Training the next generation of impact investing professionals through the Social Finance Academy – Smith School of Business

The Centre for Social Impact at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University in Canada educates students and fosters research and advocacy on issues of social impact. The Certificate in Social Impact programme is one of its sought-after programs. The Certificate allows over 500 Smith graduate and undergraduate students to earn a designation alongside their degree. Enabling business students to gain foresight into how social issues are affecting business and society while gaining relevant skills needed across today’s changing landscape is one of the focuses of the Centre and its newest programme, the Social Finance Academy narrows in specifically on the topic of impact investing.

I spoke with Joanna Reynolds, Associate Director of the Centre for Social Impact at Smith School of Business, Queen’s University Canada about this programme.

Why is impact investing important?

Increasingly, people in their professional and personal life want to be part of social and environmental solutions. Whether through our purchasing power as customers or in how we make investments. The appetite for social finance is growing across Canada and globally. Examples, such as impact funds and green bonds are two of the many new and innovative ideas gaining momentum in the marketplace, and inspiring organizations and consumers to think differently about our investments.   An example of the growth of impact investing globally is the 2017 Global Impact Investing Network’s annual survey which continues to report increases in the size of the global marketplace at USD 114 billion in managed impact assets across geographies and sectors. Professionals today want to know how to gain the skills that open opportunities for themselves and their organizations in this area.

What is the Social Finance Academy?

The Social Finance Academy is a unique opportunity for professionals to gain insights into a growing global field that now includes Social Responsible Investing, Impact Investing, and Venture Philanthropy. The Academy came about to meet this rising demand for professionals within finance, capital management, public and the not-for-profit sectors to understand emerging opportunities in this space.   Investors involved with foundations, endowment boards, or who manage assets for individual private wealth are increasingly seeking to align their investments with purpose and need advisors who can work with them to create customized solutions; while, not-for-profit organizations are seeing that social finance can enable their public benefit mission to thrive; and, governments recognize that social finance and social enterprise can meet multiple public policy objectives. Professionals across these sectors are seeking to enhance their skills sets and distinguish how they add can value.

Why offer a programme specifically focused on social finance?

Currently, programs like the Social Finance Academy are rare opportunities to learn from the trailblazers who have shaped the landscape and marketplace in Canada and globally.   As the appetite for social finance and impact investing continues to grow, the professional skill set requires more technical knowledge. Such as skills found in traditional finance and capital management now need to be combined with a rigor of impact measurement. Additionally, social finance often brings together people from across the public, private, and community sectors. Therefore, understanding public policy levers, community missions, and diverse investor values are essential contexts to creating a social finance solution. Educational programs such as these aimed at cross-sector collaboration with a focus on social outcomes are exceptional opportunities.

What is the content of the Social Finance Academy?

The Academy is a two-day program offered this November in downtown Toronto. Participants gain practical knowledge to apply social finance tools within their organizations to transform outcomes and investment models while achieving measurable financial returns and valuable social impacts. Sessions are led by professionals from the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing, BCorp Canada, City of Toronto, Ministry of Economic Development and Growth, Purpose Capital, Centre for Social Innovation, CoPower and top faculty from the Smith School of Business. Smith faculty and session leaders use a combination of insightful teaching, breakout sessions, and tutorials to examine case examples that provide participants with a local and global understanding of the marketplace. Session topics include outcomes finance, impact measurement, social procurement, solutions finance, community bonds, insights into public policy levers, and designing decision frameworks that guide social finance strategy.

What has been the response?

The response has been excellent. The 2016 inaugural session had a wait list of over 50 people. A great example of how institutions are taking advantage by sending their teams to engage and learn is our continued partnership with the Ontario Government who has sponsored ten Social Finance Fellows across departments to earn a full Certificate in Social Impact. By earning a Certificate, participants take a second program call Leading with Impact that help them gain the skills to affect change from within an organization. Participants then work individually or in teams on an applied project. The two in-class programs combined with the applied project has been well received as a way for professionals to bring value into their organization. Bmeaningful, Canada’s leading go to platform for career’s with impact is our promotional partner.

