The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Sam Vaghar (he/him/his), Executive Director & Co-founder of Millennium Campus Network (MCN). The Millennium Campus Network is a nonprofit geared toward training and supporting the next generation of leaders in global development. MCN also supports Millennium Fellows advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals on campuses across the US and in 20 nations.
Sam is an inspiration to the youth that want to get involved in entrepreneurship and public service. We caught up with Sam to find out what leadership means to him and what advice he would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
At nineteen years old, I read two books that clarified my north star: helping young people own their voices and power to make a difference. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, I learned about inequities in global health and the work of Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners In Health to address them. In The End of Poverty, reading about the challenges posed by extreme poverty gave me initial understanding of an unjust world in which hundreds of millions of people live on less than $1.90 per day.
Moved by what I was reading in 2007, I co-founded Millennium Campus Network (MCN) in my Brandeis University dorm room as a platform for undergraduates making a difference. We cultivate a commitment to ethical, collaborative leadership. Students reflect upon and engage with empathy, humility, and inclusion as guiding values while taking action locally to tackle poverty, disease, discrimination, and climate change.
Who inspired you to get involved?
Select leaders with global platforms and recognition have certainly provided inspiration, but I am equally moved by our Millennium Fellows and alumni who remind me why I do what I do. I’ve often reflected upon the stories of visionary young leaders I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with, from Kami Krista (https://www.millenniumfellows.org/fellowship-blog/kami-krista) to Shantel Marekera (https://www.millenniumfellows.org/asu/shantel-marekera). Their leadership inspires me to keep showing up and work in solidarity with young leaders, so that they can work in solidarity with their communities.
How do you define a leader?
My favorite leaders are extraordinary leaders, humble, and center youth voices. They recognize that the work of shaping a just world is intergenerational, and that young people may in many instances be disproportionately impacted by programmatic and policy decisions made today (i.e. on climate change). It is vital that we listen to the wisdom and aspirations of young people – from the civil rights movement to the movement to end apartheid, to the movement for climate justice, young people have been shifting public understanding, narratives, and public policy. I am moved by leaders who embrace and center youth leadership.
What projects are you currently involved with in the community that engages the next generation of leaders?
MCN and the United Nations Academic Impact partner to present the Millennium Fellowship (http://www.millenniumfellows.org). This leadership development program provides training, connections, and credentials to undergraduates advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The Fellowship now draws over 15,000 applicants annually and is active on campuses across the US and in 20 nations. 805 Millennium Fellows contributed nearly 100,000 hours to 422 unique projects in 15 nations in 2019, positively impacting the lives of over half a million people.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
First, if you are an undergraduate anywhere in the nation or globe, the Millennium Fellowship Class of 2021 application is open at http://www.millenniumfellows.org/apply and I invite undergraduates worldwide to apply now. There are already thousands of applicants, and we’d love to consider more young leaders committed to engaging with empathy, humility, and inclusion as guiding values in making the Sustainable Development Goals reality.
Second, I will share the best advice I ever received: “Never be afraid to talk to anyone.” While there certainly times when I (and likely most of us) have some fear, there are so many possibilities that emerge from reaching out of our comfort zones to connect with someone – particularly for causes we believe in. Try reaching out to new people (including me @samvaghar) and help shape a more just world.