A new generation of leaders for new global challenges
In collaboration with the Clinton Global Initiative University
What’s your commitment? How to become an effective change-maker.
As an activist, public health professor, mom, author, and Vice Chair of the Clinton Foundation, Chelsea Clinton sure is pretty busy. Here, she explains to us that there is a divide between wanting to make the world a better place and actually having a direction and a unique goal to make it happen. In order to help others both see and meet their goals, the Clinton Foundation launched Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) to give mentorship to those looking to make positive change. This video, part one in a series, is a great introduction to CGI U and to Chelsea's overall worldview. You can find out more about CGI U right here.
Learning is more than retaining information—how mentors make the difference
Is America's achievement gap crisis caused by long summer vacations? "In lower income neighborhoods, kids forget anywhere from two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half months of what they learned during the school year over the summer, while their middle-class peers break even or even make gains," says Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect. This startling statistic is why he started a different kind of summer school, one based on a chain of near-peer mentors, where kids are connected with college students and college students are connected with teaching professionals. "This model, where everyone is sort of a participant but also a beneficiary, creates this win-win-win situation for everyone, making summer school a lot more fun and exciting." Why do some eighth grader students only have a fourth grade reading level? Theoretically speaking, they’ve only been in school for half the time, says Abouelnaga. To find out more, visit practicemakesperfect.org.
How financial innovation is giving cities jobs, wealth and health
Ever since President Jimmy Carter put solar panels on the White House in 1979, innovators and green-minded politicians have been trying to unlock the enormous benefits of energy efficiency across America. But those benefits have remained illusive for two reasons, says BlocPower founder Donnel Baird: financial constraints and engineering complexities. Aged infrastructure like power plants cost us a lot, financially and environmentally. Our best shot at efficiency is by "greening" existing buildings so they can create power locally, rather than burning fossil fuels at a plant and transmitting electricity over long distances, wasting much of it along the way. The problem is that greening isn't cheap: it needs building analysis, and lots of capital to make the initial changes, which not all building owners have. Baird's startup BlocPower has developed technology to lower the cost of building analysis by a huge 95 percent, and matches investors with building owners—it turns out greening buildings is a very profitable investment. Here, Baird explains the details of how updating infrastructure can bring health and wealth to a city: "We know that energy efficiency is going to reduce energy costs for building owners. It’s going to create local jobs. It’s going to reduce our dependence and reliance on foreign oil. And it’s just going to be awesome all around for the environment."
How one Ugandan is fighting human trafficking in Africa—and the U.S.
After fleeing the Lord's Resistance Army in her native Uganda, Igoye came the University of Minnesota. There she began finding resources to combat the scourge of human trafficking. Igoye was so determined to make a difference that she stopped buying food—choosing to eat at university events instead—which allowed her to save money. With her first $1,000 of savings, she supplied her native Ugandans with 23,000 books, knowing that education is an essential part of improving communities and stopping human trafficking. Through the Clinton Global Initiative University, Igoye is committed to building care centers for survivors of human trafficking and training law enforcement to better recognize and combat the illegal activity.
How 'Violence Against Women Centers' are reforming Pakistan’s deadly cultural norm
Approximately 5,000 women die at the hands of domestic violence in Pakistan each year, and thousands more are maimed or disabled. In the socially conservative country, justice is heavily compromised as the reporting of rape, sexual assault, and domestic violence carries a social stigma, the prosecution process is biased and fragmented, and the conviction rate is just 1-2.5%. In 2014, global conflict advisor Hafsah Lak asked herself: what can we do to provide survivors a real and effective justice delivery system? While working at the Punjab Chief Minister’s Strategic Reforms Unit (formerly, known as Special Monitoring Unit - Law and Order) in Punjab, Pakistan, she co-drafted the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act of 2016 and Punjab Women Protection Authority Act 2017. When the former Act was passed into law, it was hit with heavy conservative backlash. Recognizing that reform cannot be carried out by people who do not share the vision, Lak worked as a project lead at the Strategic Reforms Unit to create Pakistan's first-ever Violence Against Women Center (VAWC), which opened on March 25, 2017 and has successfully resolved over 900 cases of violent crimes against women thus far. The VAWC has streamlined the case file process all under one roof (removing all roadblocks to reporting crimes) and is staffed by at least 60 all-female staff including 30 female police officers, 5 female medical officers, plus dedicated prosecutors and psychologists who were hired for their commitment to protecting women, and to providing a real deterrent for perpetrators of gender-based violent crimes. For more information, go to vawcpunjab.com.
