By Liz Raffa
If you had a childhood like I did, you were fortunate enough to have parents that never implied that being a "superhero" was a man's job. Perhaps, like me, this is where your dream of saving the world began.
If, in fact, you are one of the women who also made it your mission to change the world, then you already know how important allies are. Think of the Justice League (was it just me who grew up on DC comics?) and how both men and women came together to use their unique superpowers as a team -- because even in comics, team work makes the dream work.
Not unlike the Justice League, the Millennium Campus Network works to bring college students together who offer exclusive perspectives and abilities and can network with each other to create better functioning partnerships. The non-profit does this by hosting an annual three-day conference, where delegates hear from keynote speakers, participate in network engaging activities and create lasting partnerships with each other. The college students work to further the eight United Nations Millennium Goals: eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, gender equality, reduced child mortality, improved maternal health, combat HIV, AIDS, Malaria and other diseases, environmental sustainability and global partnership for development.
Earlier this month, MCN put on their sixth Millennium Campus Conference hosted by Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida. Out of the 1,300 student leaders that applied, over 500 students registered from both international and domestic campuses and soon flew into Boca to spend the next three days working tirelessly with Millennium Team Leaders and other delegates to document their partnerships and develop challenge statements for their organizations.
In case you weren't able to make it to the MCC2014, here is a list of six top lessons the Millennium Delegates learned over the course of the three days.
1. How to network with each other effectively
True to its namesake, the MCN's primary focus is creating a platform for students to be able to meet each other on terms of a similar goal. Networking is a key tool in today's world for any ambition, but especially one that focuses on helping others. When Sam Vaghar, executive director and co-founder of MCN, envisioned the conference, he observed that even though there were thousands of students and organizations trying to better their environment, they were doing so individually. Teamwork is the cornerstone of mutual success. This weekend, delegates learned how to not only partner together, but how to create a lasting, realistic partnership that would effectively translate over after the conference was finished.
Julie Lewis, mother of famed musician Ryan Lewis, spoke to students about her project to bring better health care to areas suffering without it. Her 30/30 project began when she herself contracted HIV through a blood transfusion 30 years ago. Today, she reaches out to the youth for building hospitals and bringing doctors to those also suffering from HIV.
"Even the smallest act can have an impact, and send out a ripple effect," said Lewis to students at the conference. "The baton of global care and equity is being passed to you; take that idea of yours and times it by 30."
2. How to utilize technology
Arguably one of the most technologically amazing moments of the conference occurred during Sunday's Town Hall discussion panel. Hundreds of students were able to participate in a Skype group session with Dr. Al-Nasir Bellah, a medical doctor working in Iraq to bring about change in youth rights; Sana Afouaiz, the Vice President of the Moroccan Youth Climate Movement; and Dr. Mac Nelson, a leader working in internationally on the fight against the Ebola outbreak. It was one of those moments when you realize just how far our world has come, when we can converse with people at all corners of the globe over video-chat in a university performing arts center. Delegates were able to ask questions to the Skype contributors and panelists, including Dr. Ibrahim Gambari, former under-secretary general of the Department of Political Affairs for the United Nations.
3. There are others like them
It's easy to forget you are not alone in your endeavors to help others. In fact, many organizations struggle to maintain members for this very reason. If nothing else, these three days sent an electric shock to the morale of these student leaders that will send them home with the energy needed to carry on their ambitions. With performers such as Alexander Star, an upcoming musician who motivates through his incredible performances and positive messages, as well as keynote speakers such as Dr. Louise Ivers, Sr. Health and Policy Advisor to the Partners in Health Association, it was difficult not to feed into the buzz that these inspirational world-changers created.
"Stay enthusiastic; stay inspired; listen to the people who critique you," said Ivers. "Take this feedback on and prove them wrong. Form partnerships; stay connected; build the system, not the isolated project."
4. About each other's opinions and struggles
During discussions and activities, student leaders were able to deliberate issues they were having with their own organizations. Throughout the process, many found that others had similar obstacles in the past and found ways to overcome them. The delegates had opportunities to share strategies, ideas and connections that would help others to better their respective clubs.
"Engage with your institution, your staff, and your administrators. They're powerful allies," said a representative of the Jenzabar Foundation, a prominent MCN ally. "Partnership with your institutions is necessary if you want to continue this movement."
5. Why it's important to approach problems as a human
For the duration of the conference, a common motif echoed throughout each speaker's dialogue: the value of approaching conflict from the perspective of a human. Often times, even those looking to help others become trapped in their own pre-dispositions. The delegates spent the days renewing their abilities to both act and react as human beings and valuing the humanity in communities.
Nicholas Kristof, co-founder of the Half the Sky movement and a columnist for the New York Times, reminded his audience of their initial compassion.
"Connecting to a cause larger than ourselves provides a sense of order, purpose and meaning, that helps align ourselves," said Kristof. "The starting point is empathy."
6. The importance of everyone's "super power"
Just as the best part about the Justice League was that it combined the unique power of each individual superhero and made them better by acting together, the MCC2014 brought together different real-life heroes from around the globe and gave them a place to be better together. Change begins when we are able to not only celebrate the diversity that makes us who we are, but when we utilize it to make us better than we were before. You have a perspective that is all your own -- no one else can bring to the table what you do. It's time we work in conjunction with these "super powers" instead of fearing them.
Perhaps just as essential to understanding one's own "powers," is realizing that everyone is capable of adding their own ability to the mix. Not only were those who attended reminded of what's special about their leadership skills, but they were also reminded of the superpowers the people they work with have as well too. Every community is full of amazing people with ideas, feelings and perspectives that will help better their world.
As Carrie Hessler-Radelet, the director of the Peace Corps, reminded students, "You are the stars; you bring engagement and enthusiasm to the fight."
Likewise, prominent keynote speaker Kristen Davis, actress from "Sex in the City" and Global Ambassador to Oxfam International called upon students, "We need you; we need young people to step up and take action."
As the conference came to a close on Oct. 12, it was difficult to say goodbye to the many phenomenal delegates and leaders who had made it their commitment to better themselves for the sake of others over the weekend. I left that day knowing I had just met over 500 real life superheroes, and that someday, I would bear witness to the changes both they and those around them had made. Regardless of where they came from, their gender, their background, their ethnicity, their opinion, each had a super power unique to them that was revitalized and ready to take back with them. After all, the real power comes from the communities these leaders work with, and the places they are headed. I was honored to be part of such a transformation. This is truly a generation that will take what we do best and use it to work better together.