As we have seen over the past month on PRiMEtime, the students themselves are often the drivers of new ideas and change on campus relating to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and PRME. Their energy and willingness to get involved and engaged can lead to some exciting new initiatives and programmes. At FEA-RP/USP in Brazil, students created the Sustainable Student Organisation Awards to annually support student projects relating to sustainability, PRME and the SDGs. I spoke with Julio Cesar Borges and Professor Adriana Caldana at the University about this initiative.
Why is it important to engage students in the SDGs on campus?
The time that students are at university is a crucial time to form responsible leaders. Students complete the course and most of them do not return to academia. They will follow their professional life in companies, NGOs, personal etc.. Therefore it is crucial that we educate them about the SDGs and sustainability issues during their time with us. The interest in sustainable projects has been growing every year spontaneously among students. The school and some professors are facilitating actors of this emerging phenomenon.
What are the Sustainable Students Organisation Awards?
There are nine student organisations at FEA-RP/USP who have been a major drive in promoting the SDGs on campus. These groups are self-managed and offer hundreds of engagement opportunities to students across campus. In September, the Sustainability Office in collaboration with the students created the Sustainable Students Organisation Awards (2nd edition). Its intention is to promote projects that are current in progress and stimulate the creation of others.
This year the competition was to create a video of up to three minutes, demonstrating a sustainable project related to the Sustainable Development Goals and how these projects have impacted the lives of people. The next challenge was to disseminate the videos on Facebook and social media in order to publicise the SDGs, the student projects and the importance of systemic and responsible vision in a school of management that occupies a position of prominence and national recognition.
Describe one of the projects
The winning student organization was the Financial Market Club and their “Nest Egg Project” (Projeto Pe de Meia). 59 million Brazilians are defaulters and 81% know little to nothing about personal finances. The project delivers financial education in a dynamic and intuitive way. It has been active in 7 states and 16 cities across the country and has already served 5000 people. There are two strands of this project. First the work with children and adolescents and second with executives and workers from the most diverse sectors of the economy. The goal of the project is really to bring financial education to everyone.
What have been some of the challenges? Successes?
The main challenges is being able to change the mindset of students, and staff in relation to sustainability and business. The more the students get engaged, the more successes we are seeing as they have a significant impact not just on other students but on the staff as well. Hundreds of people were impacted by the student projects presented in the videos. In a one week period there were over 7,800 views and 1,700 involvements (likes, comments, shares). The final stage of the challenge involved representatives of the student organization presenting the videos to a judging commission composed of teachers, professionals and a doctoral student. The Dean of the college delivered personally the trophy to the winners.
What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar in place?
Provide students with freedom of expression and action, autonomy, and protect and encourage genuine and spontaneous action. Be sure to respect the differences while also promoting and recognising student´s achievements. The school also plays the important role of listening to the criticism it receives (even if it is inappropriate), to mediate conflicts and to provide additional resources and support where possible.
What is next for the initiative?
The “Sustainable Students Organisation Awards” will be continued in the coming years. We will focus on obtaining sponsorship and recognition of companies engaged in sustainable development. We will also be working to get more participation of students and professors.