In her work as a program manager at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), Aamina Awan ’07 has one of those jobs that is never done, but is always rewarding.
“When you work in a nonprofit world,” Awan said, “you learn to be a jack-of-all-trades, and go above and beyond your role. It’s great knowing that I am working among some of the brightest and most dedicated people I’ve ever met.”
CGI brings global leaders together to work on innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges — in education, environment and climate change, human rights, peace and human rights, poverty alleviation and public health.
Building on CGI’s successful model, in 2007 President Clinton launched CGI University (CGI U) to engage the next generation of leaders on these issues across college campuses worldwide. Awan’s expertise is in emerging issues and trends in youth entrepreneurship and civic engagement, higher and secondary education, and sector-specific approaches to providing access to education and employment for youth.
Awan oversees the program development of the CGI U Annual Meeting, a three-day conference held on a different American college campus each spring. She works closely with the Offices of President Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Chelsea Clinton. Her role includes designing the meeting content, bringing in speakers and celebrities (such as former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank and Jack Dorsey of Twitter) and briefing them on CGI U’s mission. Each CGI U Meeting consists of over 30 sessions featuring as many as 85 speakers — from Fortune 500 CEOs to NGO leaders, celebrities, Nobel Prize recipients and members of the media.
Since 2008, CGI U Meetings have brought together more than 6,500 student leaders from 145 countries and 875 schools from around the world. Each year, approximately 1,200 students are invited to apply. Applicants generate an idea or project proposal addressing one of CGI U’s focus areas, which the organization then reviews and accepts based on tangibility, impact and whether the project can realistically be implemented.
“I’ve always been drawn to mission-oriented organizations for goals that can actually be achieved,” Awan said.
CGI U has evolved from just an annual meeting to also engaging long-term sponsors and creating an Innovation Fund to implement various student commitment projects. “We’ve come a long way. It’s not just a bunch of ideas,” said Awan. “We’re looking to create an infrastructure and environment for innovation and entrepreneurship — to be a platform for people to come together.”
The daughter of Pakistani parents who were committed to education, Awan was born and raised in Massachusetts and attended an all-girls Catholic school before setting her eyes on Fairfield University. “The value of service learning seeped into my life from school at a young age. All these values were reiterated during my time at Fairfield.”
“As the African proverb says, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ I believe it took a community of Fairfield professors to help me navigate my college experience and succeed at every level.” Awan received a Fulbright Scholarship, and after graduation in 2007 she studied in Bahrain in the Persian Gulf for a year. In her Fulbright research, she studied women’s economic empowerment initiatives in Bahrain, focusing specifically on women’s access to capital and entrepreneurial opportunities. She is fluent in Urdu and Spanish, and understands Arabic.
After her Fulbright year, Awan attended graduate school at the London School of Economics and Political Science and earned a master’s degree in Gender and International Development. Her unique combination of skills and some timely networking helped her land the job at CGI.
Awan is an active member of the Fairfield Alumni Association Board of Directors, joining after Michelle (Schmidt) Jackson ’07 reached out to her. She’s been very involved in the Job Shadow program, in which alumni mentor current students at their place of business during winter break (www.fairfield.edu/jobshadow).
“It’s important to create a pipeline for Fairfield students to experience life beyond the parameters of the Fairfield life,” said Awan. She advises current students to take advantage of Fairfield’s Alumni Network (www.fairfield.edu/fan), and not to be shy about asking alumni how they got where they are today. “It’s never too early to begin thinking about your career, your interests/aspirations, even before you enroll at Fairfield as a freshman.”