Global challenges focus of Millennium Campus Conference

If at first you don’t suc­ceed, you may very well be on the right track.

That sen­ti­ment was expressed by a world-​​renowned anthro­pol­o­gist and physi­cian speaking at the fourth-​​annual Mil­len­nium Campus Con­fer­ence on Sat­urday at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity. The event brought together glob­ally promi­nent speakers and more than 1,200 col­lege stu­dents from the United States and around the world, including Haiti, Bangladesh, Pak­istan and Liberia.

“Don’t let your defeats dampen your spirits. They cer­tainly didn’t dampen mine,” said Dr. Paul Farmer, in describing a series of per­sonal and pro­fes­sional mis­fires that led him to co-​​found Part­ners in Health, a non­profit inter­na­tional health and social jus­tice organization.

Deliv­ering a keynote address on Sat­urday morning in Blackman Audi­to­rium, he added, “You can’t plan ahead for every defeat. You can’t antic­i­pate the minor set­backs or the major ones.”

The con­fer­ence focused on addressing the United Nations’ Mil­len­nium Devel­op­ment Goals, which all 193 U.N. member states have pledged to achieve by 2015. These goals include erad­i­cating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving uni­versal pri­mary edu­ca­tion; and com­bating HIV/​AIDS, malaria and other diseases.

Dr. Paul Farmer, founder and chief strategy officer for Partners in Health, delivered a keynote address.

The con­fer­ence was orga­nized by the 5-​​year-​​old Mil­len­nium Campus Net­work, a non­profit net­work of uni­ver­sity stu­dent 
orga­ni­za­tions on 30 cam­puses in Boston, Chicago, New York and Wash­ington, D.C. MCN exec­u­tive director Sam Vaghar noted that the net­work was inspired by the work of Columbia pro­fessor Jef­frey Sachs, one of the planet’s fiercest advo­cates for global development.

“We have our chal­lenges ahead and you are the ones that will make the dif­fer­ence,” Sachs told stu­dents on Sat­urday after­noon. “It will be your brains, your hearts, your efforts on the ground that deter­mine if we succeed.”

The con­fer­ence aligned with Northeastern’s focus on con­ducting use-​​inspired research that solves global chal­lenges in health, secu­rity and sus­tain­ability, and dove­tailed with the university’s unique model of expe­ri­en­tial edu­ca­tion in which stu­dents work, study and con­duct research in 92 coun­tries worldwide.

North­eastern pres­i­dent Joseph E. Aoun spoke at the start of Saturday’s events, urging stu­dents to con­tinue working toward the conference’s mis­sion for the rest of the year. He praised the con­fer­ence atten­dees, noting that their real-​​world expe­ri­ences play an impor­tant role in solving global devel­op­ment challenges.

“Many of the the­o­ries of devel­op­ment have been con­cocted in the class­room or in the office. And many of those strate­gies haven’t worked because they were devel­oped purely as theory,” Aoun said. “This is why what you are doing is res­onating, why it is working, and why it is fit­ting with the ethos of Northeastern.”

More than 1,200 students from around the world attended the conference, held at Northeastern on Friday and Saturday.

Other speakers at the con­fer­ence included the 2011 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Leymah Gbowee, and Emilia Pires, the min­ister of finance in Timor-​​Leste, a devel­oping nation in South­east Asia with a pop­u­la­tion of approx­i­mately 1 million.

The con­fer­ence also high­lighted stu­dent devel­op­ment efforts at an inno­va­tion expo held Friday evening and served as a pow­erful oppor­tu­nity to net­work and collaborate.

“We’re all facing our own chal­lenges, but so much of what we do is uni­versal,” said Delaney Ban­nister, an inter­na­tional affairs and com­mu­ni­ca­tion studies com­bined major who grad­u­ated from North­eastern in May and now works for Jola Ven­ture, a for-​​profit social enter­prise backed by IDEA, Northeastern’s Ven­ture Accel­er­ator. “Events like this let us be a part of the latest inno­va­tions hap­pening in the field.”  In hosting the con­fer­ence, North­eastern joined a group of uni­ver­si­ties com­prising Columbia, Har­vard and MIT, which hosted the inau­gural event in 2008.