By Srijesa Khasnabish, Delegate from Boston University
I initially wanted to attend the Millennium Campus Network Conference (MCC15) because I saw it as an opportunity to refuel my passion for global development. I’m a member of the Undergraduate Public Health Association (UPHA) at Boston University (BU) and during the academic year it’s easy to become engrossed in technical and tedious steps student organizations take to arrange events. It’s easy to forget why we’re passionate about issues like global health in the first place. MCC15 exceeded my expectations – it was the perfect balance of discussions, workshops, and keynote speeches to make me eager to implement the skills I’ve gained in my organization and capitalize on the connections I’ve made at MCC15.
MCC15 began with small group discussions revolving around themes deeply rooted in field of development, such as People vs. Objects. Prior to this discussion I didn’t realize how foreigners entering a community with good intentions could unconsciously objectify community members. Despite the best of intentions, objectification can cause community members to lose their respect for us and trust in us. This is not a solid foundation for a sustainable relationship. Another concept we discussed was Partnerships vs. Paternalism, which led to a conversation about the dynamics of the giver-receiver relationship. My group concluded that an ideal partnership should mirror a symbiotic relationship – one where both parties benefit and feed off of each other in a complimentary manner.
Following the discussions, students attended “Best Practice Workshops” that dealt with operations/partnership building, resources, leadership transition, and advocacy. Whether the workshop was led by a student from another university or a professional working for an NGO, I left the room with valuable skills and new connections. At “The Future of Fundraising” I learned about simple strategies on how to master bake sales to maximize profit. “Leading Leaders” was a fun workshop because it involved role-playing archetypal members of a student organization. Both workshops ended with a best practices summary, a resource that I will be able to look back at and share with others. The advocacy workshops forayed into topics ranging from how to craft the perfect elevator pitch to the pros and cons of slacktivism versus activism.
The climax of each day of MCC15 was the Keynote Plenary session, where we heard from highly accomplished and inspiring individuals from a diversity of professional backgrounds. This spectacle comprised of moving speeches, refreshing yoga breaks led by Movement Strong, spectacular performances by Flatline poetry and Alexander Star, and Solidarity Shares – where students from two different parts of the world discussed how their communities faced similar challenges and successes.
On day one Morgens Lykketoft (President-elect, UN General Assembly) spoke about the need for doers and not heroes and emphasized the interconnectedness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Dick Simon (YPO-WPO Pace Action Network) explained how the term “them” has been “used to isolate, humiliate, and enslave.” Instead of looking at the giver-receiver relationship as an “us-vs-them” relationship, both parties should work together to create solutions. Shin Fujiyama (Co-founder of Students Helping Honduras) said: “With one twig you can’t start a fire. But with a bunch of twigs you can make a bonfire”. This metaphor resonated with me because when you are a student in a room filled with world famous individuals, it’s easy to feel intimidated. Fujiyama’s statement reminds me that we youth have power in our numbers and we can collectively make a huge impact.
The next day, five student-led campaigns were launched at the UN in the exact room where the SDGs were adopted. One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Sakeena Yacoobi, founder of the Afghan Institute of Learning, who said “I have been working twenty years but you guys are just in your teens and you are accomplishing so much. Thank you very much and the world is looking up at you.” Dr. Yacoobi’s faith in our generation makes me excited to work on a campaign.
On the final day of MCC15 we heard from Jeffrey Sachs who gave us delegates a group take-home assignment due in the year 2030: the SDGs. Vanessa Kerry (founder of Seed Global Health) told us “Change will happen because you will not demand anything less and you know it’s possible.” Photographer Annie Griffiths explained how “media tends to be reactionary and covers disaster not success.” Through her incredible photographs she showed how empowering women in developing countries can have meaningful and sustainable impacts. It was inspiring to hear speakers from diverse academic background because it not only emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of global development, but also reaffirms my passion to blend my two interests: neuroscience and public health. At the end of the conference, I was not sad but rather eager to implement these new skills and vision in my organization and excited to come back next year to share my progress.