Turning Dreams into Reality at the United Nations by Sam Vaghar

This month our Director of Programs Abigail Kelble and I had the opportunity to visit New York City.  We connected for an in-depth meeting with Stephanie Cordes and Spencer Ton of The Cordes Foundation (and saw Marty Cordes and many more friends at their event with Nest and Impact Republic), a National Co-Chair for the sixth annual Millennium Campus Conference taking place in Florida this October.   We met Laura Restrepo and connected with Rachel Swanson Mizuno, Hillary Larman, and colleagues from the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, also serving as a National Co-Chair of the conference.  We saw many other leaders including Nelson Del Rio Sr and Nelson Del Rio Jr, Allen Alter (who also invited me to tour CBS News!), Noah Rabinsky, Katie Sanders of Harry's, and more.  Along with these meetings, we came with a clear agenda: to learn more about the United Nations and its facilities.  The UN has been a huge part of MCN's identity from the beginning: the Millennium Development Goals (and work of our Advisor Jeffrey Sachs) inspired our creation, and the UN Millennium Campaign (thanks to our Advisor Anita Sharma) gave us our first big grant.  In many ways it feels like home. 

Will Kennedy and Lucie Brigham of the UN Office of Partnerships took us for a tour of venues on site, including conference rooms, the cafeteria, reception areas and more.  We have a vision to do something unprecedented in 2015, and this meeting served as an important step to move our vision forward. 

Lucie Brigham, Abigail, Sam, and Will Kennedy at the United Nations

Lucie Brigham, Abigail, Sam, and Will Kennedy at the United Nations


I also had the opportunity to meet with Ahmad Alhendawi, the UN Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth.  We honored Ahmad with a 2013 Global Generation Award for his leadership in advocating for the 1.8 billion youth worldwide at the UN.  

Ahmad Alhendawi and Sam Vaghar at the United Nations

Ahmad Alhendawi and Sam Vaghar at the United Nations


It was fantastic to learn about some of Ahmad's priorities in 2014 and 2015 (including a focus on Mental Health for International Youth Day this August 12th).  I also had the chance to share our plans to coordinate a Global Youth Survey and Policy Paper.  We want to document proven youth-centered initiatives that tackle global poverty and related crises, hear directly from youth what they need to scale up these efforts, and then take these requests to public and private sector leaders to request financial and technical support.  We will share preliminary outcomes from this process on October 12th during a Global Town Hall online during the sixth annual Millennium Campus Conference.  I was excited by Ahmad's enthusiasm for the survey, policy paper and town hall and network we continue to build.  There is great potential for collaboration this summer, fall, and into 2015.

Before I left, Ahmad shared this picture with me:

Ahmad told me that this picture was taken during a convening of world leaders in Austria.  This local boy did not know what the event was about, but he wandered into the photo op and stood with confidence next to the leaders.  As Ahmad shared this, it served as a powerful reminder of why we do what we do.  Ahmad shared some compelling advice: "Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously."  As I left the UN, this message resonated with me.  If we always keep the spirit and energy of youth at the center of our work, anything is possible.  We were fortunate to meet with so many extraordinary leaders during our short time in New York as we plan for the fall and 2015.  An exciting road ahead.

-Post written by Sam Vaghar, Executive Director of The Millennium Campus Network