How the foster care system fails so many kids—and how we can do better
When it comes to life after foster care, there is typically not a lot of hope on the horizon, says Sixto Cancel, who has been in and out of the foster care system since he was 11 months old. He was lucky enough to take part in programs that set him up for an independent life when he turned 18—how to manage finances, find a job, apply for an apartment, buy a car—but his story is the exception, not the rule. The stats are not good: 20 percent of young people in foster care will experience homelessness within the first two years of leaving the system. 50 percent are underemployed. Only 3 percent earn a bachelor's degree. These negative outcomes are the reason Cancel founded Think of Us, a non-profit platform that gives vulnerable youths tools and resources to plan their life, and empowers them to build a network of adult mentors they trust. For more information about Think of Us, visit www.thinkof-us.org
'Despite all our medical advances,' my friend Jason used to quip, 'the mortality rate has remained constant – one per person.'
Jason and I studied medicine together back in the 1980s. Along with everyone else in our course, we spent six long years memorising everything that could go wrong with the human body. We diligently worked our way through a textbook called Pathologic Basis of Disease that described, in detail, every single ailment that could befall a human being. It's no wonder medical students become hypochondriacal, attributing sinister causes to any lump, bump or rash they find on their own person.
Jason's oft-repeated observation reminded me that death (and disease) are unavoidable aspects of life. It sometimes seems, though, that we've developed a delusional denial of this in the West. We pour billions into prolonging life with increasingly expensive medical and surgical interventions, most of them employed in our final, decrepit years. From a big-picture perspective, this seems a futile waste of our precious health-dollars.
Don't get me wrong. If I get struck down with cancer, heart disease or any of the myriad life-threatening ailments I learnt about in medicine, I want all the futile and expensive treatments I can get my hands on. I value my life. In fact, like most humans, I value staying alive above pretty much everything else. But also, like most, I tend to not really value my life unless I'm faced with the imminent possibility of it being taken away from me.
Another old friend of mine, Ross, was studying philosophy while I studied medicine. At the time, he wrote an essay called 'Death the Teacher' that had a profound effect on me. It argued that the best thing we could do to appreciate life was to keep the inevitability of our death always at the forefront of our minds.
When the Australian palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware interviewed scores of people in the last 12 weeks of their lives, she asked them their greatest regrets. The most frequent, published in her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying (2011), were:
- I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me;
- I wish I hadn't worked so hard;
- I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings;
- I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends; and
- I wish that I had let myself be happier.
The relationship between death-awareness and leading a fulfilling life was a central concern of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger, whose work inspired Jean-Paul Sartre and other existentialist thinkers. Heidegger lamented that too many people wasted their lives running with the 'herd' rather than being true to themselves. But Heidegger actually struggled to live up to his own ideals; in 1933, he joined the Nazi Party, hoping it would advance his career.
Despite his shortcomings as a man, Heidegger's ideas would go on to influence a wide range of philosophers, artists, theologians and other thinkers. Heidegger believed that Aristotle's notion of Being – which had run as a thread through Western thinking for more than 2,000 years, and been instrumental in the development of scientific thinking – was flawed at a most fundamental level. Whereas Aristotle saw all of existence, including human beings, as things we could classify and analyse to increase our understanding of the world, in Being and Time (1927) Heidegger argued that, before we start classifying Being, we should first ask the question: 'Who or what is doing all this questioning?'
Heidegger pointed out that we who are asking questions about Being are qualitatively different to the rest of existence: the rocks, oceans, trees, birds and insects that we are asking about. He invented a special word for this Being that asks, looks and cares. He called it Dasein, which loosely translates as 'being there'. He coined the term Dasein because he believed that we had become immune to words such as 'person', 'human' and 'human being', losing our sense of wonder about our own consciousness.
Heidegger's philosophy remains attractive to many today who see how science struggles to explain the experience of being a moral, caring person aware that his precious, mysterious, beautiful life will, one day, come to an end. According to Heidegger, this awareness of our own inevitable demise makes us, unlike the rocks and trees, hunger to make our life worthwhile, to give it meaning, purpose and value.
While Western medical science, which is based on Aristotelian thinking, sees the human body as a material thing that can be understood by examining it and breaking it down to its constituent parts like any other piece of matter, Heidegger's ontology puts human experience at the centre of our understanding of the world.