What’s next for the Social Finance Academy?

The Social Finance Academy is part of the Certificate in Social Impact for Professionals.  We expect to continue to partner with leading organizations to offer the Academy in subsequent years as the field continues to evolve.

Any tips for other schools looking to engage in this topic.

Impact investing and social finance present exciting opportunities for business school students to learn about an emerging field that crosses geographies and sectors. From mainstream capital markets through to development and community finance, this field is active, and demand is growing. A tip for other schools is to articulate the demand for social impact education across sectors and to identify the unique skill sets required by professionals to succeed in their areas of expertise. No longer are social impact considerations on the fringe for business success. It is now imperative for the resiliency of business and society as a whole to be part of the solutions that our world is grappling with.   Therefore, business education that is offered at the Smith School of Business is critical to developing outstanding leaders in business and society.

 

Students Driving the Reporting Process – Boise State University (part 2 of 2)

At the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, several Signatories were recognized for their efforts in reporting. The reports that received recognition represent different approaches to reporting on progress against the Six Principles of PRME. One of the Schools to receive recognition in the First Time Reporters category was the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University (COBE) in the USA. But what makes this impressive report unique is that the whole process of putting together the report was lead by student volunteers.

This is the second part of a two part interview with former MBA Student, Graduate Assistant and Sustainability Report Project Lead Taylor Reed about their report. Click here to read part 1.

What impact does this kind of experience have on the students involved?

The experience was challenging and meaningful. The best way I can describe the reporting process in the first year is driving a car down the road while also building it. At least four of the members of the team now work in industries related to sustainability, and I’m confident that all of the graduates are now working in roles where they have to perform research, synthesize and communicate information, or develop buy-in from colleagues, consumers or business partners—these are all skills team members were able to develop by participating in this project.

One of the most valuable lessons that came from this process wasn’t necessarily the data gathered, but rather the conversations that arose throughout the research process. Many students were frustrated that key metrics like the amount of waste generated or carbon footprint did not yet exist. However, by meeting with campus officials, discussing their purpose in creating a sustainability report, and posing questions related to sustainability, students were able to begin to educate campus staff and faculty and empower employees to begin considering social and environmental impacts. Those initial conversations helped build a foundation for the development of systems to capture improved sustainability data.

What were some of the successes?

Three years later the college continues to produce an annual sustainability report and our efforts have inspired Boise State University’s College of Health Sciences and the Student Union Building to publish their first sustainability reports. The reports have driven sustainability achievements such as more sustainable procurement policies, the installation of solar panels, the college’s strategy for inclusive excellence and a taskforce focused on increased inclusion, and increased awareness of environmental and social issues across campus. And of course we were thrilled to receive recognition from the PRME for our work!

The final piece of the report presents sustainability recommendations for the Dean and Associate Deans to consider. After COBE’s leadership deliberates and discusses strategies with student reporters, many of the recommendations are implemented over time. This part is especially meaningful because it’s where the research and analysis performed by students becomes actionable and translates to social and environmental impact—that’s the best part in my opinion.

Why should schools engage their students in the reporting process?

According to the Deloitte 2016 Millennial Survey, 87 percent of millennials believe that “the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance.” Millennials judge the performance of a business on what it does and how it treats people— both of which are data points in COBE’s sustainability reports. More than 60% of millennials believe businesses achieve long-term success by putting employees first, and developing a solid foundation of trust and integrity. Finally, millennials choose employers whose values reflect their own— 56 percent of Millennials have “ruled out ever working for an organisation because of its values or standard of conduct.”

Projects like the sustainability report are the secret sauce to motivating, developing, and retaining millennial employees. By producing a sustainability report COBE achieved all of the following:

  1. Creating a healthy culture that exists to achieve more than financial results
  2. Identifying the values of students and providing an opportunity to practice those values in their profession
  3. Providing hands-on opportunities for millennials to take on leadership roles and gain critical thinking skills that will make them more competitive in the job market and equip them with the skills needed to effect real change

What advice do you have for other schools looking to engage students in the reporting process?

