John Kotey

2015-2016 MCN Fellow | Undergraduate University: Columbia University in the City of New York | Degree: Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering | Place of Origin: Ghana

John graduates from Columbia University

John graduates from Columbia University

"The Millennium Campus Network’s annual conference in 2015 (MCC15) at the United Nations was a major turning point in my life. Before the conference, I was contemplating on what to do after finishing undergrad at Columbia and felt pressure to join Corporate America from family, friends, and mentors. The expectation to simply get a job that "paid the bills" rather than pursuing social impact work was overwhelming. On top of that, I was frustrated with how higher education seemed to boast about being the training ground for the next generation of change makers while also not providing the necessary support and resources for students to radically alter society’s status quo. All of this made me seriously reconsider my original "social impact" path. But MCC15 changed that; it renewed my faith in social change work and put me right back on track.

Initially, my perception of the UN was that it was “all talk with little action.” I was skeptical of attending MCC15 solely because of this assumption. But the energy and enthusiasm of fellow delegates at the conference on ensuring that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were fully realized by 2030 reassured me that I was, in fact, in the right place. During the conference, I got the chance to learn about grassroots student movements focused on non-paternalistic and community-based global development, which informed and reinvigorated my dream of using technology as a way to address basic human rights and needs. With a new sense of purpose, I went back to Columbia and convinced the First-Generation Low-Income Partnership to apply for the Millennium Fellowship; the National First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership was born in those transformational eight months during the fellowship.

GEN Day 2017 at Columbia University was hosted by John's organization Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP)

GEN Day 2017 at Columbia University was hosted by John's organization Columbia First-Generation Low-Income Partnership (FLIP)

Created with other Millennium fellows, the National First-Generation, Low-Income Partnership (FLIP National) is a non-profit organization that focuses on providing equal opportunity for first-generation and/or low-income (FGLI) students in institutions of higher learning. FLIP National aims to establish campus-based chapters and promote collaboration among institutions in addressing issues that first-generation and low-income students face. FLIP National has earmarked seven “Target Areas,” namely Food Insecurity, Student Homelessness, Academic Development, Student Wellness & Community Building, Financial Support, Professional Development, and Awareness & Visibility. The goal is to raise awareness about the issues that hamper the academic success and well-being of FGLI students while pursuing sustainable solutions through the establishment of initiatives and policy change at the institutional, national, and international level.

FLIP National currently has four chapters: Columbia University, Emory University, Lehigh University, and the University of Pennsylvania. There are many more chapters in the works. Through its participation in the Millennium Fellowship, FLIP National has gained significant insight into professional non-profit management, which include, but are not limited to, SMART planning and key performance indicators (KPI). Sustainable growth at FLIP National has been possible because of these very insights. So far, the organization’s initiatives at the national and chapter levels have been extremely successful. The tangible successes of FLIP National include the fact that CU’s Book Lending library has over 2,500 textbooks in circulation, CU Meal Share has facilitated the exchange of over 1,000 meals swipes, and Microgrants has awarded over $5,000 in emergency grants to students in need.

I cherish MCN’s commitment to addressing tough issues that many people in international development face and/or have avoided. Issues such as "voluntourism,” donor demands versus commitment to impactful change, and communities not achieving self-sustainability after a significant period of time can only be solved through addressing them and taking subsequent action. My participation in MCN’s fellowship program has given me life-long friends that are also committed to creating real, demonstrable, and sustainable change through their own respective kind of leadership. MCC15’s hash tag #sidekicksUNite made me realize that it’s perfectly okay to play a "supporting role" rather than being 'the hero'; it’s actually better to be the former. Leaders are actually more effectual when they occupy more of a supporting role in the community and organization that they’re trying to aid. It's not about me, it's about them.

I want young leaders to know that NOW is the time to ask tough questions about the systems that exist around us, about access to food, healthcare, affordable education, equality, and etc. This is the time to check your own privilege and assess how much you've been given so that you can 'pay it forward' the same amount, or more. 'Privilege is not absolute, but relative.' Hence, you do not need to be the richest, most powerful, or possess the highest academic degree to spearhead the change you wish to see. Be proactive and seek to make a difference in any degree; that's the first step in becoming a true change maker."


*The "quotes" above have been edited for concision and clarity.