Ten years ago, I was diagnosed with melanoma. As a doctor, I knew how aggressive and rapidly fatal this cancer could be. Fortunately for me, the surgery seemed to achieve a cure (touch wood). But I was also fortunate in another sense. I became aware, in a way I never had before, that I was going to die – if not from melanoma, then from something else, eventually. I have been much happier since then. For me, this realisation, this acceptance, this awareness that I am going to die is at least as important to my wellbeing as all the advances of medicine, because it reminds me to live my life to the full every day. I don't want to experience the regret that Ware heard about more than any other, of not living 'a life true to myself'.
Most Eastern philosophical traditions appreciate the importance of death-awareness for a well-lived life. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, for example, is a central text of Tibetan culture. The Tibetans spend a lot of time living with death, if that isn't an oxymoron.
The East's greatest philosopher, Siddhartha Gautama, also known as the Buddha, realised the importance of keeping the end in sight. He saw desire as the cause of all suffering, and counselled us not to get too attached to worldly pleasures but, rather, to focus on more important things such as loving others, developing equanimity of mind, and staying in the present.
The last thing the Buddha said to his followers was: 'Decay is inherent in all component things! Work out your salvation with diligence!' As a doctor, I am reminded every day of the fragility of the human body, how closely mortality lurks just around the corner. As a psychiatrist and psychotherapist, however, I am also reminded how empty life can be if we have no sense of meaning or purpose. An awareness of our mortality, of our precious finitude, can, paradoxically, move us to seek – and, if necessary, create – the meaning that we so desperately crave.
- Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson joins us to talk about one of our favorite subjects: space.
- In the three-chaptered video, Tyson speaks about the search for alien life inside and outside of the Goldilocks Zone, why the term "dark matter" should really be called "dark gravity," and how the rotation of the Earth may have been the deciding factor in a football game.
- These fascinating space facts, as well as others shared in Tyson's books, make it easier for everyone to grasp complex ideas that are literally out of this world.
- SpaceX was founded in 2002 and was an industry joke for many years. Eighteen years later, it is the first private company to launch astronauts to the International Space Station.
- Today, SpaceX's Crew Dragon launched NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. The journey will take about 19 hours.
- Dylan Taylor, chairman and CEO of Voyager Space Holdings, looks at SpaceX's journey from startup to a commercial space company with the operating power of a nation-state.
Today is a historic date for human spaceflight. For the first time in human history, a private company has taken astronauts, not just for a poke above the Karman line (the arbitrary line at 62 miles that divides the stratosphere from space) as Virgin Galactic has done, but much deeper into orbit, some 220 miles to the International Space Station. A feat that requires not only much higher altitude but a precise rendezvous with an object moving at over 17,000 miles per hour. In addition, this launch marks a huge milestone for US Spaceflight, as the US has now rectified the embarrassing fact that it has had no way of transporting its astronauts to space without relying on the Russian Federation. A circumstance that has persisted since the Space Shuttle program was retired in 2011. How did SpaceX, which was founded in 2002, achieve nation-level capability in 18 short years? How did it go from not being entrusted with the lowliest of payloads, to flying NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley? And do so by delivering launch services at a fraction of the cost of both the US and Russia?
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley
The humblest of beginnings
SpaceX was an inside joke for many in the space industry establishment even years after its founding. Its first three launches famously and spectacularly failed, leading to not only snickers among the industry elite, but stressing SpaceX and its founder, Elon Musk, down to literally their last dollar. As Musk has related several times, SpaceX's fourth launch was a "make or break." Had it failed, the company would have filed for bankruptcy. Thankfully, that launch was successful and SpaceX has really never looked back. The industry insiders who doubt SpaceX still exist, but their snickers have turned to more nuanced criticism, including that SpaceX unfairly benefits from government contracting. Which is ironic for an industry that has been built on a defense contracting model. The truth is, SpaceX has made space cool again. One only needs to compare its rocket launch telecasts with those of their competitors. One has Hollywood-level production quality and attracts over 1 million live viewers per launch and the others seem dated, uninspired and draw 25,000 viewers on their best day. This has led to SpaceX being one of the employers of choice in the space industry, despite its legendary long hours and difficult working environment. Attracting top talent has been one of the reasons SpaceX has been able to achieve its miraculous product success.
