together university students to discuss and, ultimately, take action on global challenges. This year, SFS students Rocio Mondragon Reyes (SFS’19), Katie Schmidt (SFS’18), Martin Vanin (SFS’17), Sebastian Nicholls (SFS’16), Joe Lanzilla (SFS’16), and Hannah Gerdes (SFS’16) traveled with a group of other Hoyas to the University of California, Berkeley for the 2016 meeting.

The CGI U meeting called on principles like interdisciplinary thinking and problem solving for local and global challenges. The students attended plenary sessions led by world leaders in government, popular culture, and social movements, worked together at an elementary school for a day of action, and heard from fellow Hoya Bill Clinton, co-founder of CGI U.

“The speakers andPresentation Conan O'Brien Bill Clinton workshops were also incredible. For example, our Commitment to Action involved using microfinance as a tool for the peaceful reintegration of violent actors, and we got to attend a panel with the President of KIVA, who spoke about the future of microfinance around the world. It was an amazing experience,” said Vanin.

Several students also had the chance to discuss their Commitments to Action at the CGI U Exchange Event, where only about 100 projects out of over 1200 were invited to present. One of these projects was Lanzilla’s SATCOHR: Students Applying Technology and Coding for Human Rights, which he developed in partnership with Amin Gharad (COL’16) and Alex Luta (COL’16).

“At the CGI U Conference, I think the most rewarding part—although it’s hard to choose just one—was being able to present our idea at the CGI Exchange, sharing our vision with hundreds of students and professionals around the world,” said Lanzilla. “The conference and specifically the Exchange was an amazing opportunity to network and learn from others, and I am just so grateful our team got the change to experience it.”

Shared Values of Georgetown and Clinton Global Initiative University

The student attendees agreed that their work with the SFS integrated well with their CGI U commitments, both from the research angle and because of the shared values of CGI U and the SFS.

“I came to the SFS because I was really drawn to the spirit of Georgetown—to become [one of the] ‘women and men for others.’ I was also interested in its international focus, and now have been able to join both things in this Commitment to Action,” said Nicholls.

Georgetown’s Jesuit values provided the ideal backdrop for these students to develop their Commitments to Action, and the skills and experience gained at SFS made concrete action on these initiatives possible. After studying abroad in Amman, Jordan during the spring 2015 semester, Nicholls was inspired to work on dismantling some of the barriers preventing Syrian refugees from rebuilding their lives in a new country.

Martin Vanin“The SFS provided me the language skills to be able to hear refugees’ stories in Jordan, the academic preparation to try to understand the causes and intractability of the Syrian conflict, and the rigor to develop ideas well, present them succinctly and convincingly, and execute them,” said Nicholls.

Schmidt also credits the SFS with preparing her for her project, “Empowering Political Engagement Online.” The idea for her Commitment to Action “came directly from concepts talked about in my introductory major class,” [Science and Technology in the Global Arena].

Meanwhile Gerdes and Vanin, both drew on projects they’d started at Georgetown to create their Commitments to Action.

Gerdes used part of her Circumnavigators Grant, co-funded by the SFS and the Circumnavigators Club Foundation, in the summer of 2015 to travel to India, where she learned about counseling initiatives that address common mental disorders, such as depression. She built her research for CGI U on this experience, just as Vanin and his partners, Alex Wheeler (COL’17) and Jennifer Ding (COL’17), built their Commitment to Action based on their work with the Georgetown Global Microfinance Initiative (GGMI).

Rocio RM CGI-U CampanileA common thread across all six SFS student’s CGI U projects was the necessity of drawing on the resources available at Georgetown, through faculty, research, courses, and different programs, to develop their social entrepreneurship initiatives. Reyes, explained that dialogue, flexibility, and, ultimately, the ability to ask for help made her project a success.

“Asking for help and not shying away from the potential in our ideas was something that I personally learned and will keep with me as a lesson learned for the rest of my life,” said Reyes. “It’s been one of the highlights of my first year at Georgetown in realizing the wealth of support that I am provided here as long as I reach out and speak my mind.”