Do it. If schools think that tomorrow’s leaders should understand the social and environmental impact of their business decisions, and take responsibility for them, then students must learn these skills and have the opportunity to practice them.

Create a safe space for students to fail—if they do, coach them through the steps needed to get back on track. When they’re faced with a similar scenario in upon graduation they’ll know how to succeed.

What’s next? Any plans for the next report? Things you will be doing differently?

This fall, students of Boise State University’s College of Business and Economics (COBE) will publish the College’s third sustainability report measuring the social, environmental and economic impacts of the College (we produce reports annually). Student reporters continue to implement recommendations made in the College’s first two reports, and continue to develop new targets based on the feedback of internal and external stakeholders. In line with COBE’s sustainability initiatives, student reporters have transitioned to an interactive online format, rather than a printed report. We have a collective aspiration to produce a university-wide sustainability report in the near future.

 

A few highlights of the report:

  • A summary of percentage of responsible business faculty research organised by department (p. 26)
  • An overview of the new College of Business and Economics Building, built in 2012, designed to have minimal environmental impact and maximum environmental efficiency (p.42).
  • An overview of how they assessed materiality and what their material issues are, organised by stakeholder group (page 49)
  • A detailed timeline and process map for the sustainability report (p. 50)

Students Driving the Reporting Process – Boise State University (part 1 of 2)

At the 2017 Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, several Signatories were recognized for their efforts in reporting. The reports that received recognition represent different approaches to reporting on progress against the Six Principles of PRME. One of the Schools to receive recognition in the First Time Reporters category was the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University (COBE) in the USA. But what makes this impressive report unique is that the whole process of putting together the report was lead by student volunteers.

I recently spoke with former MBA Student, Graduate Assistant and Sustainability Report Project Lead Taylor Reed about their report.

What was the driver behind the Sustainability Report?

In 2014, COBE underwent a strategic planning process to establish the collective values that ground the work done at the College. These values—relevance, respect, and responsibility—are not truly lived if we don’t measure, analyse and publicly report the results. A sustainability report, which covers issues such as climate change, health & wellness, community engagement, and transparency, helps us live those values rather than simply posting them on a webpage. The annual report serves as a thermometer for how the college is doing in terms of living its values and creating a healthy culture for students, faculty, staff and the broader community.

COBE firmly believes that sustainability reporting is a best practice, so before engaging its business community partners to pursue this type of analysis, the College needed to get some skin in the game and develop its own expertise. Producing the COBE report allowed the College to gain empathy and discover the challenges and opportunities that arise from this practice.

Why involve students in the reporting process?

The College recognised that if it identified sustainability reporting as a best practice, COBE graduates should not only be familiar with sustainability reporting, but have firsthand experience in creating one. COBE is one of only a handful of colleges and universities globally to integrate students fully into the management, research, writing and publication of its sustainability report. The students that participated on the reporting team did so as a volunteers.

How was the report produced?

The reporting process was broken up into five phases:

  • Focus: In the first phase of the project the team of student reporters engaged three stakeholder groups (students, college faculty/administrators, and community business leaders) to define the college’s material issues.
  • Coordinate: Next, the topics found to be material in the Focus phase were assigned to student reporters. I purposefully matched topics with students’ interests or area of study. For example, equal remuneration was assigned to a student studying human resources.
  • Research: Team members then gathered quantitative and qualitative research across departments through a series of interviews and collaboration with faculty and staff to gather data.
  • Synthesize & Write: In this phase of the project, students synthesized and analyzed collected data and collectively outlined a rough draft of the report. A majority of the writing and revising was done by a few individuals to maintain style and tone throughout the report.
  • Review & Publish: In the final phase of the project students worked with relevant stakeholders such as sources and key administrators to revise and finalise the report. In addition, the college’s first report was audited by a team of graduate students studying accounting. Finally, the team’s leadership worked with an external firm to design and publish the report.

What were some of the challenges? 

