The strength of signatures
Positive Foundations collects signatures to promote Millennium Development goals
From April 19 through April 23, Allyson Goldsmith '10, the former executive director of Positive Foundations, eagerly approached various groups of people in the Usdan Student Center and asked them, "Would you like to help end world poverty? If so, then please sign this petition to demonstrate your support for the Millennium Development Goals as part of the Commit in September Campaign." By the end of the week, Goldsmith and other members of Positive Foundations, an on-campus group that promotes extra sustainable development, had collected over 650 signatures. The MDGs are eight international goals that were outlined in the United Nations Millennium Declaration in September 2000. The goals aim to cut extreme poverty in half by 2015, and according to Goldsmith, they include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger; achieving universal primary education; promoting gender equality and empowering women; reducing child mortality; improving maternal health; combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and creating a global partnership for development.
According to its website, the Commit in September Campaign aims to demonstrate young Americans' grassroots commitment to the MDGs ahead of this September's United Nations Millennium Development Goals Summit. At the summit, world leaders will come together to enhance efforts to achieve the MDGs.
Goldsmith says, "The Millennium Development Goals are up for review [at the summit], which means that they're going to extend the timeline to complete them. The timeline to complete them by was 2015, and most countries are not on track to complete the goals, so hopefully they're going to renew the goals so each country has to review their commitment to them."
For example, while some members of the U.N. have committed to giving 0.07 percent of their Gross National Product to help achieve development goals, some countries, like the United States have not fulfilled that commitment, says Goldsmith. This, among many other factors, has helped impede the completion of the development goals.
Still, according to the U.N. website, countries such as China are on track to achieve the goals of universal primary education, improved maternal health and ending extreme poverty and hunger.
The Commit in September Campaign hopes to collect 25,000 signatures to send to President Obama and the U.S. Congress in order to ensure the government's continued support for the MDGs.
The campaign was launched by the Millennium Campus Network, an umbrella group that brings together student organizations that are dedicated to ending extreme poverty and achieving the MDGs. The group was co-founded by Sam Vaghar '08 and Seth Werfel '10 in 2007 during the beginning of Vaghar's senior year at Brandeis. Campus groups dedicated to reducing poverty from 19 different universities in Boston, Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. are now a part of the network.
The network's board of advisers include leaders such as musician John Legend; Columbia University health policy and management Professor Jeffrey D. Sachs, who is the former Director of the U.N. Millennium Project and served as a Special adviser to former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Senator John Edward; and medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, who received an honorary degree at last Sunday's commencement.
Although Positive Foundations only has about 10 to 15 active members, the group collected the most signatures of any other group involved in the Commit in September Campaign. Vaghar says that the campaign has so far collected "a little over 3,000 signatures on paper, . so the fact that [Positive Foundations] got  out of 3,000 is amazing."
Goldsmith, who has bouncy black hair to match her enthusiastic demeanor, says that Positive Foundations took a proactive approach when trying to get signatures. Unlike many on-campus groups, members of Positive Foundations did not sit behind a table in Usdan and ask students to sign a petition as they passed. Instead, they energetically approached groups of students sitting in Usdan and spoke with them about the MDGs and the Commit in September Campaign.
"We basically tabled and dormstormed, and instead [of] tabling we walked around to each table and most people signed," says Goldsmith.
Vaghar sees Positive Foundations' strategy as unique and believes that it helped "put Brandeis at the forefront of leading this effort" in the campaign.
He says that Positive Foundations' contribution to the campaign has been outstanding because "they're proactive and aggressive and really stand up for what they believe in. I've seen a lot of student groups just sit at a table and wait for people to approach them. In Positive Foundations' case the students initiate the conversation. I haven't seen anyone do it better."
Marisa Turesky '13 is the Millennium Campus Network representative to Positive Foundations. She commutes into Cambridge twice a month to take part in Millennium Campus Network regional conferences and networking meetings. She attributes Positive Foundations members' successes in getting signatures to their dedication.
"We were able to achieve this because, although we are not a very large group, every one of our members is dedicated to the U.S. recommitting to the MDG in September and showed this by getting copious signatures! This drive and the support of the student body has made it relatively easy to get the number of signatures that we did," said Turkesky in an e-mail to the Justice.
The Commit in September Campaign will conclude on the eve of the United Nations Millennium Goal Summit with the Millennium Campus Conference from Sept. 18 to 20. The conference will take place at Columbia University and is the "culmination of the Commit in September Campaign," says Vaghar. "We're going to be inviting some real-world leaders and celebrities and more than 1,000 students."
Turesky says that being a part of the Millennium Campus Network helped motivate Positive Foundations to get signatures for the Commit in September Campaign. She says, "Knowing that there are hundreds of college students across the country working toward the same goal creates a unity and cohesion among all of the activist[s] and participants who are working on this campaign. We are working with more than just the Brandeis campus in this campaign, and that in itself is motivating.