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Global challenges take center stage at 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.

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

“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.

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.