Interview: Chelsea Clinton On Populism, Clinton Global Initiative Work

On Saturday afternoon, The Maroon interviewed Chelsea Clinton, who was on campus as part of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U).

By William Yuen Yee, Contributor

On Saturday afternoon, The Maroon interviewed Chelsea Clinton, who was on campus as part of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U). In the exclusive interview, Clinton discussed the global threat of populism, reflected on CGI U and her aspirations for its future, and shared personal advice for young people looking to become movers and changers.

The full transcript of the interview is below. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

Chicago Maroon: Last night, President Clinton spoke a lot about the dangers of separatism and tribalism. Yet, despite repeated warnings, populism is on the rise—most recently seen in Brazil’s presidential election. What do you think is the best way to combat this?

Chelsea Clinton: I think that answer kind of varies from place to place. There are different specific reasons why not only populism but also divisiveness and tribalism are on the rise, so I don’t want to generalize. But I do think that what is hugely important to continuing to demonstrate that we are stronger and healthier and generally happier—because I think that’s an important ingredient here too, when we are working, living together, peacefully, more inclusive and not exclusive—is to show stories of the student-teams who are doing that here and elsewhere. Where diverse groups of students come together, whether it’s through the [CGI U] Codeathon or developing tech solutions to helping with disaster preparedness response, or whether it’s the student teams here from the University of Chicago who are trying to tackle opioid addiction. Because I think it’s those examples that really help deflate the momentum of the exclusionary forces. It’s not just the research—this disembodied data thing—it’s these real-live examples of people collaborating and cooperating, who not only are coming up with better plans, but will be more likely to have a greater impact because they’ll have greater trust in more communities in more places. 

CM: CGI U is now in its 11th year. What do you think has changed from its inception?

CC: I think the biggest shift in CGI U in some ways kind of mirrors the shift outside of CGI U, which is that we have more people who are focused on technology and kind of the digital divide and the challenges of people who are not fully included—not only in the digital economy, but in the ability to communicate and access information—but are also looking at technology to try to help not only tech-based problems, but also historically not tech-based problems. For example, we have someone here at CGI U who is setting up an anonymous app so that girls and young women can text for when they need more sanitary products, so they don’t actually have to go to a clinic or distribution site where there sadly is still period-shaming in communities—and boxes of sanitary pads will be dropped off to their homes anonymously. I think that’s been a big shift: Not only tech solving tech problems, but tech solving other deeper, intractable historically social, cultural normative challenges, where tech is helping work around them and hopefully then over time will help shift the social, cultural norms that too often constrain particularly women’s and girls’ potential around the world.

CM: And what is your ideal vision for its future?

CC: Hopefully, we’ll continue to have ever more students from across colleges and universities around the world who believe that making tangible, measurable commitments to action will help them be changemakers—not only on their college campuses, but often as a springboard to the social ventures or nonprofits that they want to start after they graduate.

CM: What is one piece of advice you would give to young people who are trying to make an impact and better society?

CC: I would say, start. One of the biggest hurdles is just the enormity of the challenges that we face. And so often, not just young people, people of any age, get understandably paralyzed by that. So, just start—whatever it is that you want to do. And look for like-purposed (hopefully not like-minded) people—because they actually may have different opinions and different views and different experiences than you, but who are equally committed to solving the problem of, for example, food waste on campus. Or equally committed to solving the problem of ensuring that every homeless person in Chicago hopefully at some point has a home and along the way has access to healthy food, access to healthcare, access to school space training. So whatever issue it is you care about, start looking for people who can help you do that. Be willing and vulnerable to learn from your mistakes. Know you need to ask for help, and just never, ever, ever give up.