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Over 20 Penn students were awarded the Millennium Fellowship by the United Nations this year.

Credit: Melanie Hilman

The United Nations recognized the impact of over 20 students at Penn through the Millennium Fellowship, a program that aims to empower young leaders committed to driving sustainable social change.

The UN Millennium Fellowship, a semester-long leadership development program, selects students based on merit and commitment to impactful social initiatives aligned with the UN's 17 Development Goals. The program does not offer project funding but seeks to leverage collaboration within a global network of current and past fellows. 

Originally scheduled to commence in September, the program faced delays due to a lack of financial support, Wharton junior and campus director Preet Shah said. Despite these challenges, through meetings with University officials and external backers, Shah and fellow campus director and Wharton junior Achint Das successfully secured the necessary funding for the program. 

“The Fellowship connects and supports students in implementing and collaborating on social impact projects in a global community,” Das said. 

The program's official launch this year occurred last week, with campus directors leading gatherings for their cohort. These sessions, totaling a minimum of eight throughout the program, serve as platforms for shared learning and constructive challenges. Fellows are tasked with crafting actionable plans for collaborative sessions.

Shah started Swachhagraha, a collaborative effort supporting socioeconomically disadvantaged families through financial, social, and educational means. Boasting an impact with over 1.2 million volunteers, Shah said he envisions digitalizing the campaign through a mobile application, aiming to enhance efficiency and scalability for even greater outreach.

College sophomore and UN Millennium Fellow Kareena Shankta launched the Horizon Project, a venture to adopt under-funded schools worldwide. The project focuses on providing vocational classes and fundraising campaigns to revamp facilities, ultimately enhancing these schools' education quality. 

Shankta's project originated from her charitable art initiative, Kayasha, which aimed to address hunger and starvation issues in India caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“I am passionate about sustainable community upliftment and education reform. I believe these are problems that perturb our society locally and have become global problems now,” Shankta said.

College sophomore Avia Weber brings her Made of More Project to the Millennium Fellowship, which involves global fundraisers and advocacy events to support the adoption community. Her engagement in the Millennium Fellowship allows her to connect with adoptees and adoption-related organizations globally, emphasizing the importance of fostering connections and sharing knowledge to create positive change. 

“I was most excited to join a network of students with a shared mission as we learn together through their weekly webinars and countless resources they provide us,” Weber said.

Last year, 27 Penn students were awarded the Millennium Fellowship.