While the CGI U conference drew to a close, these students continue to work toward their Commitments to Action in line with the mission of the SFS: to apply values of service internationally across the private, public, and academic sectors in pursuit of a better world.

“I chose to attend the SFS because I desired to learn more about the world, its problems both large and small, and grapple with the challenging questions about how we as a country and as a planet can come together to tackle these problems,” said Lanzilla. “It seems like a wide-eyed and dreamy sort of proclamation, but I feel in many respects during my time at Georgetown, the SFS has allowed me to do just that.”


“Commitments to Action” Projects


Hannah Gerdes
SFS’16: STIA, Global Health Concentration
Project: Upgrading the Psychosocial Intervention Model to Prevent Farmer Suicide in India


“In the summer of 2015, I visited 6 countries through the Circumnavigators Grant, which is funded by the Circumnavigators Club Foundation and the SFS. This grant allowed me to conduct original qualitative research in England and South Africa about maternal mental health, and intern at a mental health research consortium in India, where I learned a lot about upcoming research initiatives. In particular, I learned that since 2011, Indian research consortium “VISHRAM” has combatted farmer suicide through peer-to-peer counseling programs in Vidarbha, and that this model will be scaled up to 150 villages in 2016. After returning, I began to take Hindi classes and continued talking with researchers in India about using in-depth qualitative interviews and surveys to examine the effects of religiosity, social support, or resilience on suicide risk, in order to make the current psychosocial intervention model even more effective at preventing farmer suicides.”

Joe Lanzilla
SFS’16: International Politics, Security Concentration; International Business Diplomacy Certificate
Project: SATCOHR – Students Applying Technology and Coding for Human Rights


SATCOHR is built on “the idea that there is the potential to use geospatial technology, specifically at this stage satellite imagery, to better document and monitor human rights abuses that are happening globally.” While the Technology Department works to improve the current technology used in the process, Lanzilla focuses on the Legal, Ethics, and Advocacy Departments. Those teams work to advance geospatial technology as admissible evidence in human rights courts, evaluate the ethical considerations of the project, and spread awareness of the power of the initiative.

Website: http://satcohr.wix.com/domain

Rocio Mondragon Reyes
SFS’19: Culture and Politics, Education Concentration; Latin American Studies Certificate
Project: Students Equipped for Tomorrow


This project aims to connect low-income, minority, first-generation college students with community service opportunities, internships, and summer programs. They are partnered with E.L. Haynes, a local high school, to test their ideas on how to best serve this student population by using different methods of dialogue and group activities to help them tell their stories.

Sebastian Nicholls
SFS’16: STIA, Energy and the Environment Concentration
Project: Computer Lab to Provide Refugee Children Access to Remote Education


“We aim to empower refugees, connecting youth to educational opportunities online and allow them to work with technology—enabling them to develop key skills for the job market; to provide refugees a brighter future and reduce the risk of radicalization.”

Katie Schmidt
SFS’18: STIA, Security Concentration – Cyber Security and Nuclear Energy
Project: Empowering Political Engagement Online


This initiative takes the form of a website with three goals: to provide free education on key national issues, to provide a forum for citizens to discuss policy issues, and to highlight these achievements in an annual conference in D.C.

Martin Vanin
SFS’17: International Political Economy; Latin American Studies Certificate
Project: Reestablish Fundación Indufrial’s Reintegration to Civil Society Assistance Program for Demobilized FARC Fighters in Cartagena, Colombia


“Our CGI U Commitment to Action evolved out of a project we ran with Georgetown Global Microfinance Initiative (GGMI) in the fall of 2015 and spring of 2016 with Fundación Indufrial, a microfinance initiative based in Cartagena, Colombia. In this context, our Commitment to Action was to reestablish Fundación Indufrial’s Reintegration to Civil Society Assistance Program, which provides financial literacy education and business management courses to demobilized FARC guerrilla fighters in the Colombian Caribbean region. We are working on improving Indufrial’s curriculum, designing an impact assessment plan to measure the effectiveness of the program, and developing a marketing campaign. This commitment contributes not only to financial empowerment, but also to peace and stability in Colombia.”