Monday, 18 May 2015

The Business of Creative Thinking: The Key to Solving Social Problems

Visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk announced on the 1st of May at the launch of the Tesla ‘Powerwall’ that he expects to "fundamentally change the way the world uses energy". The ‘Powerwall’ is a sleek suitcase-sized lithium-ion battery designed for homeowners to store energy. Musk proposes that in conjunction with solar cells, the technology has the potential to usurp the need for fossil fuels to drive sustainable growth in the developing world. Musk talks a big game, but as the brains behind Paypal, Solar City, Hyperloop, SpaceX and Tesla Motors, his pedigree throws weight behind his audacious rhetoric.

Although undersupply is undoubtedly a calculated strategy to stoke interest and publicity, Tesla have booked $800m in first week sales for the ‘Powerwall’ and have sold out until mid-2016.

I took particular interest in Tesla’s shift into the energy market as I spent the summer interning at the Resources and Energy Division of NSW Trade & Investment as part of the Business School’s Industry Placement Program (IPP). My primary role in the department was to develop a research paper on the ‘New and Emerging Resources Industry in NSW’.

I can’t simply accept that a battery can fundamentally change the way the world uses energy overnight, but there is certainly considerable momentum building towards renewable energy technologies becoming cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels. My IPP experience was immensely challenging, but it was also a thoroughly rewarding experience. Authoring a research paper has been a much needed leg-up in the competitive graduate job application process.

I was also fortunate enough to have travelled to India in July 2014 with the 40K Group as part of the Business School's Community Placement Program (CPP). In alignment with Musk’s business philosophy, my CPP experience tested the hypothesis that for-profit ventures can act as an agent to drive sustainable social change. After undertaking a thought provoking unit on social entrepreneurship, I worked in Bangalore with a team of nine tertiary students from various academic backgrounds to develop a clothing line for sale in the Australian market. Ultimately, the business is now fully functional and our products can be purchased at the 40K Online Marketplace.
I would highly recommend going on the 40K Globe Program and if you are interested in getting involved, watch the video below and apply at the 40K Globe website.

Musk has already achieved many great things, but it is his attitude to selecting his colleagues that differentiates him from the rest. As he puts it, "The problem is that at a lot of big companies, process becomes a substitute for thinking. You're encouraged to behave like a little gear in a complex machine. Frankly, it allows you to keep people who aren't that smart, who aren't that creative."

Whilst consciously sounding like a billboard, my CPP and IPP experiences have genuinely taught me far more than any classroom based subject ever could. Working in a rural village in Bangalore was an insightful contrast to working in the heart of Sydney’s CBD, yet both experiences were tremendously worthwhile for various reasons. I was taken out of my comfort zone, made many new friends and developed skills that have made me confident of achieving a successful transition into the professional world. 

Andy Burgess
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

A Light in the Dark

I arrived in Bangalore, India in the evening. A beautiful red sunset hung over the city skyline as I was driven to ‘the hive’, where our team was to live and work for the next four weeks. I was in India as part of the Business School's Community Placement Program, to partake in a month long fellowship with Pollinate Energy, a social business that enables access to sustainable technologies. Founded by a group of Australians, Pollinate Energy seeks to do social good by targeting groups of people that otherwise have no access to these technologies by making the technology affordable, and by remaining fully accountable to the customer and ensuring that the products are fulfilling their purpose.

Over 292 million people in India live without electricity. They rely on very crude technologies for their light and heat, most often kerosene lamps. These lamps are not only expensive to fuel, bad for the environment and a poor source of light, but they’re incredibly toxic. Indian families are forced to risk carbon monoxide poisoning and respiratory disease just to light their lives after dark.

Pollinate Energy has developed solutions based on solid research and community understanding. Not only is Pollinate fighting kerosene poisoning through the use of solar lamps, but by hiring Pollinators to sell and distribute the product, they’re creating employment too. They’re giving individuals in slum communities the chance to stand on their own feet and be stakeholders in their future growth.