Finding answers to all of our research questions was our main challenge. We found that the systems for collecting much of the data we were seeking did not yet exist (i.e. waste metrics). Another challenge was developing buy-in from data sources—some of our sources found it challenging to make time to fulfill our data requests, or didn’t understand the concept of sustainability reporting.

This was a volunteer project that many students took on in addition to part-time jobs, rigorous coursework, and other demanding activities. Given these circumstances, there were times when responsibilities such as enforcing deadlines and motivating team members was difficult. However, the lessons learned during production of the first report helped facilitate smoother operations in year two.

How was your experience using the GRI framework (especially since it isn’t specifically geared towards education?). Any tips for others looking at using these in their report?

Using the GRI G4 guidelines helped build our team’s awareness and understanding of the concept of materiality, along with a variety of social, environmental and economic metrics. GRI isn’t geared towards educational institutions, however its focus on materiality helped inform our process. The team performed several stakeholder engagement sessions to pinpoint material issues, such as rising tuitions costs and sustainability curriculum—topics that may not have been identified in the GRI framework. It also served as a useful source to cross check that our stakeholders weren’t forgetting any fundamental issues.

GRI also helped the team identify leaders in nonfinancial disclosure—seeing these examples helped us better understand nonfinancial reporting and frame expectations. Although the framework wasn’t a perfect fit for our industry, it was useful for students to gain experience using this framework, especially as it continues to be recognised as one of the highest standards of nonfinancial disclosure.

 

(Part 2 will be posted on Thursday)

 

12 Visuals to get inspired by for your next SIP report (Part 1 of 2)

Sharing Information on Progress (SIP) reports, beyond being a requirement for PRME signatories, are an opportunity to bring together the work a school is doing in the area of responsible management education, reflect on that work and explore future opportunities. SIPs can provide an important communication tool to raise awareness both internally and externally about your initiatives. Using visuals in your report is one way to bring the information contained within your report to life, to make it easier for your stakeholders to navigate, understand, engage in, and to take action on. To inspire your next SIP report, here are 12 visuals (in two parts) taken from recent SIP reports. These examples are intended to be an exploration of the different approaches taken from different schools. For more examples you can browse through all of the SIP reports on the PRME website.

 

Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria in Canada has been working steadily to measure and reduce its carbon footprint. Over the past few years they have put in place new systems for data collection to ensure more accurate measurements for the various sources of emissions related to the school’s operations. They publish an annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions report for Gustavson, prepared by Synergy Enterprises, one of many sustainability-oriented companies founded by former University of Victoria students.

Gordon Institute of Business Science in South Africa has a series of illustrations created to capture the school’s ongoing commitment to the principles of PRME. The first explores GIBS’s engagement through its people, the second its impact on its community and globally and the third innovation that it is fostering.

 

The MBA office at Reykjavik University Business School in Iceland interviewed all teachers in the MBA programme in order to map the extent to which a focus on ethics was built into each course. This showed that nine courses out of twelve have CSR or business ethics elements in them. Of the nine, three put a great deal of emphasis on the subject as can be seen in the syllabus mapping.

Copenhagen Business School in Denmark provides a snapshot of different sustainability related research projects. They also include a picture, the name and contact details for those responsible for each project, making it easy to find out where you can find out more information about their projects, whether you are a member of the community or not.

 

Material issues for KU Leuven Faculty of Economics and Business in Belgium are displayed in the materiality matrix. These issues are categorized based on their ascending relevance to stakeholders (based on engagement activities) and the organization (based on the school’s vision, mission, values, and strategy). The most material sustainability issues are education and research that address sustainability topics, as well as the promotion of diversity/non-discrimination with an emphasis on gender equality.

 


Hanken School of Economics
in Finland uses tables such as this one throughout their report to outline goals from previous reports, progress made on those goals and to lay out future goals. Here they also address any delays or challenges to reaching set goals.

