The keynote speaker, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, is the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of the Grameen Bank, which currently provides low-cost loans to more than six million individuals, providing significant improvements socially and economically to the "poorest of the poor."
The second speaker, Greg Mortenson, is both best-selling author for "Three Cups of Tea" and established of over sixty elementary schools in poverty-stricken areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The final speaker Dr. Jeffrey Sachs, is director of The Earth Institute at Colombia University and special advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Program Coordinator for the Center for Innovation in the Liberal Arts and the Center for Integrative Studies Susan Carlson said that, "in spite of the scope of the issues discussed, the speakers had very optimistic attitudes." She connects this optimism to the fact that, "they are actually doing something, can see things changing and are making a difference."
Kyle Svingen '11, who attended the conference with a group of close to eighty students and faculty from St. Olaf, agreed. "The conference was really inspirational, demonstrating that big problems can be solved," she said, adding that it "was just maddening that we haven't yet."
Many students approved of Yunus' efforts in micro-lending abroad. Attendee Jonathan Cappelli '10 said Yunus "knew what he was doing and why he was doing it."
Focusing on "alleviating conflict by focusing on the extreme end of the poverty line," almost 97% of microfinance loans go out to women. Cappelli said that policy "makes sense because like Yunus said women are very committed to their families and almost always invest the money into their families, while men may not."
Carlson also said that Yunus' message was very clear; we need to start "bite-sized" loans because, "it may have the seed of something big."
Greg Mortenson had similar objectives, again focusing on women, hoping to empower them through education. Mortonson also talked about fighting terrorism through peace, by supporting education, especially women's education. As he would say, "we have too many boots and not enough sandals."
Carlson found the focus on women interesting because March 8 was International Women's Day.
Jeffrey Sachs, who was brought to the conference via videoconference, brought with him the statistic that "over the last four years more money has been spent on the war in Iraq, than the whole world has given in the past fifty years to Africa." Sachs, who was deeply involved in the formation of the Millennium Goals, said that "if countries gave.7 percent of their GDP extreme poverty would be eradicated by the year 2025."
This forum is unique in that it rotates round-robin style between the five Norwegian Lutheran Colleges: Augsburg, Augustana in Soix Falls, Concordia in Moorhead, Luther and St. Olaf. The "round-robin" collaboration, now in its twentieth year will be highlighting Al Gore and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) as the winners of this past year's Nobel Peace Prize next March at St. Olaf.
The focus on the sciences will tie in the newly declared theme for the up-coming school year of "science in the liberal arts." Carlson said that, "with our turn next year now the question now is what can we do to make it go really well and what can we do to capture student interest."