My role was to work within a team to develop a strategy to sell a new product range of water filters, and to continue selling the solar lights to the communities around Bangalore. Unlike traditional internships, we were given a huge amount of responsibility early on, and it was up to us to steer the direction of the new product sales – a task that was daunting at times, but hugely rewarding. Our average day involved brainstorming ideas for the most effective way to sell the water filters, and then setting out into the communities in the afternoon and evenings to try out different methods to sell the products with local Indian entrepreneurs.

Perhaps one of the most confronting things about the working with Pollinate Energy was being faced with the sheer poverty in some of these communities and the obvious language barrier that existed. However, it was a joy to see that even though the people living in these communities lived in such adversity, they seemed so cheerful and happy.

I learnt a significant amount about social business in my time at Pollinate. As it doesn’t operate like a charity or a traditional business, the company has to carefully balance both the economic and social goals of the enterprise to ensure their mission and goals are met. In the case of Pollinate Energy, their goal is to reach more people by expanding their operations into nearly every major Indian city by 2020. They know they can’t do this by giving away products for free, so in order to reach more people and create a greater social impact, they sell the lights and other products to create more revenue, and therefore scale up their social impact.

It was hugely rewarding to meet our goals of selling over 50 water filters by the end of the month. When the solar lights were first presented to the communities, they took time to gain widespread adoption – and now they literally sell themselves. Hopefully we see the same result for the water filters, as a simple change in the cleanliness of drinking water could have a huge impact for the lives of the people in these communities.

Scott Ellice-Flint
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

My Industry Placement Program Experience at PwC Beijing

It is always a good opportunity to have real world experiences as a business student. What is happening in the real world very is very important to me to complement my studies in the classroom. Six months ago, I was lucky enough to join the Industry Placement Program (IPP) and work at PwC in my hometown, Beijing.

I’m the kind of person who always strives to set goals before taking action. At the beginning, I put down a few objectives. However, the story in the real world is always different, insofar as you never have the chance to complete your goals one at a time. Unlike the classroom, you can easily feel overwhelmed by many tasks and must be able to adapt to the pace in the firm in order to catch up with others as soon as possible.

I worked in the Risk & Assurance department for two and half months. Our job included designing and evaluating internal control systems for some state-owned enterprises in China. It started with a few days of preparing and editing biding documents for clients, and also many other tedious, but important jobs. 'Every brick is essential for building a house', and from the very beginning I began to develop an understanding of the whole business.

Later, I was given the opportunity to further grasp the essence of the job on a three-week business trip. Working in a team is always very interesting. None more so than in one of the Big Four accounting firms, as I had so many opportunities to interact with people from different backgrounds, and, as such, dramatically improved my interpersonal skills. One extremely valuable experience was the opportunity to interview senior managers of our clients, allowing me to understand how managers conduct their work and think from their perspective.

The unique element that distinguishes IPP from other programs is that it actually provides the chance for peers to share their experiences. In China, all the participants lived together, no matter which company they were allocated over the six-week period, which gave us the chance to share all our interesting stories. Even the catch-up on weekends was a special part of it. Having heaps of friends around you to talk about the funny things, not only helps you learn more about office politics, but also enriches the experience, as you are not on your own.

Overall, I gained insight and tranferable skills in a diverse range of areas. Time management is perhaps the most important one, as you have to cultivate multi-tasking skills in order to meet deadlines. In addition, learning how to handle stress in the workplace, especially in professional services, can help you to achieve more and also make the work more enjoyable.

I really appreciate that I had the opportunity to put what I’ve leant in to practice during my last year at Uni, and I can’t wait to graduate and have more exciting stories in the future.

Anqi Dong
Anqi is an international student student at the University of Sydney Business School. Anqi recently completed an internship with PwC in Beijing as part of the Industry Placement Program.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Just need to take the first step

Nine months ago, I stepped off the plane in Sydney after many hours in flight. It was an early chilly morning. Looking at the newly risen sun, I took a deep breath of the cold air, full of unfamiliar smells, telling myself that I could fulfil my goals.

