Millennium Fellow Spotlight

By Beth He

UN Sustainable Development Goal #4: Ensure quality education for all and promote life long learning


Prior to beginning undergraduate studies at Columbia University, Amelia Colban had been immersed in various different cultures. She grew up in Norway, and as a teenager, avidly traveled Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, and Spain. Intrigued by Wanderlust, she realized “that ‘culture’ existed in more forms that [she] could be aware of, both internationally and in the nuances of individual identities within any geographic confines.” Such conceptualization of cultural definitions attracted Amelia to an American university education because wanted to “engage worldly concepts from a [similar] theoretical, but intellectually immediate, approach.” Columbia gave her the opportunity to not only be surrounded by diverse individuals with interesting backgrounds, but also the thought-provoking education of“learning” by way of uncomfortable, but necessary conversations.

Driven by exploration and intellectual growth, Amelia has fully integrated herself in the world of academia. Such enthusiasm for trying everything has lead her to discovering a wide range of subjects from international human rights to the history of crime and policing in the U.S.

First Generation Low Income Partnership (FLIP) at Columbia became a large part of her life through a friend. As Amelia remembers, “I overheard someone I knew mentions ‘students who have experienced homelessness.’” Homelessness? Here? At Columbia? An elite Ivy League school? It was the first time she had ever heard “homelessness” in the Columbia culture, in their vernacular. Amelia became quickly engaged in FLIP as homelessness turned out to be a more common than expected at Columbia, but often hidden in the shadows.

FLIP at Columbia was conceived through the realization of the marginalized, often invisible, issues of homelessness, food insecurity, and feelings of misplacement in an elite, sometimes privileged environment, common amongst first-generation and low-income students. Amelia now serves as the treasurer of FLIP Columbia and is among the founders of FLIP National, whose mission is to reach many more U.S. university campuses. Through bringing these issues to light and encouraging an open dialogue, FLIP hopes to redirect the conversation away from stigmatizing financial hardship to fostering resources and a community of empowerment to first generation and low-income students.

Since its inception, FLIP at Columbia has received tremendous support from the university, alumni, and other supporters from gaining national attention. With this, Amelia plans on helping FLIP at Columbia grow to include more students in the conversation, creating a more aware, open, and respectful campus environment.

Through each member, FLIP at Columbia is creating a revitalized community of empowered students to “advocate for and create resources for an often marginalized group and increase the consciousness of the specific challenges that emerge on an institutional and campus wide level.”  They have implemented incredible projects that demonstrate the mission, value, and impacts of the organization in providing previously unmanaged, often inaccessible, resources.

Food Insecurity Initiatives: New York is Expensive! Columbia University (CU) Meal Share, a dining hall swipes-sharing platform, was one of FLIP's earliest initiatives. It quickly gained a lot of traction and the student group recently expanded it into a three-pronged system. Now, CU Meal Share is accompanied by the Emergency Meal Fund, a swipes-bank program operated by Columbia Dining Services, as well as a mobile app, Swipes, that connects students in various dining halls with students who need access.

Columbia University Class Confessions: CUCC is a social media forum in which students can anonymously share their experiences and challenges. These emotionally stirring confessions have educated the student body and the administration alike about complicated facets of low-income students' issues so they are better equipped to address them. Many students have written how food insecurity, homelessness, imposter syndrome, illegal work, and a lack of institutional support is a part of the reality they live in order to make it through Columbia. The content from this page has sparked extensive media coverage as well as extended conversations on campus between students, administrators, and faculty.

Textbook Lending library: FLIP at Columbia collected over a thousand commonly required textbooks through a book drive to then redistribute otherwise expensive reading materials.

Coat Drive: Collection and redistribution of high-quality winter coats to students who have yet to acquire the necessary outerwear for living in the Northeast.

Q-FLIP: This is a co-sponsored program by QuestBridge and FLIP at Columbia. It pairs incoming students from underrepresented socioeconomic backgrounds with more seasoned peers to help them navigate struggles related to being first-gen/low-income, including financial restrictions, feeling out of place (imposter syndrome), and feeling underprepared by their (relative to Columbia) nontraditional academic backgrounds. Though in its first year, the program's enrollment is already in the hundreds.

Homelessness Initiative: This program just launched to connect students in need of housing for a time period with others who have extra space, while we work with the school to implement institutional housing security protocols. (Barnard, Columbia's sister school, closes dormitories during winter break. Students who cannot afford to go home, or who do not have a home to return to, lack affordable housing options between semesters. This has been the focus of the initiative in its first few days.)

