Today I attended a range of inspiring presentations, interactive sessions and heard many amazing stories. With 16 different sessions running throughout the day on topics such as global climate change, the refugee crisis, global business leadership and social entrepreneurship, I was spoilt for choice.
In this post, I will share my experience of three sessions I attended. They are all areas that I hold close to me, so I was keen to learn as much as I could.
Human rights and the refugee crisis
The session was introduced by Father Mussie Zerai who has been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize. He has helped save the lives of thousands of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean by simply answering his cell phone.
In 2003, he gave his phone number to an African radio station so that migrants from boats in distress could call him for help. Since then, his number has spread across refugee camps. He has received hundreds of calls from migrants seeking help.
"No-one wants to be a refugee. A tent isn’t a home, a camp isn’t a homeland and education isn’t a luxury."
He described some of his grassroots work supporting refugee communities from the Middle East by providing them with simple necessities. He shared stories of calls waking him up in the middle of the night with people crying for help from sinking boats at sea.
We then heard from four delegates who each shared their experiences of migration. There were a variety of topics including the current EU crisis, experiences from the break-up of former Yugoslavia, Maersk shipping sharing stories of saving refugees stranded at sea and app developers and their work to support refugees.
Something one of the passionate delegates said really summed up my view on the current refugee crisis: “No-one wants to be a refugee. A tent isn’t a home, a camp isn’t a homeland and education isn’t a luxury.”
My work with Khalsa Aid
As a trustee of Khalsa Aid, I am extremely passionate about the subject of migration. As an NGO, Khalsa Aid has been involved with a number of aid projects supporting refugees across the Middle East and in Europe.
In the past, I traveled to refugee camps on the Croatian/Serbian border to help refugees seeking shelter. I understood the challenges Father Zerai faced as well as the urgency of the task at hand. Scores of refugees would arrive on a daily basis and there were limited resources at the camps. The physical and mental health of refugees was also of critical concern. With cold weather approaching, illness could spread across camps very quickly.
I found it particularly moving to discover that many people in the camps came from educated backgrounds and had careers which could greatly benefit host countries. I met teachers, journalists, lawyers and finance professionals who had to flee because everything that they called home had been destroyed. I quickly realised two things:
1. If I had been born in a different part of the world I could easily have found myself in a similar situation.
2. Being a refugee is not a life anyone would ever choose.
The case for volunteering
"Volunteering is a way to connect your passion with a cause, it gives you meaning and is meaningful in itself. Volunteering is the way for a better future."
Ricardo Tadeu, CEO of Mexico Grupo Modelo, introduced this session on the role of volunteering in society. He talked about the positive impact it can have for organisations and individuals when there are high levels of engagement from both parties.
Ricardo said: "Volunteering is a way to connect your passion with a cause, it gives you meaning and is meaningful in itself. Volunteering is the way for a better future.”
My first experience of volunteering was when I undertook the Duke of Edinburgh award in my early teens. I spent a number of weekends at an old people's home with the residents as well as fundraising for the NSPCC. I really enjoyed the experience, and carried on volunteering with various organisations ever since. I look back on my time at the old people's home and realise the wisdom and values I accumulated from the residents there has really shaped the way I live my life today.
Bringing my CA skills to life
During my time as an ICAS CA student training at EY, I gained valuable skills. These were skills that I could apply to my volunteering, and skills which I came to realise are highly sought after by charities. As a consequence of being involved with the CSR programme at EY, I started to provide pro-bono support to local charitable organisations. I also worked on mentoring programmes with the Princes Trust.
Through this work it became clear to me how effective for local organisations providing pro-bono services could be. On a personal level it is also deeply rewarding to see the impact your time is having on the charity. It was an absolute pleasure to share my experiences as a volunteer to the 1,200 delegates at the session.
'Introducing Social Business' was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to and it didn't disappoint.
It was presented by Professor Muhammed Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, banker, economist and civil society leader who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Grameen Bank and pioneering the concepts of microcredit and microfinance.
Professor Yunus talked about how businesses have always been driven by bottom line profit and haven’t really made an attempt to intrinsically embed social and community initiatives into their business models. He remarked: “Social businesses make profit and change people's lives for the better.”
The session inspired me with confidence. The social enterprise I started earlier this year came about when I previously lived in Thailand and saw how artists trying to undertake a full-time career in the arts were struggling to provide for their families due to the small market of people who appreciate arts from developing countries. I said to myself that one day I would find a way to help these artists, and to help solve these human problems.
After completing the CA qualification I started ‘Hothi & Othi’ to showcase the work of artists in developing countries in galleries across the UK. A portion of the revenue generated would go directly to the artists in addition to providing courses on developing their profile online.
The session also questioned my current business model and has encouraged me to go back and consider exploring alternative options to refine ways I would measure the social impact of Hothi & Othi.