Millennials must get involved in grassroots movements to effect positive economic change and fiscal reform, according to Sruveera Sathi (GRD ’17), one of the student speakers at the Clinton Global Initiative University forum this year.
CGIU is an annual meeting that unites 1,100 student leaders to speak about their work in education, environment, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.
Sathi spoke on Oct. 14 at the invitation of CGIU, and helped to advise and mentor other emerging leaders in activism.
Before studying physiology at Georgetown, Sathi attended the College of William and Mary, where she was involved with Up to Us, an organization dedicated to raising awareness and finding nonpartisan solutions for the national debt.
In an interview with The Hoya, Sathi discussed her experience with CGIU and Up to Us and the importance of getting involved and making a social impact in college.
How did you first get involved with Up to Us?
I was president of an organization called Net Impact, and the premise of Up to Us seemed very interesting from when I heard about it. It seemed like an issue that not a lot of young Americans were talking about. For example, no one I think on my campus prior to that was really talking about some of the economic repercussions of the long-term national debt. And the more I got to learn about it, the more I found out that the long-term national debt affects so many parts of our day-to-day life.
Like you said, the issue of the national debt is not very glamorous, so how have you been able to get young people and students engaged and involved?
It’s very abstract. It’s not something that just jumps to you right away, especially when there are so many different topics that people are passionate about, and that was definitely a challenge. What we did on our campus was personalize the issue, so while the national debt per se might not excite people, things that it can affect, like our opportunities for education, our earning potential in the future are all things that people can relate to. So that’s basically what we did on our campus as well, by making the issue more personal.
Why should young people be getting involved?
As I mentioned, because of the various issues that are affecting us on a day-to-day basis, you don’t think about the national debt as something that impacts us. We often forget that change like this actually starts from the ground up, from grassroots levels in college campuses with students understanding that fiscal responsibility is a priority. So that’s essentially what we’re doing in campuses across the country — trying to alert our policymakers, and that’s an essential part of the Up to Us campaign too, trying to get as many pledge signatures to send to our representatives, letting them know that fiscal responsibility should be a priority when they’re making their legislation.
What was the process like preparing for the Clinton Global Initiative University?
With Up to Us, after you partake in it, I think it’s the team leaders of the winning Up to Us team get invited to be a part of the alumni advisory board. And from that alumni advisory board, three of us were chosen to represent Up to Us at CGIU. I was one of those people, and what me and a fellow alumni did was speak at an office hours session at CGIU. And so these “Office Hours” were designed to provide the students who attended the conference an opportunity to connect and engage in conversations that were behind the speeches at CGIU. These sessions allowed participants to learn more about what we did and our career paths and our journey, and gave us an opportunity to share our advice, and honestly be inspired by the people who attended. I think we were as inspired by what the students were doing as the other way around.
What was the biggest thing you learned from this experience?
I think what I will take away from CGIU are honestly the connections I made with people there. So for example, there was one girl that attended our “Office Hours” session, and she was planning to do work in the health care field, and she connected with me on LinkedIn the other day. I connected her to some events that the organization I’m currently interning for, the Alliance for Health Policy, is hosting, and added her to our listserv. And she’s trying to make a trip down to [Washington, D.C.,] hopefully to attend one of our briefings about payment reform. And there was this one kid that attended our “Office Hours” too, and he brought a little prototype of this pacifier that he was making to hopefully give children in malnourished settings more supplements and vitamins for when they’re nursing, so babies that might not have access to nutritional sources otherwise. He made this little device, and he brought that to our “Office Hours.” It’s pretty easy to go into the routine of adulthood, but going to a conference like this just reminded me of the energy and ideas that are still out there.
Why is CGIU important?
It just gathers so many young people together that are so motivated; they’re looking to tackle social issues, and those types of minds and that type of energy in one space is really cool. Because that’s often what has the power to create lasting change.
Do you have any advice for freshmen or undergraduates about getting involved in community activism or having a social impact?
Be a sponge. Soak everything in. Initially, unless you absolutely know what you want to do from the get-go, use this time to define your interests. That’s kind of what freshman year is for. Then, after a while, narrow it down to a few that you are interested in, and find a way to make that work with your academics, your community engagement and outreach that you do, with your leadership, and make sure it lines up with your values. I think that’s really important: Make sure whatever activist work you want to do, what things you want to lead, what initiatives you want to be a part of, make sure they are line with your core set of values. And that means asking yourself what your values are. So going into that knowing what you care about is really important.