Being a college student is stressful enough; no student should have to worry about a finding a safe place to sleep. Directly connected to the UN’s 4th Sustainable Development Goal, everyone should have the opportunity for quality education without worrying about basic necessities.

Amelia became an MCN Fellow because she was “enthralled by the prospect of engaging in a dialogue with other students and with experts advocating for equal opportunity in higher education.” With the initiation and development of FLIP National, the MCN Fellowship has given Amelia the platform for dialogue about social issues and the formulated the skills to be a better leader. She is more encouraged and determined than ever to resolve inequality within institutions of higher education for years to come.

Interested in donating? Want to learn more about FLIP at Columbia? Contact: info@flipnational.org

What Now? Youth Action in the SDGs!

Over the past three years, countless negotiations, consultations, and conferences have taken place - culminating with the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit that saw all 193-member states adopt, celebrate, and make commitments to the new Sustainable Agenda for 2030. The 17 Sustainable Development Goals are a revitalized commitment to build from the Millennium Development Goals by “leaving no one behind” and closing the gap of inequity, locally and globally by engaging everyone, everywhere. The SDGs are integrated and indivisible, balancing the 3 dimensions of sustainable development: economic, social & environmental - establishing a framework for development over the next 15 years.


We first need to realize that the outcome of our actions will not be driven by the “world we want”, but rather the “world we deserve.

However, that was the easy part. Talking is much easier than actions and actions call for accountability. We first need to realize that the outcome of our actions will not be driven by the “world we want”, but rather the “world we deserve.” In order to contextualize the importance of youth action, it was an honor to hear insights from speakers in various organizations mobilizing opportunities for young people at the grassroots, national, and international level at the online global forum we hosted last week. These include Jasmin Burgermeister (German Youth Delegate on Sustainable Development), Marwan Bishtawi (Associate Coordinator, Pax Romana & ICMYO), Roxanne Moore (UN Major Group for Children & Youth, Interim Focal Point for Youth Gateway) and Kathy Zhang (Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network, SDSN-Y).


An interesting point of discussion was that the youth need to be equipped with the skills, knowledge, and capacities to truly make change. Their ambition and potential needs to be met with tools such as technology and innovation to be turned into meaningful contributions to society in order to reach the SDGs. This is especially true when the youth generation, comprising 40-50% of the world’s population, is globally dispersed and comprised of individuals with complementary skills. Bringing down the SDGs to the local level is also crucial to contextualize their personal significance to each individual, giving each person a reason and determination for working towards achieving the goals that will be most constructive and relevant to their needs. Personalizing the goals at the local level is essential to galvanize resilient change, therefore there should be greater institutional support at all levels to provide both the knowledge to bring about change, resources to maintain and scale positive change in society, and mechanisms for reporting impact. Community-based impact assessments are essential for determining people’s priorities, while providing opportunities to share best practices in order to overcome barriers to progress.


As highlighted by one of our speakers during the video conference, an element of humility must be preserved to better help each other out, while maintaining professionalism when doing work at the local level. Such a mindset will propel us towards maintaining human-centered intentions throughout our work. We finished by discussing commitments we can each make, within our own capacities, to spread awareness on the SDGs and contribute to them locally. We can each voice our opinion, advocate, write policy, and engage in activities related to the thematic areas we are most passionate about. There is no better time than “now”, with a plethora of youth organizations accessible to build on already existing structures. These include, among others, the youth platforms mentioned by our guest speakers - Youth Gateway (the Global Youth Partnership for the SDGs), the UN Major Group for Children & Youth (UN MGCY),  Pax Romana (a part of the International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations - ICMYO), and the Sustainable Development Solutions Youth Network (SDSN-Y).


Within #Youth4SDGs, we are currently two weeks into the #17weeks17goals social media campaign, where we feature an overview, youth contributions, and youth organizations related to a specific SDG each week. We also are in the process of developing a Community Ambassador Program, to bring this global campaign to the local level. We each have the potential to champion youth action in your community - let’s seize the opportunity together, so don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.  


#Youth4SDGs is a youth-led campaign meant to empower and connect young people with existing opportunities to meaningfully engage in sustainable development activities. We want youth to identify-match-engage-develop-sustain their passions into action by linking them to already established youth engagement platforms to fulfill our generational responsibility. Learn more by following us here on Facebook and sign up to join the next forum!