The Sustainable Development Goals – A List of Resources


On 25 September 2015, all 193 member states of the United Nations adopted a plan for a path to achieve a better future for all, to end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and protect the planet. A set of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 related targets were presented that address the most important economic, social, environmental and governance challenges, and that will help guide national priorities over the next 15 years.

Business schools play a role in the successful implementation of the SDGs. Here are 6 ways they can do so with links to various resources to help.

  1. Learn more about the SDGs themselves: The Sustainable Development Knowledge Platform provides information about not only each goal, but all of the individual targets related to each goal. The site provides multiple resources as well as links to individual organisations around the world focused on working to reach the individual goals (a good source of possible partnerships and projects) and how the nine major stakeholder groups are engaging in the SDGs. There is even an app for the SDGs that can be downloaded for free. GOWI provides a range of free online courses around the Sustainable Development Goals delivered via email that take 2-5 minutes to read. To get more in to depth take a look at the growing number of MOOC on the topic.
  1. Integrate the SDGs into teaching. There are a wide range of videos (the Global Goals have their own YouTube channel) as well as several online games, platforms and apps to engage in the different issues. World’s Largest Lesson offers lesson plans around the different goals which, although aimed at a younger audience, provides some good resources and ideas. Connect research on sustainability in economics, finance, and management among bachelor, master and PhD students through the oikos-PRME Research Hub. There are also a growing number of examples of how to integrate the SDGs into business school courses and how to get students more engaged.
  1. Explore what management education’s role is in the SDGs: The PRME Secretariat has released a toolkit, Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals, exploring why signatories should engage in the SDGs and how they can do so. This includes aligning curriculum and research with the SDGs, seeing more applied research, acting as leaders of public opinion and connecting and collaborating regionally and internationally. Other articles exploring how schools can get involved include a summary of a panel discussion about the role of Management Education in the SDGs, Management Education and the Sustainable Development Goals – Get Engaged published by AACSB and The Sustainable Development Goals and Management Education – an Overview and Update. For some inspiration as to how business schools are already engaging in the SDGs read Primetime posts or look through this list of 100 examples.
  1. Explore what business’s roles are in the SDGs: The SDG Campus The Guide for Business action on the SDGs assists companies in aligning their strategies with the SDGs . The UN Global Compact also has a website which outlines how companies can advance each of the SDGs with links to additional business resources for each SDG. The Global Compact is currently working on a number of action platforms which will focus on different SDGs which are likely to produce additional resources through the coming year. AIM2Flourish provides a database of short case studies, written by students, on businesses engaged in sustainability and the SDGs and several businesses themselves have created SDG related toolkits.
  1. Explore new and strengthen existing partnerships with business: Partnerships isn’t just Goal 17 of the SDGs, it is a crucial part of all SDGs. The UN Global Compact and PRME offer a range of documents focused on how business and business schools can collaborate to co-create solutions for sustainability challenges, win-win partnerships that can yield fresh and innovative ideas. Partners with Business Schools to Advance Sustainability toolkit provides case studies and tips and the following blog posts also focus on developing partnerships with business:
  1. Audit and report on what is already happening across your campus and programmes: Take a look at what is already happening on campus and how you can link these activities to the SDGs. Use your SIP as an opportunity to take stock of which SDGs you are already engaged in and which you need to be moving forward with by reporting on progress and future goals. Some recently submitted reports have already started to report on SDGs or explore how students feel companies are doing reporting their own initiatives with Wikirate.

 

What resources have you developed to raise awareness about the SDGs in your school?

How the Social Impact Festival at University of Western Australia Supports Global and Local Progress

img_7254-smlThe Sustainable Development Goals help us consider everything – from one person, to the university, to our cities – in a global context. They provide a robust yet accessible framework for learning about global progress. This is the focus of the work being done at the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia. Among their many programmes is their annual Social Impact Festival, an opportunity to bring together individuals and organisations who are deeply committed to making Western Australia a better place.

I spoke with Claire Stokes from the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia about this increasingly successful event.

What is the Social Impact Festival?

