“Aujourd’hui, je vais vous parler de…” My first public speaking competition was in the fifth grade when our French Immersion class was tasked with preparing a speech as part of Concours d’Art Oratoire. The topic of my presentation? Emily Carr, my favourite artist at the time (whose works I still cherish). I detailed Carr’s early childhood, and her passionate portrayal of Western Canadian forests and Aboriginal totems using charcoal, watercolour, oil paint, and even thinned house paint.
I continued to compete in Concours d’Art Oratoire until the ninth grade when I represented Mulgrave School in the FSL Grade 10 category at Provincials. I spoke about youth engagement opportunities in international relations and was awarded first place. These early years of honing the craft of public speaking have benefited me greatly throughout my academic and professional career thus far. Still, I experienced a wee case of butterflies-in- my-stomach as I prepped for my first paper presentation for the PRME UK and Ireland Chapter Annual Conference in Leeds, England.
Encouraged by my Global Supply Chain Management instructor, Dr Soheil Davari, I had submitted the paper my classmate Kathleen and I had co-written as part of our coursework. The paper’s focus had been UN Sustainable Development Goal number seven, “Affordable and clean energy for all”. While Kathleen had to return to Vancouver in May, we were thrilled to have had our paper selected for presentation. The opportunity to present at the PRME – standing for Principles of Responsible Management Education – conference was one that I could not pass up, despite it following right on the heels of my time in Cape Town. I flew straight from Cape Town to London, with a brief layover in Amsterdam, and then took the train to Leeds. By the time I checked into Storm Jameson Court residence hall at the University of Leeds, I had been travelling for 24 hours. I stretched my legs with a walk around the campus after settling into my accommodation, enjoying the late-evening twilight.
On Tuesday morning, I was up-and-at-‘em to make my way over to the University of Leeds’ Law building. I already knew from the agenda sent out that it was going to be a busy day, with speakers from industry, including Kellogg’s and Mott McDonald, as well as academics. I was also looking forward to learning more about PRME itself. As a United Nations-supported initiative, PRME was founded in 2007 and has over 670 signatories globally. PRME’s primary focus is to raise the profile of sustainability in schools and aims to see the UN Sustainable Development Goals realised through responsible management education (unprme.org, 2019).
Upon arriving in the lecture theatre, the first person I saw was Dr Davari, and my nerves dissipated. Dr Davari and the other University of Hertfordshire representatives immediately made me feel welcome into the group, and the day’s sessions flew by. We heard from Professor Binna Kandola, who spoke about unconscious bias in the workplace and how to create more diverse and inclusive workplaces. With the conference theme of “Making Global Goals Local” in mind, the Keynote panel presented various angles of how to integrate the SDGs into local business practices. Perhaps a result of my personal experience as a cooperative education student, the sessions I found particularly intriguing were Dr Laura Steele’s “Exploring the Opportunities and Challenges of using Digital Media to make Global Goals Local”, and Professor Sheila Killian et al. ’s “Experiential Service Learning in a PRME Context” presentations.
Wednesday morning arrived, and it was time for my presentation. I had prepared my slides prior to my trip to South Africa, so it was a matter of revisiting them and ensuring I had my speaking notes. A little bit of prep work in the morning, and I was ready to rock! As one of only two Masters students presenting at the conference, I had the opportunity to seek advice from numerous attendees at the previous night’s dinner, and channelled their wise reminders to breathe, speak clearly, pace myself, and enjoy the experience!
I addressed the crowd first by introducing myself and echoed Dr Steele and Dr Moogan’s cautions to the audience about my being a relative rookie to the world of academia. I could not have been better supported as a student at this incredible conference; from having a team of supporters from my home university, to the event organisers and the attendees, I felt comfortable and confident as I walked the audience through the different components of our research. I shared with them how I had initially sought advice on the paper topic from my father, who had encouraged me to consider trends in construction that are working to embrace environmentally and economically sustainable practises. Drawing on examples from companies such as Lego and Dole, I illustrated how multinationals are adopting sustainability initiatives into their supply chains to better adhere to UN SDG seven. As I concluded my presentation, the panel moderator, Dr Davis, asked me “what’s next?” and I was thrilled to be able to address the audience that my plans include pursuing a PhD with a vested interest in the SDGs.
Reflecting on my academic career, I am struck by the notion that while my audience has undoubtedly changed over the years, my academic interests have not. I am now able to incorporate those past research interests such as Emily Carr’s art and writing on environment and sustainability, and international relations theory, into my current degree, and I am elated to continue on this research trajectory.