Breaking the Glass Ceiling

By Natalie Leach

    The first global forum for In Our Shoes, the winner of the Millennium Equality Prize awarded at the United Nations at this past year’s 7th annual Millennium Campus Conference, was held on Friday, with participants from places all over the United States as well as countries like Pakistan and South Africa and including both males and females. In Our Shoes is a campaign founded by students and MCC15 Delegates Laura-Jane Watkins and Chiara Claassens with the aim of eradicating gender inequality on a global scale. Laura-Jane and Chiara came up with the idea for their campaign because of the experiences with gender inequality that they have witnessed taking place on their campus and in their own community in South Africa, such as wanting to address the issue of human trafficking and domestic violence toward women. However, they emphasized throughout the forum how different perspectives on gender inequality from all over the world are essential if communities are to come any closer to combatting it, saying that the first critical step in achieving this is to realize that women’s rights are ultimately human rights; stressing the importance of inclusiveness of both genders in every aspect, participants in the forum agreed that societies need to take a fully human approach to the issue of gender inequality.

Missed the live forum? Watch the recording here!

    One of the main issues discussed throughout the forum was the role of women in leadership positions, and how societies can work to “break the glass ceiling” – a metaphor for challenges women often face when it comes to their careers. Sunita Rao, an intern for the UN Foundation initiative Girl Up, spoke about the ways in which being a chapter leader of Girl Up on her campus at the University of Texas at Austin has helped shape her perspective on empowering women through leadership. Sunita spoke about the complex dynamics of being a woman as well as a leader, saying she does not believe that the presence of women in these positions is a normal occurrence and that it is crucial to fight for equality in the workplace. However, through her personal experience being an intern with Girl Up, she feels that she has been able to make a difference in the lives of girls on her campus chapter as well as around the world – this past summer she went on a trip to Malawi to help distribute bikes to girls to be used for school transportation! The conversation then took on the idea that there are definitely different definitions of and perspectives on the “glass ceiling” depending on where one lives, and that it is crucial to not only redefine how others perceive the role of women and their abilities, but also to encourage youth from a young age to achieve gender equity by forging new paths as role models in leadership, like Sunita has done through her work with Girl Up.

Two central questions, then, became this: whose responsibility is it to instill values of gender equity in society, and how can we make issues regarding gender inequality recognizable within our own communities?

    Participants talked about a variety of ideas on how to achieve this, all emphasizing a collective, community-based effort: promote a safe environment in which to discuss gender-based issues, reach out across social media and other platforms to raise awareness and educate others, encouraging men’s participation in combatting these issues, and opening up conversations that encourage global perspectives while at the same time challenging the existing gender stereotypes and norms in societies that perpetuate gender inequality. From these approaches, participants said, can then come concrete, action-based plans.

    As for some of the action-based plans In Our Shoes hopes to implement before the end of the year, Chiara and Laura-Jane talked about two specific events. In October, they plan to give a presentation about what has happened since the Millennium Campus Conference so that others on their campus are aware about their campaign, its initiatives, and the United Nations’ newly adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In November, 16 days of activism will take place, with participants advocating each of the 16 days for an issue regarding gender inequality. Moving forward, they hope that the eradication of gender inequality will, as was discussed, be the result of changing communities on a global scale, with everyone doing their part.

To join the movement, sign up here!

Connect with #inOURshoes on Twitter and Facebook.

Solidarity Share - Gender Equality

Supriya Sadagopan and Jasper Wieling
Raleigh, North Carolina and the Netherlands

This "Solidarity Share" was presented as part of a Keynote Plenary at the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference. Solidarity Shares were created by pairs of Delegates from different communities across the globe, finding shared points of struggle, joy, and connection. We hope their stories inspire you to connect across borders, to see the ways that struggles in your community might benefit from solidarity with others.

My name is Supriya Sadagopan, and I am from Raleigh, North Carolina. In my community, gender equality is a challenge. Despite living in an educated and diverse area, gender equality is still a problem. Equality is visible until you look more closely, as it is furthered by people who continue to use microaggressions or underlying commentary to further problems like sexual assault and harassment. There are multiple resources for women, but these are only known about by select individuals-- many still refuse to see the problems of the gender gap, sexual assault, domestic violence, maternal health, and more. There are resources for men, but they are not aware of these or also just do not care enough to learn more about the topic, propagating the ignorance that lies in my community.

My name is Jasper Wieling, and I am from The Netherlands, but I study in the rural town of Canton, Missouri. In my community, gender equality is a challenge. In my schools Enactus team, we try to teach women job skills to empower themselves. We set up a couple workshops such as resume building, interview skills, and computer skills. One particular challenge in this rural community is that there are many teen moms who are not able to finish high school, and therefore are not able to join the job force to their full capacity. And this system continues to be passed down from generation to generation.