The Centre for Social Impact at The University of Western Australia (UWA) hosted the first Social Impact Festival in May 2015 – we call this ‘prototype 1’. It saw over 1,000 people attending events on the UWA Crawley campus focused on furthering social impact. When 2016 began, the team at the Centre for Social Impact UWA decided to take the festival into ‘prototype 2’ in July 2016. Katie Stubley (the other co-director) and myself started with a purpose and designed the event to fulfill that purpose. This included three primary aims: share and diffuse cutting-edge knowledge; strengthen and connect social impact networks; and increase our capacity to make WA better for all. We also identified many people, ideas, organisations and networks that have been deeply committed to making WA a more just, vibrant and better place for all. So a key element of the festival was bringing stories of social impact in WA to the surface to be celebrated and amplified.

What are the key features of the Festival and how does it work?

The concept of ‘social impact’ is so broad that we knew a regular conference format would not work. To see real change, we knew we had to reach audiences beyond those who had previously engaged with the Centre and in a variety of settings. The format was based roughly on a ‘fringe festival’: a diverse range of small, low-cost, and engaging events in a variety of venues so attendees could ‘create their own adventure’.

We turned to our postgraduate course – the Graduate Certificate in Social Impact – for a framework which gave us the following themes for the four key days of the festival:

  • Creating social impact: entrepreneurship, innovation & design
  • Demonstrating social impact: research, measurement & evaluation
  • Funding social impact: investment, philanthropy & ethical consumerism
  • Leading social impact: organisation, collaboration & systems

As a whole, the festival featured 34 events over 7 days in 16 venues around Perth. Individual event prices ranged from $0 to $30 and 15 events were free. More than 150 people and organisations contributed to the festival programme (including speakers, workshop facilitators, co-working space hosts, artists, performers, open house venues, and market stall-holders). Through the interactive ‘Stories from the Field’ events (21, 22, 26 & 27 July), 68 individual stories of social impact were shared. Twenty local ethical businesses featured in the Marketplace & Ethical Fashion Show (23 July), and 10 spaces and organisations featured on Social Impact Open House day (25 July).

What are/were your favourite parts of the festival?

Pitching events are always interesting, as they provide opportunities for real people and organisations to take action, as well as the chance to learn about investing and the local landscape. The Impact Seed Pitch Night on 26 July was no exception. Run by a new Perth-based organisation, Impact Seed, the event saw five investable social businesses pitch for investment to a packed auditorium of 120 people. It also featured a highly engaging keynote address from Bessi Graham (The Difference Incubator, Melbourne). Graham also sat on the judging panel with Paul Flatau (Centre for Social Impact UWA), Derek Gerrard (Innovation Bay), and Paul Bide (School for Social Entrepreneurs).

Two other standout events were the Festival Opening and Marketplace & Ethical Fashion Show. The Opening was a directed performance, mixing inspiring speech from Michael Chaney, Cassandra Goldie and Noel Nannup together with music, poetry, song and dance. The Marketplace & Ethical Fashion show held an atmostphere that was absolutely perfect for what we were trying to achieve. There was a modest amount of stalls – 20 in total – but every single person involved demonstrated deep passion and commitment to their cause. This also extended to an excitement in celebrating and helping each other on the day. Businesses represented included social enterprises, fair trade homewares, organic kombucha and tea, eco-garden services, ethical fashion, Aboriginal enterprises, and more. An estimated 300+ people attended the event and all stallholders reported they sold more than expected.

Although not an event, the ongoing co-working and collaboration space was another highlight. This provided ample opportunity for attendees of events throughout the festival to come early or stay afterwards to simply work, or meet other like-minded people and make new connections. The hosts of this space, Perth-based social innovators enkel, also ensured users of the space made the most of it by engaging with interesting activities such as mindfulness, story-telling, and more.

What impact does the festival aim to have/ already have?

We have already observed and heard about the immediate impact of the Festival. For instance, as one of the key aims was connecting people across sectors we were delighted to hear that almost 70% of attendees said they made new connections they intend to follow up with (or already have). That does not even take into account the connections made across the 150 contributors. We have also heard of some changes, or actions taken based on transformative experiences. For example, 26% of attendees to seek out formal education or training in fields linked to social impact. One person reported they have already chaired a board meeting and presented information from the Festival, leading the Board to review the organisation’s mission, objectives, strategies and how we can better measure our social impact.

