RAGINA ARRINGTON AND JORDAN ASHWOOD ON WHY THEY ARE BETTING ON THE NEXT GENERATION TO CREATE A FUTURE WE CAN ALL BE PROUD TO SHARE
This post is part of our annual Impact Report, where you can hear directly from Clinton Foundation staff about the work they do, the programs they manage, and the partnerships they create — all in service of driving impact and helping others build better lives for themselves and their communities.
We sat down with recently named Chief Executive Officer of the Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) Ragina Arrington and Senior Partnerships Manager Jordan Ashwood to learn more about the challenges facing student leaders and entrepreneurs today and how CGI U is working to inspire and connect the next generation of social innovators, industry disruptors, activists, and advocates.
Ragina and Jordan may both draw inspiration from their families, community, leading activists, and trending TikTok influencers, but they also approach their work in distinct and unique ways. Together, they paint a hopeful and inspiring portrait of what’s ahead for the program — and why they’re betting on the diverse and action-oriented student leaders of CGI U to create a future we can all be proud to share.
Oftentimes in philanthropic and social impact work we can get lost in industry terminology. How would you describe your work to your best friend?
Jordan Ashwood (JA): I actually have found it tricky to describe my day- to-day job to friends, and so I found that I usually lean into our intended impact. I’m supporting student and alumni leaders and entrepreneurs in finding their voice, in trusting and knowing that it matters, and then using it to advance equity and justice in communities around the world.
Ragina Arrington (RA): The easiest way to think about it is that we’re helping students figure out how to make tangible impact in the world. That is our bottom line and our baseline. We want students to begin to contextualize all of the knowledge they’ve gathered, to turn all the issues that they’ve learned about into something that’s actionable.
What is the proudest moment in your work in the past year?
JA: I remember hearing from two students who attend Historically
Black Colleges and Universities who were describing a competition on innovation and how their training through CGI U informed their approach. They shared how the experience of going through our program gave them the confidence and trust to know that they can be and are entrepreneurs. And how that knowledge is so much more powerful and self-sustaining than any prize that they could have won.
RA: I’ve been really blessed and lucky to work with some people really pushing the envelope at organizations like the UNCF: United Negro College Fund and Women Against Abuse. But I will definitely say that my most exciting moment is coming back to the team at CGI U and the Clinton Foundation. I feel like it’s the culmination of the work I’ve done on the ground and in the community to figure out: What does it mean to operationalize a team? What does it mean to get a strong group of people together so that we’re all rowing in the same direction to make impact? So coming back and seeing the great work, I’m excited to keep up the progress and push forward.
What are you looking forward to in the year ahead from your work and in the field?
JA: I’m looking forward to the demographics of the world’s leaders and entrepreneurs shifting and expanding. As someone who used to be intimidated by these spaces, I’m looking forward to young leaders finding strength in entrepreneurship communities rather than being intimidated by them.
RA: I am looking forward to mapping out the future of CGI U — to reengaging some of our past stakeholders in new ways and helping students figure out what entrepreneurship means within their locus of control. Looking forward to further codifying what impact means and looks like,
and then making CGI U bigger and better.
How do you think older generations can best engage young people today in social impact work?
JA: I would want to hear both honesty and humility. I would want older generations to take ownership over the decisions that have led to global inequality and the climate crisis and then make space for younger,
more diverse perspectives. That’s hard because oftentimes, it means a redistribution of power, but it’s a necessary next step, so I would want to see that example set.
RA: And if I could hear anything from an older person, it would be the quote,
“Do you, boo.” For many millennials, there was a set roadmap that we were supposed to follow towards success. I think, if older generations should tell us anything, it’s that the roadmap is a joke. I want to hear more stories where people communicate their vulnerabilities, how they worked through it, if they worked through it, or if failure happened instead.
Fill in the blank, “Good partnership means…”
JA: Honest collaboration, acknowledging and drawing upon each other’s strengths, and setting expectations and boundaries with the goal of building trust.
RA: For me it’s all about listening, listening, listening.
What would you expand about CGI U if you had unlimited resources?
JA: I would really love to see more funding for more students so that they can take their projects forward. I also like the idea of having CGI U ‘feeder’ programs at the high school level because I think that the entrepreneurial education journey needs to begin even sooner. And finally, more services such as translation and interpretation so that our programs could be that much more accessible to more people.
RA: Thinking about the accessibility of our programming — what’s super exciting about CGI U is that we are one of the only social entrepreneurship incubators with no barrier to entry. You don’t need money to attend. The only thing you need is an amazing idea and the willingness to want to make change. In my heart, I would love for us to have a CGI U social impact fund, where we are giving the top 10 percent of our student commitment-makers grants to really get their projects off the ground, creating more homegrown success stories of students that we’ve supported and the impact they’ve created.
What do you consider to be the one thing that most distinguishes the Clinton Foundation and its work from other organizations?
JA: I would say the model of Commitments to Action that are specific and measurable. I think having those requirements holds us to a higher level of accountability, which is unique.
RA: The Clinton Foundation was one of the first in philanthropy that aimed not only to bring people together — but also to get something done. A true advancement of the triple bottom line. What is the public sector doing? What is the private sector doing? What is philanthropy doing? How can we work together to drive change?
What’s one thing someone — anyone — can do if they want to make a difference in your line of work?
JA: I think having sometimes difficult and hopefully always thoughtful conversations with those you love, those you work with, and especially those you disagree with. I’ve been seeing this in my own family and it’s something that I’ve been reluctant to engage in because I don’t want to rock the boat too much, but we need to rock the boat. And we can only do so if we’re opening up to one another in a really intentional way, with both grace and respect at the center.
RA: I think being better neighbors, taking care of each other is the way to make a difference here, and not being ego-driven and chasing the big shiny thing. I think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Everyone needs to be fed, have water, and feel loved. And if we do that for everybody, then a lot of these issues just wouldn’t be a thing.