However, to achieve these goals was anything but easy. I thought I had learned English well enough, but then I found myself barely understanding the conversations around me. I thought I was good at studying, but then I found myself having difficulties applying my knowledge to real cases. I thought I could find an internship at a local firm in the same way I did in China, but then I found myself limited in many aspects as an international student. There were so many challenges and much competition. I was scared. I began to lose confidence.

It was at this point that I decided to go for a consultation at the Business School career kiosk. Through the consultation, I realised that since the possibility for an international student to enter a local firm would be relatively slim unless haivng a high English level and necessary working skills that could match native students, what I needed to do was take a step forward, leaving my comfort zone to enhance my capabilities.

The first step I took was taking part in Neuroblastoma Australia – a charity activity – as a volunteer. At the beginning, I was too shy to speak and was afraid of doing things wrong. But as soon as I finally took the first step to start chatting with Shirley, a friendly girl who was working next to me, I immediately knew that I had worried too much. Actually, we had many things in common, and we might have kept talking forever if time permitted.

Later she introduced me to her friends who were also working there as volunteers. Gradually, the barrier in my heart disappeared. At the end of that day, not only did I finish my job well, but I also got to meet many new friends and had fulfilling conversations.

Encouraged by this volunteer experience, I joined many other activities. At the same time, I kept gaining employment skills from the Business School's Careers and Employability Office (CEO) career workshops, where I learned how to modify my resume, enabling me to stand out in an Australian employment environment. I also embraced opportunities to network with employers and recruiters, and so on. Several months later, in the summer holiday, I was offered an internship position from a Sydney company, which although small, provided me with a great opportunity to apply what I’ve learned in a real-world setting.

A week ago, I walked into the career kiosk consultation office again. This time, I had a professional resume with two pages full of my extra-curricular activity and internship experiences in hand, and talked in much more fluent English with a confident tone. I was going there for Industry Placement Program (IPP) application advice.

Another winter is coming now. Looking at the newly risen sun, I take a deep breath of the cold air, and smile. It is never easy to go uphill, but it may not be as hard as we think as well. All we need to do is take the first step, and have the initiative to be fully prepared for future opportunities, so that when we look back, we will be proud of how far we have walked.

Brenda Zeng
Brenda is an international student and current student at the University of Sydney Business School.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Thoughts on International Women’s Day 2015

In my final semester at university I had the pleasure of being involved in an exciting, refreshing new student-run society, the University of Sydney Network of Women - known as NOW. Launched in semester two last year, NOW aims to connect, compel and collectively inspire aspiring female leaders.

About six months on, NOW has evolved rapidly into an organisation capable of collaborating with Capital W (a similar society at the University of New South Wales) to celebrate International Women's Day. On the 13th March at the Museum of Contemporary Art, NOW co-hosted approximately 200 guests and a panel of esteemed business men and women including journalist Catherine Fox; Glen Boreham, former CEO of IBM Australia and New Zealand; Susan Ferrier, National Managing Partner of People, Performance & Culture at KPMG; Kevin McCann, Chairman of Macquarie Group; and Jessica Roth, Founder of Social Impact Hub. The panel led an engaging discussion around the theme of collaboration and gender equality within the workplace. The discourse prompted me to reflect on the existence of gender pay gaps, glass ceilings (or thick ceilings of men, as described by Catherine Fox) and unconscious bias within the corporate world.

International Women’s Day panel (L-R): Catherine Fox, Glen Boreham, Susan Ferrier, Kevin McCann & Jessica Roth

The panel also discussed the unfortunate stagnation in progress that has occurred in recent years, with females still overwhelmingly underrepresented in leadership positions across all sectors. Alarmingly, the pay gap increased by 1.5% between 1996 and 2012 to 17.4%, whilst the increase in the number of female board directors between 2002 and 2010 was only 0.2%. Throughout my education, I have never felt that I have had less opportunities than my male counterparts. Therefore, such data raises questions for me personally, as I wonder if my gender will inhibit my future career success. I ponder what is causing female underrepresentation: are women not ‘leaning in’? Are societal expectations that women are the primary child carer hindering their career success, whilst consequently inhibiting men from being able to accept more parenting responsibilities? Susan Ferrier discussed the introduction of unconscious bias training for leaders at KPMG and I questioned, will I be the victim of unconscious bias in the future?