Anecdotally, we have heard of many new connections and collaborations around Perth that resulted from the Festival, while other connections have strengthened or formalised. This is exactly the kind of impact we intended to create.

What advice would you have for other schools thinking of putting something similar into place?

Design with a purpose. That was the single-most important aspect of the festival and it resulted in an event that was not only successful in terms of numbers and engagement, but in the immediate impact it had, leaving everyone involved with the optimism and drive to create positive change.

What’s next?

We are synthesizing the huge amount of information that was drawn out during the festival – in the form of stories, ideas, presentations and feedback. Many of the resources presented or created throughout the festival can be found here: http://www.socialimpactfestival.org/resources/

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Mentoring a New Generation of Indigenous Leaders – Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience

AIME Annual Report.pdj.17.06.16.020 (1)

The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) is a dynamic educational programme that supports Indigenous students through high school and into university, employment or further education. The goal is to increase high school graduation rates and university admission rates among Indigenous youth to bring them in line with the rates of all Australian students.
From 2015-16, 76 percent of AIME’s 533 Year 12 graduates transitioned to a university, employment or further education pathway. This exceeds the national non-Indigenous rate of 75 percent of 18-25 year-olds participating in post high-school education, training or employment, and the national Indigenous rate of 40 percent.

An independent evaluation by KPMG found that AIME contributed $38 million AUD to the Australian economy in 2012; that’s $7 in benefits generated for every $1 spent.
Business schools across Australia and their students are involved in the programme, including the University of Wollongong. I spoke with Brenden Newton, AIME Centre Manager at the University of Wollongong, and Steve Mitchell, an Indigenous Business Graduate and Mentor for AIME who is now working as Program Manager at AIME, about this successful initiative.
What is AIME and how did it come about?

Ten years ago, a young Indigenous student at the University of Sydney connected 25 Indigenous and non-Indigenous fellow students with 25 Indigenous high school students at Alexandria Park Community School. Little did they know that this would be the beginning of an organisation that has since connected more than 4864 Indigenous kids and 1923 university students across five states and territories in Australia. AIME is all about young people working with young people, and the kids responded.

AIME provides a structured educational programme for Indigenous kids to access throughout their high school experience. Students completing the programme are proven to finish school and transition through to university, training and employment at the same rate as every Australian child – effectively closing the gap in educational outcomes.

How does AIME work?

AIME has three delivery modes. First, the AIME Institute offers six different courses tailored for each specific high school year group, which provide launch pads for real life opportunities for the students to extend themselves through. For example, in the past, opportunities have included internships for artists, performance opportunities for musicians, ambassador programs and more. The content for the AIME Institute has been designed and developed by Indigenous young people since 2005 and is enhanced and improved each year thanks to input from our mentees and mentors. The delivery of the Institute modules is undertaken by trained Indigenous facilitators who are supported throughout the Institute program by AIME mentors, staff and a variety of special guests.

Second, the Tutor Squad programme features our trained university mentors who head out to local schools to provide free academic support for 15 sessions throughout Terms 2 and 3 of the high school year.

Thirdly, we offer one-on-one coaching, career support and post-school transition. We pride ourselves in getting to know the kids throughout their high school experience, so that when it comes to their senior years, we can provide the best possible advice, support and targeted opportunities for each Indigenous student to transition into university, employment or further training.

During the course of each of year, we work with our partners to source post-school opportunities for our mentees. We continue to stay formally connected to each mentee and provide mentoring support for the first 6 months of their university course, training or employment.

On the employment side of things, we have partnerships with some of Australia’s biggest employers who are committed to increasing Indigenous employment. Once we have wrapped up our six months of post-school support, we then offer mentees the chance to attend our Staff AIME Institute once a year for up to 5 years.  This gives them access to world-class learning and development from the likes of Google, Coke and the AIME Team.

