Preparing for Clinton Global Initiative University Annual Meeting

An update from Ashley Wali, a sophomore studying Finance and Fashion Media who is researching the effectiveness of a transitional crisis kit for domestic abuse victims.  

Last summer, I embarked on one of the most inspirational experiences of my life. When I first boarded the plane in a confused daze, I had no idea that what started as a simple idea would quickly become a way to change lives.

 I was accepted into the Engaged Learning program during my freshman year. I created the concept of the Nari Kit, a transitional kit that would aid a domestic abuse victim while transitioning from a critical situation to a place of safety. My mentor, Dr. Rick Halperin, told me one afternoon that I was “sitting on a gold mine of assistance”. I wrote up a proposal, and was the only freshman to receive the grant. I traveled to Bangladesh the summer after my freshman year to start the Nari Project. The kit contained a copy of the Declaration of Human Rights in Bengali, a sari, toothpaste, a toothbrush, hair oil, a towel, a package of food, and 500 takas. As women suffering from domestic abuse came through the forum, I distributed the Nari Kits. The sweltering weather and culture shock may have been challenging, but the experience was beyond rewarding. I remember one woman in particular. She had suffered extensive abuse from both her husband and her in-laws, and was estranged from her child. As soon as I handed her my kit, she looked inside and immediately had tears in her eyes. She gave me one of the most sincere hugs I have ever received, gave me her blessings, and told me how the kit made things so much better for her. It was one of the most heart-warming and inspiring moments I have ever experienced.

 My research didn’t stop there. I followed up after I returned, and found that my kits were very well received. During the initial stages of my project, an advisor told me that my project had the potential to help women all over the world. Since I had worked in a developing country, I thought it would be interesting to carry out similar efforts in a developed country. This is where CGI U comes in.

 The Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) connects the next generation of leaders with a similar model of the Clinton Global Initiative. CGI U is not only an excellent way to learn from some of the most inspirational leaders in the world, but also meet and network with like-minded students. I have the amazing opportunity to travel with some of the brightest students from SMU to St. Louis this weekend to attend the sixth annual CGI U meeting. Each student must develop a commitment to action, which is essentially a plan of action concerning a pressing issue in the world. My commitment is to extend the Nari Project to Dallas. I am partnering with Genesis Women’s Shelter, and researching the effectiveness of the kit in the outreach program and the shelter.

 The name of my project, The Nari Project, comes from the word ‘Nari’ in Sanskrit, which means woman. While violence is a widespread issue, the amount of abuse women face is staggering. My mission is quite simply to help as many women as I can.


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No Easy Task!

As I sit here starring at my laptop screen, I know I have entered a long and challenging journey into the world of research. While I am no blogger, I hope to share my Unbridled Project experience with you, conducting research on student organizations at SMU. I will be studying the adverse affects of annual leadership change found in student organizations and will then try to create a training program that can address these factors.

As a Business Management and Psychology double major this project is right up my allie. Additionally, student involvement has also been a large part of my college experience and therefore, combining all three aspects has resulted in my current Unbridled Project. In fact, from my experience as a student leader, I have noticed three main adverse effects of annual leadership change that I would like to primarily address in this study. First, I believe that student organizations do not do a good job of clarifying expectations and position descriptions to their new members. When students accept a leadership position in a student organization, they are expected to become accustomed to the group culture and understand their responsibilities with little direction. Even when team members are very supportive, it can take a student leader anywhere from two to four months to reach his or her full potential. Second, annual leadership turnover also requires essential information turnover. Moving forward from year to year, many student organizations lack continuity in vision and annual feedback, leaving the new management to learn from their own mistakes and create a new vision rather than refining and developing the previous one. Lastly, organizations sometimes carry over unhealthy habits that create unsuccessful organizational cultures. In most cases, much of the new leadership in student organizations is comprised of existing members who have chosen to pursue a new role in that group. Therefore, students tend to carry over unhealthy habits such as picking up slack for other members in an organization where students are told to take accountability for their actions, or interfering too much in another member’s work in an organizational culture that tries to encourage autonomy. These habits then transfer down from year to year as part of the organizational culture, rather than being addressed as they occur.

Currently, I have been working on finishing up my literature review, completing my survey, and starting work on my final report by doing sections such as the introduction, literature review, conceptual framework, and methods.

I am really excited to know that my research may have a great impact on SMU student organizations, and possibly be a starting ground for other annual leadership change institutions as well!

Moreover, as I continue to work through this project, I hope to keep this blog updated with my exciting, new experiences.


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