By Caroline Boschetto, news staff

An astronaut, a defector from North Korea, the founder of the Malala Fund and a host of other social leaders spoke to an audience of young aspiring entrepreneurs at Northeastern’s Blackman auditorium on Monday and Tuesday for a Forbes Under 30 Boston Summit event called the Impact Stage.

The Forbes Summit is an annual four-day event featuring motivational speakers, philanthropy, music and food festivals to recognize impactful young people and encourage future leaders in innovation. It is hosted in a different city each year, and Northeastern was one of four universities in Boston to host a content stage this year.

The speakers in Blackman auditorium shared stories of struggle and success, while encouraging the crowd to invest in social innovation through a range of fields.

“In my opinion, this Impact Stage is really the heart of the summit because we’re here to change the world,” Forbes executive digital editor Caroline Howard said.

Hyeonseo Lee, who fled the North Korean communist regime at 17 years old, spoke about how the challenges of her past inspired her activism. She started an organization in New York to give defectors in China and South Korea the assistance she said she did not have in her journey to liberation.

“I paid the enormous price to have this freedom,” Lee said. “I lost all my relatives. I lost all my friends and I lost my family for 14 years […] That’s why I feel like freedom isn’t free.”

Colin Goddard, a survivor of gun violence, said he also channels his personal experiences into his fight for gun legislation reforms as a senior policy advocate at Everytown for Gun Safety. He was shot four times during the 2007 Virginia Tech school shooting.

“I’m a firm believer in the idea that we as individuals should not be recognized for events that happen to us, but for what we choose to do with what happens,” Goddard said.

Northeastern professor and former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis moderated a panel on creating impact through political engagement. He said that he hopes current turmoil within U.S. politics will not deter millennials from becoming involved in politically involves.

“There is nothing, nothing in this world more satisfying than being in a position where you can make a difference in the lives of your fellow citizens,” Dukakis said. “And that’s what active political life makes possible.”

Businesses can also be instruments of positive change, said Shiza Shahid, founder and former chief executive officer of the Malala Fund. Through social enterprises, entrepreneurs would not have to compromise financial success in order to effect social progress, she said.

“Mission driven companies are the future,” Shahid said. “We can reimagine the world such that everything we do and the best of what we do has impact at its core and we’ll all be better off.”

The Impact Stage’s events included the final judging of Forbes’s $1 Million Change the World competition. Jeffrey Martín won the grand prize of $425,000 for his educational enterprise honorCode, which introduces computer coding lessons into K-12 classrooms in Atlanta.

The event also featured a preview showing of the pilot of the Amazon Video original series Good Girls Revolt, which portrays female journalists in 1969 who fought sexism in the workplace. Creators and actors from the show then joined a panel to discuss gender discrimination.

“We’re all speaking about [the issue] which is a fantastic thing,” said Good Girls Revolt actor Anna Camp, who is also known for her roles in Pitch Perfect and The Help. “I think we’re speaking about it more so, especially now because of this heated election that’s happening.”

Astronaut Sophie Milam spoke about the way gender roles played out while she lived in a hub simulation of Mars for 8 months with three men and two other women.

“Everyone cooked, everyone cleaned, everyone was chief engineer, everyone was chief scientist,” Milam said. “It was extraordinarily gratifying to see that all of these gender roles that people get so wrapped up in, they don’t exist unless there is a driving force behind them.”

Other speakers at Impact Stage included Black Lives Matter activist Deray Mckesson, MuslimGirl founder and editor-in-chief Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, “liberal redneck” comedian Trae Crowder and model and author Chrissy Teigen.

Jessica Charles, a Forbes event coordinator working at Impact Stage, graduated from Northeastern in 2009 with a degree in journalism.

“There are no words to be as proud as I am right now of Northeastern and how open they were to having the event here, how revolutionary the school is and how much it’s changed since I’ve graduated,” Charles said. “I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll one day see a Northeastern student on [stage].”

Sonja Pankow, who graduated from Northeastern in 2016 with a degree in corporate communications, said she came to the conference to get ideas for another Boston conference that she is helping to plan.

“When I saw all the different locations, they had the big tents at the City Hall Plaza and obviously Harvard Business School, I didn’t really expect Northeastern to be on that list of locations, so that was awesome,” Pankow said. “This feels like coming home.”

Alyssa Palmquist, a global health care fellow working at Gardens for Health International, said she appreciated the variety of perspectives the stage offered. She also said she was struck by the way the speakers encouraged young entrepreneurs to take action.

“I heard again and again ‘just do it,’” Palmquist said. “I think that was the main takeaway: You need to just put your idea out there.”

Photo by Caroline Boschetto