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Millennium Fellowship Alumni SDG 17 Series: Ariel Zhao on the Power of Partnership

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

This year we asked Millennium Fellowship alumni to share what SDG 17 (Partnership for the Goals) means to them. Over the next 4 weeks, Alumni will unpack what partnerships they leveraged to make their Social Impact work successful. They'll explore partnerships with their schools, peers, and communities, then share recommendations on how young people can create and navigate meaningful partnerships to create social change in their communities.


"The 2022 Millennium Fellowship has broadened my views on how I perceive the world. By expanding my project and utilizing multiple partnerships, I gained a better understanding of how to bring people from across the university together in collaboration in which we share interests like mental health advocacy. The fellowship has not only helped me expand my network, it also provided me with a chance to learn from others. I’m passionate about facilitating collaboration and an inclusive workplace where members feel a sense of purpose and belonging. In this article, I describe how my journey presents the dynamics and mechanics of effective partnership from four perspectives: partnership with the school system, teammates, community, and peers."


Partnership with School:

My journey with the Millennium Fellowship began in December 2020, when New York City was abnormally silent during the Covid-19 pandemic. I found out about the Millennium Fellowship Program in the New York University newsletter and was compelled to apply after reading about Fellows' projects and their work in advancing the SDGs. However, I have to admit that I was a little uncertain of the feasibility for me to expand the project to a scale with the current resources.

With a passion for working with youth and mental health, I would like to create a community-based project to increase awareness of mental health conditions among adolescents. In a world that is constantly evolving, forcing many children to grow up fast, I am eager to create a comfortable zone for adolescents to have open discussions on mental health and get access to the support they need. With the help of my NYU advisor, I got recommendation letters and successfully submitted my application on time.

Fortunately, in early August 2021, I was informed that my application was accepted. I was thrilled to start planning the recruitment of teammates. I reached out to my advisor Dr. de Leon to see if she could help me spread the word among the Silver School of Social Work. Dr. de Leon posted the news on multiple social media platforms which efficiently reached a large group of students. Without the help of Leon, it would have been hard for me to reach like-minded individuals within my major. As an international student, I cherish diversity and hope to engage students of different backgrounds. I value creativity and brainstorming within a team and believe it would be a great opportunity for everyone to learn. To achieve that goal, I reached out to the Departments of Psychology, Global Public Health, Applied Psych and CAMS (Child and Adolescent Mental Studies) and reached out to mental health-related clubs on campus. It wasn’t an easy task in the beginning, since I needed to schedule meetings with all supervisors and most were unavailable. With much effort, I eventually recruited enough teammates to start the project. One recommendation is that it would help super-motivated students to have better practices with a specific advisory panel that manages and shares resources on campus.

Partnership with Teammates :

In order to ensure a safe and accepting space for all the members to feel included and clear in their roles, I hosted seminars within the group once per week. I believe in encouraging teammates to utilize their strengths, so I make a list of roles with the skills needed and clear expectations for them to choose from. For example, teammates can choose different positions for each workshop that they participate in. We have positions such as lecturers, who are responsible for creating presenting content; we have a student administrator who manages emails, meetings and social media; we also have leaders to focus on other administrative work such as recording, managing breakout rooms, etc. Creating a spontaneous and creative work environment makes me feel like my teammates are more committed and motivated to their roles.

From my experience, I realized that not only does it take effort to recruit people that would fit the expectations for the project, managing this partnership with teammates is also very crucial and challenging sometimes

We communicate regularly through group chats and have discussions to reach compromise when tackling disagreements or other types of challenging situations. I believe transparent communication and empathetic leadership skills are key in regard to maintaining partnerships with team members.

Partnership with Community:

As the founder of the initiative, my fundamental role was outreach to potential community partners and negotiating a collaboration agreement with their supervisors. At first, I contacted a previous learning center where I tutored. After my call with the director, we had a mutual agreement to collaborate for our first workshop on “social media’s effect on body dysmorphia.” Even though I was able to find a partner in the community, I faced lots of challenges along the way while looking for partnerships.

This might be something that I hope to get more assistance with. We partnered with the same learning centre for two workshops in total. In addition to our media workshop, we hosted a second one on positive psychology. By designing flyers, PowerPoint presentations, and improving communication, we reached double the audience for the second workshop compared to the previous one. I love that we work towards one goal as a whole team and consistently push the progress forward.

As an undergraduate student, I lacked the resources to persuade community partners that collaborating would be mutually beneficial.

Partnership with Peers:

Talking about how we decided on the topics, we conducted short anonymous surveys with peers. Since our peers are all undergraduate students, we would let them reflect on how they felt at adolescent age and what struggles they saw most often in themselves and in their peers. This experience reveals that partnership with peers can contribute a more macro perspective on shared advocacy and community service. It helps us dive deeper into the market of target audiences. One concern was about predictability, in which the answers from college students might not correctly reveal the thoughts of today’s adolescents. The data was not right for the targeted demographics, since we are aiming for pre-college students, but we ended up researching among college peers. Society evolves faster than we expected, so I would most likely choose to research adolescents instead to convey a more accurate tendency in the future.


Author: Ariel Zhao. Ariel is a Class of 2021 Millennium Fellowship alumnus and student at New York University pursuing a B.S. in Social Work. As a Fellow, Ariel and her team ran 'ENGAGE', a community-based project spreading awareness about adolescent mental health conditions in New York. Learn more.


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