A big bet
Once SpaceX learned to launch rockets, Musk's product vision became more futuristic. Just like it doesn't make sense to fly a $400M Airbus 380 from Dubai to Los Angeles only to throw the airplane away after landing, Musk challenged the industry to reuse its rocket boosters. This vision was audacious and was faced with massive skepticism in the industry. Despite this, SpaceX stuck its first landing of a single rocket booster on April 8, 2016. Stuck its first dual rocket booster landing on February 6, 2018 and even stuck a triple landing on April 12, 2019. It has now landed 49 out of its last 51 attempts. This has literally changed the game in terms of both launch costs, but also cycle time (the amount of time needed between launches). It is a game changer that will be further stretched when the potentially revolutionary heavy rocket Starship is rolled out sometime in the next year. In addition to the boosters, SpaceX also recovers other parts from the launch including the fairing, which houses the actual payload of the launch.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley inside Crew Dragon.
Criticism and triumph
Elon Musk has his critics, and certainly he has his lieutenants who do not get enough credit for their impact on SpaceX's achievements, such a SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell, but, regardless, it is indisputable that SpaceX has achieved a level of capability that is truly shocking in a relativity short period of time. Should SpaceX be celebrated for its persistence, entrepreneurism, innovation and ultimate value creation? Without question. Is SpaceX finished pushing boundaries and achieving what others thought was impossible? Not even close. If Musk stays healthy and avoids a Howard Hughes moment, as many fear, it is hard to doubt his ability to make his dream of landing humans on Mars a reality within his next 18 years (if not sooner).
The Crew Dragon demonstration of the launch escape system.
The human mind is one of evolution's marvels, and it's never more marvelous than in our youth. In our first few years of life, our brains create more than a million new neural connections per second. Three months after birth, our cerebellums double in volume to manage those tricky motor functions. We acquire language with no formal instruction. By the time we're toddlers, we develop the realization that oneself and others have desires, emotions, experiences, and intentions.
That last one may seem a heavy lift for munchkins still grappling with the fact that cows go moo, but research has shown that we come to that realization young. It's a critical piece in the development of our social cognition, our ability to analyze and apply our knowledge of other people and ourselves within social situations.
Where things become difficult is understanding when and how social cognition develops in children. Because researchers can't ask infants questions directly, they have to conceive of experiments to perceive thought by way of action. This leads to questions of interpretation. Some researchers think babies are already aware of others, while some argue that our theory of mind solidifies during the social hazing of preschool.
A new clue comes from research recently published in PLOS One, which shows that six-month-olds can recognize when they are being imitated.
Adults see, adults do?
Babies imitated by the researcher (shown in green) gave their imitator more attention, smiles, and approaching behavior than babies who received a non-imitative response (blue).
According to the study, the experience of being imitated provides infants the scaffolding for their social cognition. When infants see their actions mimicked, it leads them to realize that these actions have social consequences. They learn that movements, vocalizations, and facial expressions cause others around them to behave in certain ways. It's much like how they'll later experiment with cause and effect by banging about blocks.
To measure the effects imitation has on infants, the researchers set up an experiment with six-month-old babies. A researcher would go to the baby's home and play with them in four different ways. They would either:
- Imitate everything the baby did (green/MI on the graph),
- Imitate the reverse of the baby's actions (red/CI).
- Imitate the baby but remain expressionless (orange/BI), or
- Respond with a "contingent response" action (blue/CR).
A contingent response means the researcher acted as most adults would. Instead of imitating the act of reaching for a toy, they would pick it up and hand it to the baby.
The researchers found that the closer they emulated a baby, the longer they held his or her attention. Such imitation was also correlated with more smiling and a greater desire to approach the researcher.
"Imitating young infants seems to be an effective way to catch their interest and bond with them. The mothers were quite surprised to see their infants joyfully engaging in imitation games with a stranger, but also impressed by the infants' behaviours," Gabriela-Alina Sauciuc, a researcher at Lund University and the study's lead author, said in a press release.
According to the release, the babies being imitated also initiated testing behavior. If a baby smacked the table and the research imitated the action, the baby would then repeat the action several times to see how the adult responded.
"This was quite interesting. When someone actively tests the person who is imitating them, it is usually seen as an indication that the imitated individual is aware that there is a correspondence between their own behaviour and the behaviour of the other," Sauciuc said.
