During the past week I was fortunate enough to be part of a small team of Atlas Corps Fellows, who volunteered at the Clinton Global Initiative. While we were only five Atlas Corps representatives, the total volunteer team consisted of 250 people, most of whom are either current or past CGI interns. Interestingly enough, there are a number of volunteers who come every year, and fly in from as far as Hong Kong, Australia and Europe, at their own expense, just to volunteer for three days. Now that is dedication, and truly made me wonder what makes this volunteer experience so enticing?!
The hours we were scheduled for were heavy, to say the least! We are talking 12 – 15 hour days, spent mostly on our feet. While there were supposed to be scheduled meal breaks, often these also fell by the wayside, as we had to jump in and help out where there was suddenly a shortage or need. The work required was not rocket science and usually involved very simple tasks such as scanning in participants for the various break-out and plenary sessions or accompanying media, who were never allowed to be wondering around by themselves.
Sadly, we were not allowed to officially participate or sit in on any of the sessions. We therefore had to be resourceful in doing so, or build up enough of a good reputation with our supervisors, and hope for their good graces that they would eventually allow us to do so.
The sessions truly were interesting! And while a lot of the information and messages in the plenaries were quite sensationalized … that is of course the dramatic effect required to bring people to action.
The caliber of participants was probably the most exciting though! And my guess is that this is the main reason why so many volunteers return year after year! One can interact quite casually with CEOs of major corporations, foundations … not to mention of course all the famous people present! Scanning in or sometimes even having to turn away a First Lady, CEO or famous person is just another task in a day at CGI. What makes it such a surreal experience though, is the fact that they all become ‘equals’. This elevated status they all normally experience in day-to-day life is greatly diminished and they just become one of many. Making them personable, approachable and therefore engaging in conversations with people one would normally not have the opportunity to, becomes a possibility.
What was the most amazing aspect of CGI itself though, is the actual call to action that happens! While other conferences normally include just a bunch of talking, and nothing concrete coming of it, here people are held accountable to make tangible commitments. This year these commitments were to a value of $11 Billion. No matter how much money might be wasted on for example redecorating the hotel to make CGI happen … when those kind of commitments and benefits result from it, I think it makes it ok.
Whether I would fly half way across the world to do this again is doubtful … but I certainly am grateful for the opportunity! Next time I want to rather return as a participant and help bring about the change!!