By Mayur Mukati, a student in the new Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program at the University of Toronto.
As part of my degree in the Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program at the University of Toronto, I recently had the incredible opportunity to attend the 2016 University Scholars Leadership Symposium (USLS’16) held in Hanoi, Vietnam. The objective of the Symposium was to share dialogue between like-minded individuals to enhance their self-perception and service-leadership.
This year, there were 700 emerging graduate and undergraduate leaders representing 69 countries. The Symposium consisted of lectures workshops and networking sessions with the specific focus on communities-in-need. The event sparked many exciting ideas on how we can bring change to lives, no matter where we live, what backgrounds we have, or what our lives are like.
3 Lessons Learned on How to be a Better Sustainability Leader
1) Embrace change without feeling powerless
In the networking sessions I realized that my passion to bring great change to communities in need was common among my peers. Some ideas included establishing renewable energy systems, finding solutions for clean drinking water and teaching people to be social-media savvy so that their voices could be heard. Equally common among us was a healthy dose of uncertainty as to our ability to bring about the changes we envisioned.
At a Symposium lecture “Our World is in Need” by David Begbie, the topic of how the feeling of powerlessness instils inaction was discussed. Begbie argued that even wealthy and powerful people feel that they are “not big enough” to bring about change. From the C-level executive to the middle manager to the renowned scientist, they all share a nagging insecurity. But with self-awareness and confidence to persevere anyone can be a leader who drives change.
2) “Systems Thinking” and Climate Change
As a graduate student in sustainability, I interacted with many curious minds who wanted to understand climate change and why a holistic approach is important when tackling global issues. I spent a long time trying to come up with a simplified version of what chain of events could unfold due to inaction on climate change.
During one of the symposium topics on human trafficking and sex slaves, I engaged my peers on the importance of sustainability by outlining “how an inefficient waste management strategy contributes to the vulnerability of women in becoming sex-slaves in the developing world.”
I suggested that both methane and carbon emissions from large amount of waste ending up in landfills or incinerators exacerbate climate change eventually increasing likelihood of natural-disasters, which leads to a greater frequency of people migrating to find safety. These mass migrations lead to an increase in conflicts in the host regions and ultimately women are pushed toward human-trafficking and sex-slavery. So, we must not only deal with the direct problem but also the resulting chain of problems. Let us hope that we make our future safer by incorporating a holistic perspective in adaptation and mitigation strategies in response to climate change.
Speaker Shandra Woworuntu, human-trafficking survivor and member of US Advisory Council on Human Trafficking gave an emotional speech on her life experience on human-trafficking. First-hand accounts of what abused populations must endure only reinforced my opinion of the importance of “Systems Thinking” and the notion that all aspects of sustainability – from climate change to human abuses – are inextricably linked.
3) The ever-increasing importance of stakeholder engagement
After 6 days of lectures, dialogues and networking, I realized what the world could look like if people started to take action on the issues discussed; but the problem of unheard stakeholder voices still remains.
The solution wasn’t anything new – we simply have to step into the shoes of all the stakeholders who are affected, or who affect, the problem. It is often hard to get into everyone’s mind and address their concerns, and that is why we need to come together to find common ground after analysing the costs-and-benefits associated with alternative pathways.
As a part of the learning journey, participants visited villages, the war museum, hospitals, and other places to experience the lives of villagers, patients, Vietnam War affected people, and children. We worked, we built, we cooked, we taught, we played, we danced, we sung, and we made them smile. In the end, they gave us more than we have imagined… they gave us a day of their lives to make us feel privileged enough to change the world!
An Inspiration – New Strength to Drive Change
This year’s symposium addressed concerns of sustainability with a special focus on the refugee crisis, human-trafficking, poverty, sexual-abuse and the effects of war (Agent Orange). All of these topics introduced by renowned speakers emphasized the importance of sustainability, both social and environmental. It was a truly an inspiring week and I hope that we can bring our learning back to our respective institutions and prompt others to think deeply about change as well.
I really enjoyed the week in Hanoi with local people, their food and the grace to feel happy with the little things in life. This journey was full of emotions, and words will never be enough for me to express what I felt there. I hope that this experience provides all of the students who attended, the strength to change our communities and work for the betterment of the Earth as one community.
To learn more about the U of T Sustainability Management Program as either a student or an industry partner – click here.
Mayur Mukati is a student in the University of Toronto’s new Master of Science in Sustainability Management Program