The sincerest form of flattery
The study had 16 baby participants, five girls and 11 boys, a small but meaningful sample size. In the study, the researchers note that they hope their data will spur additional research into imitation recognition as well as how infants perceive body language and their awareness of another's intentions toward them.
"By showing that 6-month-old infants recognise when they are being imitated, and that imitation has a positive effect on interaction, we begin to fill up this [research] gap. We still have to find out when exactly imitation begins to have such effects, and what role imitation recognition actually plays for babies," Sauciuc noted in the same release.
Those are important questions to answer as early caregiver interactions provide the foundation for many social traits. These may include empathy, self-awareness, reading others' intentions, and cultural norms like turn-taking. They may further expand to other areas of social competency like creativity and confidence. Best of all, for babies and caregivers, imitation provides a fun, and fruitful, way to play.
- Researchers at UT Southwestern observed a stark improvement in memory after cardiovascular exercise.
- The year-long study included 30 seniors who all had some form of memory impairment.
- The group of seniors that only stretched for a year did not fair as well in memory tests.
When sheltering at home began in Los Angeles, a crew of ambitious Angelenos didn't let gym closures stop their workouts. #100miles30days spread to over 400 participants around the world. It didn't matter how you split up the distance; you just had to walk or run 100 miles in April. While a lot of fitness culture hashtags rely on gimmickry, this challenge was social media at its best.
Exercise is always important, especially during a time when isolation negatively impacts mental health. Initiatives like the above keep individuals motivated while the term "community" temporarily loses meaning. A workout partner or group fitness class holds you accountable. Some people need responsibility to keep moving, even if one as simple as a hashtag.
Whether you work out in a group or by yourself, movement is necessary. Reams of research detail the importance of regular exercise. Besides physical health, staying fit leads to good mental health. A year-long study at UT Southwestern again confirms this fact.
Published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 30 volunteers (median age: 66) either ran or stretched for 25-30 minutes three times a week. Each participant had no recent experience with exercise. Every volunteer showed some sign of memory impairment, which was a requirement, as this was a study on memory.
The stretch group performed a series of flexibility and balance exercises designed to keep their heart rate stable while strengthening their upper and lower bodies. The cardiovascular group completed a number of heart-raising exercises. After a year of continuous exercise, researchers measured cerebral blood flow in each participant.
The aerobic group showed increased blood flow to two regions key to memory retention: the anterior cingulate cortex (responsible for attention allocation, reward anticipation, impulse control, and more) and the prefrontal cortex (decision making, personality, planning complex behavior, and more). While the stretching group experienced minimal improvement in memory tests over the course of the year, the aerobic group saw a 47 percent jump in test scores.
Lithuania's Austra Reinberga (C) runs next to New Zealand's Marcia Petley (L) and Columbia's Maria Pastora Londono (R) during the women's 100m final for athletes between 85 and 89 years old, during the World Masters Athletics Championships on August 7, 2015 in Lyon, southeastern France.
Photo: Philippe Desmazes/AFP via Getty Images
As lead author of the study, Binu Thomas, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Center for BrainHealth at UT Southwestern Medical Center, says, aerobic exercise works in your favor at any age. Noting the study was only a small group, he continues,
"Cerebral blood flow is a part of the puzzle, and we need to continue piecing it together. But we've seen enough data to know that starting a fitness program can have lifelong benefits for our brains as well as our hearts."
This study follows a wealth of data detailing the impact of exercise on cognition. A University of Vermont study suggests mental health patients consider exercise before starting prescription medication, going so far as to recommend medical centers build gyms in a new therapeutic model.
A prior review of 33 studies advocated weightlifting as an important protocol for curbing depression. Another study based in Amsterdam called exercise an ideal intervention for treating anxiety disorders and depression. Oxford and Yale researchers discovered the same.
In 2013, the RAND Corporation estimated that diseases of dementia cost America between $157 billion to $215 billion annually. Previous research specifically cites cardiovascular exercise as key for fighting dementia, including this 2010 study and this study from 2017. In 2013, epidemiologist Bryan James told NPR that aging does not have to result in memory loss.
"It's simply not pre-destined for all human beings. Lots of people live into their 90s and even 100s with no symptoms of dementia."
While Thomas speculates that a drug could target blood flow in the regions cited in his study, perhaps we should consider what's kept us healthy for hundreds of thousands of years: regular movement. Your body is in the shape you train for, so best to train it well. Your brain will thank you.