Youth Sustainability Conference Makes IMPACT!
The Co-operators and partners envision the future with future leaders
The Co-operators is fuelling the push to a more sustainable future by engaging the passion of a collective group of Canadian youth through its program, IMPACT! The Co-operators Youth Program for Sustainability Leadership.
In partnership with the Natural Step Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation, and several other organizations and Canadian universities and colleges, The Co-operators hosted its second gathering of the some of the country’s brightest young minds Sept. 15-18 in Guelph.
The IMPACT! Youth Conference for Sustainability Leadership is billed as an opportunity for students to gather with sustainability experts from business, non-government organizations and academia and discuss some of the most pressing issues faced in today’s society.
But if you dig deeper, you see it’s about igniting a wave of sustainable progress driven by the future leaders of society. At the conference, students of commerce, economics and engineering mingled with those in faculties of education and environmental sciences and beyond, and they found common will to make a real difference in the world — to have true impact.
“It made me step back and rethink how I view the instigators of change and where it comes from,” says Keleigh Annau, a student of international relations, economics and environmental science at Mount Allison University who returned to the conference this year as an alumni facilitator and presenter.
“I think for a lot of people it was really eye-opening to have all these business students there who are fighting the same fight, doing the same thing and caring about the same issues. There were a lot of perspectives emerging.”
She says, for example, students focused on social justice or sustainable development are sometimes skewed in their perception of corporations as responsible for all that is bad in the world.
“But then we get to interact with students from commerce who say, ‘Whoa! Wait a second; there are all these sustainability models that are emerging from commerce and this has a huge impact on climate change and consumption patterns and all of these things that are really important.’”
When these various perspectives emerge and combine in a venue such as this conference, Keleigh says it’s quite a powerful force.
Wendy Carruthers agrees with that assertion. Wendy is the manager of sustainability and corporate citizenship with The Co-operators and played a large part in putting this year’s event together.
She says the idea of being a “catalyst for a sustainable society” is embedded in the organization’s vision, and the best way to make that happen is to engage the young people of the world.
When it comes to being a responsible corporate citizen, many organizations are content to write a few cheques a year, but Wendy says “investing in young people and working on getting young people equipped and empowered to do more is a key part of that.
“We want to be a catalyst for bigger things that will happen.”
The students are all grouped by ‘system’, so to speak, and they spend their summer researching their topic and speaking with experts in the field. They may be looking at sustainability in terms of water, transportation or learning systems, and they combine their knowledge in groups at the conference to share all they’ve learned.
Throw in a few keynote speeches from the likes of David Suzuki, and an Open Space session where the group of around 165 people envisions the future, and you have what Wendy describes as an event that offers reassurance in a troubled world.
At the end of the conference, attendees stood and told the group what they will do in the weeks and months ahead — not what they intend to do, but what they will do.
“The kind of things that everyone was coming out with just gives you goosebumps,” Wendy says.
“It made us feel like we had done something that was really going to have life and momentum after the conference.”
To learn more about the IMPACT! program, visit this link.