Last month, I was invited to attend the 2015 Net Impact Conference in Seattle, where more than 2,000 MBA students and professionals across North America gathered to take the lead on environmental and social change. I had the amazing opportunity to meet and attend talks from a wide range of organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, REI and Starbucks as well as prominent figures such as Chelsea Clinton.
My journey to the Net Impact Conference started earlier this year though. When Net Impact and SAP teamed up to host an Impactathon competition, I jumped at the opportunity. I had been a member of Net Impact for several years now and I had attended several SAP events in the past, so I was very excited to be selected to participate in the Vancouver Impactathon. Net Impact is a US-based non-profit membership organization that connects students and professionals who are eager to utilize their business skills to pursue environmental and social causes. SAP is a global software company that provides opportunities and support for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and sustainability projects for the next generation of innovators. This competition challenged university students and young professionals in 12 cities around the world to create innovative solutions to local social issues.
When I arrived at the Vancouver Impactathon, I was paired up with a small group and tasked to design a solution to help secondary students discover education and career paths. We brainstormed for hours amidst a flurry of sticky notes and scrap paper, bouncing around ideas and consulting our high school student on the team. We developed a Tinder-style networking and mentoring app that connects students with real professionals and active projects based on their skills and career interests. The judges unanimously selected our design as the winning idea and we further developed the prototype to compete and win the global Impactathon competition as well! Our grand prize was a trip to the Net Impact Conference.
Growing up in an environment where climate change and social issues are major themes in our daily lives, I’ve noticed an increasing number of youth and young professionals looking toward impact careers and initiatives as a way to confront these challenges on a local and global scale.
I’m no different in this sense. I studied environmental sciences and food systems at The University of British Columbia before starting my career with the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program. I was drawn to the topic of sustainable seafood after realizing that while the food movement was gaining a lot of momentum, there was still a significant gap in awareness and understanding of sustainable seafood. At Ocean Wise, I focus on jumpstarting the dialogue and making sustainable seafood options more accessible to a number of different communities and cuisine types.
Back at the conference, businesses and organizations were also recognizing their role in shaping and leading a sustainable economy and future but also seeing the value in attracting and cultivating promising, young and talented professionals driven by their values and motivated to make a positive impact. Throughout the three-day conference, I was presented with over 80 breakout sessions on a number of different topics from
sustainable food systems and social enterprise to international development and financing. One of the panel discussions I attended explored the future of sustainable seafood with ambassadors from Oceana, Future of Fish and the At-Sea Processors Association. I noticed that there was a common emphasis on “sharing our story” and allowing consumers to connect with the idea of sustainable seafood on a more approachable and personal level. I met both students and professionals interested in supporting and pursuing careers in sustainable seafood and marine conservation, and had the chance to share with them my role as an Ocean Wise Co-ordinator. At Ocean Wise, I work closely with local restaurants, suppliers and community groups to improve the awareness and accessibility of sustainable seafood options across Vancouver’s diverse communities so that sustainable seafood issues are approachable and more culturally relevant.
For individuals interested in sustainable seafood, the first step I would suggest is to simply start talking about it and to ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask your favourite restaurant where your seafood comes from. Ask your local retailer how your tuna was caught and which species it is. If no one speaks about it then it might be easy to ignore; but if enough people become curious and actively conscious about the seafood they eat, who knows? Maybe sustainable seafood will shift to becoming the new norm.
Blog post by Tania Leon, Ocean Wise Coordinator.
Overfishing is the single biggest threat our oceans face today. With more than 600 partners across Canada, Ocean Wise makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. The Ocean Wise symbol next to a seafood item is the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. www.oceanwise.ca