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John Abdulla is a New Media Specialist at Oxfam America.
I’ve been out of college for just over three years now, but in that time I’ve attended all three of the student-led Millennium Campus Conferences, which seek to rally students together around the UN Millennium Development Goals. This year’s conference came to Northeastern University, and I had the unique experience of attending not only as a former board member and current supporter of the host organization, Millennium Campus Network, but also as a speaker and employee of Oxfam America. The 2-day blitz of global development information, insight and inspiration has become something of an annual battery charge for me. This year I think I got an upgrade to lithium.
First, there are the world renowned speakers who attended the conference and awards ceremony, including the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Leymah Gbowee, Co-Founder of Partners in Health, Dr. Paul Farmer, and our own President of Oxfam America, Raymond Offenheiser. These international leaders shared the story of how they got involved in global development and imparted their own unique perspectives on how we must address the injustices of the world. Jeffrey Sachs, Special Advisor to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, went as far as to assign some homework to students; to end global poverty, with
a due date in 15 years. Though they have vastly different backgrounds, it was encouraging to hear a general trend among these speakers towards smarter development – that is, a focus on listening and partnering with the people we are aiming to help. I also appreciated a stronger emphasis on gender equality at this year’s conference, with Leymah Gbowee leading the way as she shared her work with young women in Liberia. Oxfam America’s Sarah Kalloch sat on a panel “The Impact of Women in Leadership Roles” and summed it nicely, giving a shout out to men in the room, because, “women’s rights issues are human rights issues.”
Equally as inspiring as all these wonderful talks, was meeting and hearing from the multitude of students who attended from around the country and world. Sure, their unadulterated level of idealism is infectious, but it is matched by a powerful pragmatism that gives me so much hope for the future of our country and world. Cutting well into Friday night and picking up again first thing on Saturday morning, 1,200 students packed keynote sessions, challenged panels and themselves with thoughtful questions and engaged each other in meaningful conversations. With all the talk about Millennial slacktivism, seeing this sort of “offline” energy rallied around addressing global poverty reminded me that good old fashioned activism is alive and well; plugged in and powering up.