The Youth Leaders of the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference

08/25/2015 11:49 am ET Updated Aug 25, 2016

The 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference gathered over 450 youth leaders from over 50 countries in New York City at the United Nations and New School to learn more about the issues we face today and what their role is in solving these issues. On Tuesday, the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference opened with a fevered check-in process. Delegates poured through the doors of the New School on 13th Street and 5th Avenue; volunteers and interns alike were standing by, prepared for the massive wave of students arriving, weary from their travels, jet-lagged, and eager to start the day's events. By 3 o'clock when the discussion teams started, a space where delegates passionately engaged, speaking about issues around the world and at home in their own communities, some gesticulating fervently at others, vying to cross language barriers so their point could be made. In their discussion teams, Delegates met their team leaders, students who had willingly offered to guide these delegates on a journey of engagement, discussion and self-discovery over the course of the next four days. Later in the evening, the delegates attended a welcome social with music, speed networking, open mic, and an inspiring performance by Flatline Poetry. The energy in the room buzzed by the time Tuesday ended and organizers struggled to usher the delegates out of the New School as they lagged behind to finish heated discussions in the lobby, eager to resolve some sort of issue with their newfound peers but they had to continue these discussions on the streets of New York, where the energy and vibrance of the city was no match for that of the delegates.

Wednesday, 8 am and the dark circles starting to form under the eyes of the delegates wordlessly gave away the previous evening's agenda: late night discussions aimed at solving all of the world's problems, most likely until the hours of night and morning seamlessly blended together in the twilight, acting as badges of honor, emphasizing the dedication and passion these delegates possessed. That exhaustion, however, did not seem to stop these delegates as they lined up bright and early, anxious to start the conference at the main venue: the United Nations Headquarters. Restless with excitement to walk the same halls as ambassadors and representatives of the world, to sit in the same conference room as those who drafted the post-2015 agenda just one week prior, the delegate's flooded the halls, eager to join their team leaders for their morning discussion sessions. However, when these sessions let out an hour and a half later, the atmosphere of the conference had changed course. Amidst the thrumming energy and vibrance of the delegates hung doubt and self-awareness. They had been exposed, in that last session, to the main theme of our conference: Sidekicks Unite.
At the Millennium Campus Network, we believe that global development makes progress best when we, those who are fortunate enough to have a voice on the global stage, use our voice to let those without be heard because they, not us, are the heroes. If we listen and then act, we can ensure that the needs of those we are helping are met and that their voices are heard. If we act in solidarity, we can work together, as sidekicks, to have a greater collective impact on our own communities and on the globe as a whole. After having heard this, delegates became far more introspective, asking themselves: Have I been guilty of trying to be a hero? Have I been far too set on doing what I thought was best for someone else without asking people what is best for themselves? Have I done more harm than good with my involvement in global development? Trudging with heavier feet, the delegates moved to their Best Practice workshops, hosted by their very same team leaders, eager to learn skills to improve their student organizations, both on and off campus. Yet, even after all this, the energy riddled with doubt, palpable in the air, lingering long after the delegates left the keynote plenary, where speakers including Dick Simon, His Excellency President Elect of the United Nation General Assembly Mogens Lykketoft, and Dr. Sakena Yacoobi continued to emphasize this idea of sidekicks, and exited the United Nations.

Thursday began at the New School with the Opportunities Fair, an event organized to provide delegates with the opportunity to network with non-profits, professionals in the field of global development, and graduate schools for those delegates who were trying to move on to even further education. The dark circles under the delegates' eyes seemed darker, but the difference was fairly imperceptible, and who were the interns to judge as they each sported their own badges of honor, but belied yet again another night of engaging discussion. Leading into discussion teams, an hour and a half later, delegates emerged looking reinvigorated, more accepting of the doubt they had experienced yesterday, and more determined than ever to confront it. Best Practice workshops commenced soon after and delegates eagerly picked up more skills on how to improve their own organizations to more effectively have an impact on their community. By the keynote, that initial energy was starting to return and speakers such as Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, Ravi Karkara and Helen Lowman from the Peace Corps, in addition to the launch of 5 student campaigns at the United Nations, served to resurrect some of the excitement the delegates had lost.

Friday was the day everyone had been anticipating. In the morning, discussion teams brought to an end the thought-provoking talks they had all week, in an effort to change the way the delegates saw the world, to challenge their current paradigms and to urge them to change those paradigms to actually incite action and change. By now, with circles now most certainly darker than those at the beginning of the week, the delegates sauntered down the halls with the confidence that they had reevaluated themselves, ready to take on the world no longer as heroes, but as the best sidekicks the world has ever seen. Moving through the rest of the workshops, now hosted by organizations such as the United States Department of State, Mama Hope, Rare, and Kiva, delegates practically radiated impatience as the final Keynote Plenary was about to begin.

As they entered the room, they were greeted by speakers they had waited to hear from all week: Annie Griffiths, one of the first female photographers for National Geographic and founder of Ripple Effect Images, His Excellency Ambassador Federico Gonzalez Franco of the Permanent Mission of Paraguay to the United Nations, Jeffrey Sachs, renowned economist and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, Ms. Lakshmi Puri, director of UN Women, Richard Stengel, United States Under-Secretary of State, and Terry Crews, athlete, actor, entertainer, and now feminist. Their presence lit up the room and that vibrancy was back and stronger than ever. Ushering delegates out of the United Nations, after a keynote plenary stocked with speakers, proved near impossible and we were threatened many times that we would be locked in if we didn't clear out in a timely fashion. However, with the conference having come to a close, delegates found no end to the 7th Annual Millennium Campus Conference, only a beginning of something else. This conference was not confined to the constraints of four, information dense, and experience rich days, but instead continues on after. Now connected through the launch of the five campaigns, delegates have the ability to continue to lend assistance and work collaboratively to generate action and change in the world around them.