I suppose a more important question, and one that was considered by the panel, was how can we solve this inequality? The approach established by Elizabeth Broderick, the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, to launch the Male Champions of Change initiative offers a refreshing solution (and we were blessed by Kevin McCann and Glen Boreham’s insights, who themselves are two Male Champions of Change). This initiative aims to include men in the discourse about gender inequality and leverage their roles as leaders to instill change. Comments by male classmates who hear about NOW and in anger claim, "I'm going to create a Network of Men", reinforces the need to include men in the conversation and encourage them to campaign for gender equality (not to mention the acronym NOM isn’t quite as powerful and clever as NOW).

As Kevin McCann discussed, it's not about ‘man-praising’, where men stand above women encouraging them, it's about working alongside each other for change, recognising that gender inequality is a societal problem and that solving it will result in social and economic benefits for both sexes. NOW have come to a deeper understanding of the need for male support, and are committed to including our male classmates in future conversations (and we challenge our male peers to have the courage to be involved).

Guests at NOW and Capital W's International Women's Day Breakfast

Overall, my involvement with NOW has left me feeling empowered, enlightened and more educated on the reality of gender inequality in the workplace. Bringing this conversation to a university level is important, as it allows the leaders of tomorrow to reflect on this situation and contemplate solutions. NOW also provides a platform through which passionate, driven peers with similar desires to initiate change can connect. This has been truly enriching and will undoubtedly benefit each of us as we embark on our own journeys into the workforce.

As aptly described by American writer Gloria Steinem and echoed recently by Emma Watson, “The human race is a bird – and it needs both its wings to fly”. I look forward to working in a society where men and women can benefit from gender equality, and NOW is committed to promoting this change.

Alexandra Meek
Recent graduate of the University of Sydney Business School, Bachelor of Commerce (Liberal Studies)

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

AIESEC: Global Youth Leadership

AIESEC is a student society which specialises in arranging overseas volunteering programs. There are programs in almost every continent, and my program was in Taiwan. It was an education project in Hsinchu called, ‘Bridge the Gap’.

Taiwan has always been a country that I have wanted to visit, and I have always felt that the best way to get to know a foreign country is to live the local life. Furthermore, I wanted to spend the three months of my summer holidays doing something meaningful and memorable. So I applied, and I couldn’t have given myself a better 21st present.

Like many people, when I heard about the volunteering opportunity with an education program, I thought I would be teaching a small class at a rural school in the mountains with only fundamental supplies and furniture. I was wrong. Instead, I taught at a public elementary school which comprised of more than 1000 students. Initially, I was arranged to teach from year 3 to year 6, but later, due to the amount of positive feedback, I also taught year 1 and year 2 students.

Altogether, I taught 48 classes and presented 64 lessons throughout the 6 week program. I also arranged an Australian cultural camp. I taught my students Aboriginal Art and also brought in lamingtons and vegemite for them to try. It was definitely an accomplishment which I never thought of achieving.

As Taiwan does not have a multicultural society, naturally, students have less exposure to different cultures around the world. It was the first time I felt privileged for living in a multicultural environment. The aim of my program was to broaden my students’ global perspective. Thus, in my lessons, I taught them about Australian culture: our food, language, landscape, etc. I even showed them what an Australian Primary School is like.

I also had to assign homework to the students and their task was DIY postcard. Many of them wrote that when they grow up, they wanted to travel to Australia. Unexpectedly, I became a free ambassador for Tourism Australia.