On a global scale, gender equality is necessary for progress to occur. This is not an issue of gender rights, but rather one for human rights. This is much more intrinsic to each individual, as everyone should be allowed to live their life freely and equally. Promoting and achieving gender equality is what truly allows us decrease the differences between men and women, increase the education level within families, and expand the status of women everywhere. This can only be achieved if we all stand together in solidarity,.

From both of our experiences we can tell you that the problem is often deeply seeded in communities. Regardless of your gender or the size of your community, gender inequality is a problem, one that we all need to solve.

Our fight is your fight.

Solidarity Share - Human Trafficking

This "Solidarity Share" was presented as part of a Keynote Plenary at the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference. Solidarity Shares were created by pairs of Delegates from different communities across the globe working together to find shared points of struggle, joy, and connection. We hope their stories inspire you to connect across borders, to see the ways that struggles in your community might benefit from solidarity with another.  

Alejandra Colmenero and Laura-Jane Watkins

Denver, Colorado and Bloemfontein, South Africa

My name is Alejandra Colmenero, and I am from Denver, Colorado. In my community, human trafficking, also known as modern day slavery, is a challenge.

The Center for Public Policy Studies has stated that from the year 2010 until now, law enforcement investigates an average of 100 cases annually in the Denver metro area.

Statistics from the National Human Trafficking Resource Center show that there have been 19 cases of human trafficking in my state this year alone; these include labor trafficking in Northern Colorado, and sex trafficking throughout the state.

We can fight this issue by first being educated on the subject, and taking simple steps such as being prepared to help by calling the national human trafficking hotline.

And we must remember that the roots of human trafficking are a result of many injustices combine that leave people vulnerable to becoming victims; poverty, discrimination, and lack of opportunities for people, especially women and girls, are some of them – and all these injustices can be prevented.

My name is Laura-Jane Watkins and I am Bloemfontein, South Africa. Mine is a community where privilege and poverty walk side-by-side but rarely hand-in-hand. South Africa's history of gross race and gender based discrimination  has entrenched socio-economic disparities.

Poverty is a breeding-ground for violence and when a sever lack of education co-exists in this environment it exacerbates inequality, fueling estimates such as every 36 seconds a woman is raped countrywide.

Mine is a community where the exploitation of common customary practices such as 'ukuthwala' have produced a society that stereotypes women as expendable commodities.There is hope however, in solidarity. Through education and awareness we can protect the vulnerable members of society and empower communities to dismantle discriminatory norms.


Our respective locations may be far removed, but our passion to see justice and equality for all humanity is as close as our hearts will carry us.

Together, we have the power to challenge our everyday actions, and bring equality and justice to our lives, our community, and the world.

Our challenge is your challenge. 


Solidarity Share - Women's Rights and Safety

This "Solidarity Share" was presented as part of a Keynote Plenary at the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference. Solidarity Shares were created by pairs of Delegates from different communities across the globe, finding shared points of struggle, joy, and connection. We hope their stories inspire you to connect across borders, to see the ways that struggles in your community might benefit from solidarity with others.

Ghewa Srour and Khayriyyah Muhammad Smith 

Lebanon and Michigan, USA


My name is Ghewa Srour, and I am from Lebanon. In my community, setting a law that protects women from being abused is a challenge! Since we (Lebanese Women) have started asking for our rights, the percentage of abuse has increased in a very surprising way! I'll tell you about "Aba'ad" a Lebanese organization that offers shelters for abused women when they need a rescue. "Aba'ad" has 3 shelters with 25 beds each, unfortunately all are full during the year! We believe that the only way to protect women at the moment is to educate them and teach them how to deal with their abusers in a smart way, until the law is set!

My name is Khayriyyah Muhammad Smith and I am from Michigan. In my community women’s rights are a challenge but more specifically women’s rights when it comes to abuse.  In 2013 there were 54,000 domestic abuse incidents reported to the police. However, there are many more cases, which are not reported out of fear, that the abuse might get worse. There are various types of abuse reported like physical, emotional and even economic abuse. I believe that in order to combat domestic abuse in my community, we need to work together to build girls and women up through education and mentoring to help them to become strong, independent members of society.

In the end, our message for you is that no matter how developed the country is, violence against women is found everywhere. Women must speak aloud and ask for our rights!

Our struggle is your struggle.