Sam Vaghar: Helping Young People Own Their Voices

Sam Vaghar

Ladderworks is a publishing platform of diverse stories with the mission to inspire kids and youth around the world to become empathetic entrepreneurs. This series features interviews with founders working on SDG 4 – Quality Education by a character named Spiffy. During COVID-19, education is especially important, so let’s get ready to learn!

Hey again! My name is Spiffy, I’m an interplanetary journalist and education enthusiast. Today we’re talking about someone who works with a lot of students. Just because they’re still in school doesn't mean they can’t already show their full potential. Let’s meet Sam Vaghar!

SPIFFY: Howdy Sam! What are you aiming for with Millennium Campus Network?

Sam: My north star is helping young people own their voices and power to make a difference. Since 2007, Millennium Campus Network (MCN) has provided training, connections, and credentials to undergraduates tackling poverty, disease, discrimination, and climate change. To date, MCN programs have helped over 7,000 young leaders deepen their contributions to communities and launch social impact careers.

SPIFFY: Were you inspired to do this by an experience? What motivated you?

Sam: At nineteen years old, I read two books that changed my life: Mountains Beyond Mountains & The End of Poverty. 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 an initial understanding of an unjust world in which hundreds of millions of people live on less than $1.90 per day. I co-founded Millennium Campus Network (MCN) in my Brandeis University dorm room to respond to this crisis.

Sam Vaghar shaking hands with President Barack Obama

Above, Sam shakes hands with President Obama. Image courtesy of Sam Vaghar.

SPIFFY: What are you doing to help the world become a more equitable place?

Sam: We launched the Millennium Fellowship to provide training, connections, and credentials to undergraduates advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. In 2018 we formally partnered with the United Nations Academic Impact on this leadership development program. We are building a diverse community (39% first-generation college students, 56% female, 87% people of color) trusted by graduate programs and employers, and helping emerging leaders launch their social impact careers.

SPIFFY: What milestones have you reached in the process?

Sam: In 2018, MCN and the United Nations Academic Impact partnered to present the Millennium Fellowship. And we’ve had an impact – the Fellowship now draws over 15,000 applicants annually and is active on campuses in 20 nations. In 2019 alone, 805 Millennium Fellows contributed nearly 100,000 hours to 422 unique projects in 15 nations, positively impacting the lives of over half a million people.

SPIFFY: You suuuure have had an impact. How has failure been a part of your journey? Has anyone helped you overcome this?

Sam: Launching and sustaining a youth-centered program requires resilience. At various stages of this twelve-year journey, there were reflection points in which we questioned the viability of our programmatic and business models and considered whether our work could continue. In these moments, I’ve reflected upon the stories of visionary young leaders I’ve had the pleasure of learning from, from Kami Krista to 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.

SPIFFY: Have you learned anything unexpected from someone recently?

Sam: Rebecca Riccio of Northeastern University taught me something revealing about the UN Sustainable Development Goals. It is important to not just work towards the Goals; it is important to live our commitments to these Goals to tackle poverty, disease, discrimination, and climate change. The difficult times in our world calls out for daily, personal commitments to a more just world. I am grateful to Rebecca for helping me clarify not only what I believe but helping me reflect on how to live my beliefs in daily life. Thank you for talking to me Spiffy.

SPIFFY: Of course, Sam! Thanks for the insights. :)

Sam Vaghar (he/him/his) is the Executive Director & Co-founder of Millennium Campus Network (MCN), which supports undergraduates advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Sam is also a graduate student at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and a Gleitsman Fellow at its Center for Public Leadership. Engage @samvaghar.

© 2020 Ladderworks LLC. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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