Senior helps unite anti-poverty groups

Student organizations bent on solving global poverty are constantly popping up at colleges across the country. But they almost always work alone — and that, says senior Will Herberich, has made them weaker.

But now Tufts students are partnering with peers from 17 other colleges in the Millennium Campus Network (MCN), an organization that promotes collaboration among humanitarian campus groups.

“Today, the conventional wisdom is you see a problem and you start your own nonprofit,” said Herberich, the network’s president and executive director.

“What we provide our groups with is a network,” MCN Boston District Coordinator Nicole Theobald, a Harvard University sophomore, told the Daily.

The MCN accepts any student organization pursuing one of the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 2000. The goals provide a set of benchmarks for eradicating poverty and improving socioeconomic conditions in developing countries to be met by 2015.

“Sharing ideas and realizing places where there is overlap is important,” junior Will Merrow said. He is the representative to MCN from Building Understanding through International Learning and Development (BUILD), a Tufts student group that joined the MCN this year.

“For example, there is a group at Harvard that is working in Kenya, and they have a program that gives farmers information about agriculture. BUILD works on agriculture in Guatemala,” Merrow said.

Engineers Without Borders, which also joined MCN this year, is the second Tufts group to become part of the organization.

MCN members from the network’s Boston district participated from Oct. 16-18 in Stand Up Against Poverty, an international series of events orchestrated by the UN annually in support of the Millennium Development Goals. Approximately 600 Boston-area students attended a rally at MIT and raised several thousand dollars for the MCN, Herberich said.

The goal of the event was to “show our politicians that these issues matter, that there’s a grassroots support behind [the issues],” Herberich said.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and famed economist Jeffrey Sachs, a member of the MCN’s celebrity-studded Board of Advisors, delivered video messages during the event. More than 173 million people worldwide participated in Stand Up Against Poverty, earning it recognition from Guinness World Records as the largest mobilization of people in history.

The MCN has districts in Chicago, Washington, New York City and Boston, where Herberich co-founded the organization in 2007. Districts hold monthly meetings, in which the college chapters discuss common challenges and potential solutions. Groups from Harvard, Brandeis, Northeastern and Boston Universities, Curry College, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Tufts are part of the Boston district, which holds meetings twice a month.

The Boston district has proven the most effective at bringing together student groups within individual universities.

“Just because [groups] are from the same school doesn’t mean they’re talking to each other and planning together,” Theobald said. Increased cooperation can yield many benefits, such as co-sponsoring events to increase attendance.

MCN member organizations send minutes from their own meetings to Theobald, who identifies common themes and puts organizations into discussion groups for the next district meeting.

MCN members discuss topics ranging from encouraging meeting attendance in their individual student groups to finding grants.

One conversation involved learning to make an organizational pitch in under two minutes, which Theobald said a lot of students benefited from.

“You can use that information to get people interested in your group or get a potential sponsor,” Theobald said.

MCN sessions provide opportunities for learning and development, fostering “stronger groups, more effective groups, better at doing the jobs they’re doing,” Theobald said.

Starting in the spring, the MCN national branch plans to distribute grant money to its nationwide network. About $20,000 will be available in 2010, and the organization plans to distribute $60,000 in 2011, according to Herberich.