I was hosted by one of my students’ family and they definitely exhibited the hospitable nature of the Taiwanese people. However, the best thing about the AIESEC program was that I got to meet other volunteers from around the world. I made friends from Chile, Brazil, the USA, Korea, New Zealand, Vietnam, Singapore and many more places. Like me, most of my volunteer friends have never been to Taiwan. For this reason, everyone bonded very quickly and looked after each other like family. The other volunteers were in different programs, including community service, farming and other education programs. However, we planned weekend trips, dinners, and Christmas and New Year celebrations together. 

Often, we only actively interact with people who have a similar background or interests. However, when you are in a foreign country knowing nobody, you are forced to bond and connect with people from different backgrounds and walks of life. Making friends with people who you would usually never interact with didn’t seem so hard anymore. I managed to gain a new perspective of the world and this was definitely one of my biggest gains.

In my application for this program, I wrote: ‘It is through giving that we receive’. I felt that I have definitely received a lot more than what I have given: better social and communication skills, self-management skills, independence, satisfaction and most importantly, the courage and confidence to do something that was not in my comfort zone. If in the coming holidays you fail to obtain an internship or a job, I would definitely recommend volunteering as a substitute. By being in a different environment, you will definitely discover a new perspective of yourself.

Anna Zhou
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The city that became home

Doris Xu is an undergraduate student at the University of Sydney Business School. She is currently in the United States as part of the Washington DC Placement Program, offered by the Business School in partnership with the United States Studies Centre.  

I closed my eyes.

Next to me, my roommate’s speaker was playing the acoustic album from her favourite artist, Above and Beyond. A door away, one of my flatmates was finishing her House of Cards Season 3 binge on Netflix. In the kitchen, the other was cooking her dinner, the aroma of food filling the room through the half-opened door.

When I first arrived at Room 803, it was empty. I could hear my heavy breathing from dragging my luggage from the taxi to the lobby, and my footsteps wading across in my wet UGG boots. But not anymore.

Over the past nine weeks, we have filled in the blank space of eerie silence. Our wardrobes became full, our beds made (at least in the first week) and class notes piled up on the table. We no longer kept to our own desks or rooms. We popped around wondering what each other was doing. We shared food and desserts and complained to each other about how fat they were making us, while scraping the bottom of the pan for the brownie crumbs. We planned trips, to Philly or to the zoo, or when we felt like we really needed that dress down the road.

At work, I learnt the doorman’s name, although still having trouble pronouncing it properly. Our workstations, once clean and tidy and bland, now decorated with sticky notes of reminders arranged by colour, on the drawers, on the boards, next to the computer. Research and meeting papers lied on the desk, ruffled as often used. We eyed the kitchen or front desk for new treats, be it greentea chocolate from Tokyo or sheep cupcakes in celebration of Chinese New Year. We gathered around the conference room to have lunch, where stories from all over the world came: from midnight taxi rides in South Korea to Spanish wine festivals.

Over the past nine weeks, I saw snow for the first time, then had my first snow day. Cheers had erupted from room to room on the 8th floor, as we consecutively found out about the office closure due to the snow storm. The next morning we headed to Dupont Circle, making and throwing well-formed snowballs. We attempted at building our first snowman, before giving up after making the lower body, realising we couldn’t put the upper body on and ended up building a snow penguin.

 It’s A Snow Day!

Over the past nine weeks, I squealed at my first glance of a baby panda, who was clearly having a Monday morning; yawning, covering its eyes and turning on its face back to dreamland. Over the past nine weeks, I laughed as my colleague and I shared stories about our childhood, our embarrassing moments and silly promises. Over the past nine weeks, I learnt the difference between a motive and a theme in music, and watched a play about Mary the Queen of Scotland in the Shakespearean theatre.

Some time over the past nine weeks, I started calling Room 803 home.

Some time over the past nine weeks, I broke out of my shell and started to be myself again.

On Friday I took one last look at my room, my side completely empty and clean, just like the first day when I first arrived.

I closed my eyes.

Because I didn’t want to cry. But tears fell anyway. Through tears conjured from moments shaped by laughter and delirious happiness, I knew.

All those memories, captured in the snow flakes and the -10 temperature, would stay with me forever.