We are currently in the process of developing our Alumni programme so AIME mentees and mentors can continue to support each other as a community throughout their lives.

How are business school students involved in AIME?

All across Australia, with every partner business school, each student has the opportunity to participate as a volunteer mentor with the programme. It is the individual business student’s decision to be involved. This is what makes the magic happen: people wanting to connect with other people to assist in a common cause.

Business school students can directly support the Year 12 students that we work with at AIME and share real life experiences of studying at university in the field of business. This firsthand knowledge is invaluable for AIME mentees as it’s coming from a person that they trust and admire. Priceless. Inspiring the next generation.

The non-Indigenous university students who participate in the programme have the opportunity to connect to Australia’s future leaders. They are gifted with a unique opportunity to engage hands-on with Indigenous Australia that provides focused leadership, communication and cultural training. AIME partners offer direct opportunities to AIME volunteers, as they perceive these graduates as people that they would like to employ.

In addition to this, the non-Indigenous participants gain a sense of community with the university. There is a select group of students who stand up and grab the opportunity to act as a mentor. These students become a part of a social network that is supportive on all levels. You could say that they even become a part of a wider family.

How has Wollongong been involved in this programme? 

The University of Wollongong (UOW) was the first university partner outside of the University of Sydney – where the program initially started in 2005. This partnership was formed in 2008 and has been a stronghold ever since. Wollongong was the start of AIME’s exponential growth. It could be said that if UOW and AIME were not a success, we may not be where we are today. The expansion to Wollongong gave AIME the belief and confidence that the model worked outside of Sydney to the point where we are now working across the nation with 18 university partners and 325 schools.

What is the experience like as a mentor?

My experiences (Stephen Mitchell) of connecting with young people and inspiring them to be the best possible people they can be was and always will be the highlight of my university degree. The one thing that I looked forward to every week at university was going to AIME. I would even go out on a limb and say that AIME is the reason that I was lucky enough to graduate university. It was the motivation for me to complete my education and be a positive role model for the Indigenous kids in schools. There were several times in my university degree that I wanted to quit and walk away, but I would always think of the kids that I mentored and what would that mean to them. I had to show them that if I could do it, so could they. As an Indigenous man, it is my duty to inspire the next generation to be great: to be better than those before us because the platform has been set for greatness!

I honestly believe that AIME mentors get more out of the programme than the mentees do. Being a mentor pushed me to be the best person I could possibly be and shaped me into the person that I am today. AIME gave me a purpose! It gave me a sense of community, a sense of family, a sense of belonging to something more than a university cohort. My involvement with the programme has connected me with everyday people who are inspiring, encouraging and thought provoking.

What’s next?

Our mission and purpose is to reach 10,000 kids a year by 2018 and to see that every one of those kids transitions through to university, employment or further training at the same rate as other Australian children.

The 2018 goals for the organisation are:

  • Reach 10,000 kids & 3,000 mentors nationally
  • Be the best place to work in Australia
  • Have a proven impact
  • Build a robust and sustainable funding model
  • Be one of Australia’s coolest and most recognisable brands

AIME strengthens links between universities and high schools. We work to support teachers and parents to become more optimistic about tertiary education as a real option for their Indigenous students. At AIME, we help Australians to see Indigenous Australia as an opportunity, not an obligation. It is about giving everyday Australians the chance to have a meaningful connection with Indigenous Australia and build the idea that Indigenous can mean success.

How can business schools support Indigenous students?

Start by building positive relationships with the students; everything starts with relationships. I would suggest having a conversation with students and discussing their dreams and aspirations. Show an interest in the person, rather than the student. AIME has been built off the back of positive relationships: people working together for a common goal.

As a former business school graduate, one of the best parts of my degree, other than AIME, was being a part of a mentoring programme within the school. This was an informal mentoring programme where I was connected with a senior academics and often had the chance for informal and formal catch-ups. To this day, I still have a positive relationship with my mentor and still go to them for advice, even though I have graduated.

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