Sauder student goes to UN to advocate for youth engagement


Just weeks before the recent tragic earthquake in Japan, third-year BComstudent, Salina Dharamsi travelled to the United Nations to participate in an international discussion on reducing risk to human life after natural disasters. Titled “Taking Collective Action in Disaster Risk Reduction for Good Governance – Investing in Our Children’s Future,” the debate focused on developing new approaches to dealing with suffering and mortality levels after catastrophic events.

As only one of two youth representatives at the talks, Dharamsi joined delegates from the UNDP, World Vision International, Save the Children and Unicef to speak about the importance of engaging young people. As an avid volunteer with World Vision Canada, a charity that works to improve the well-being of children around the world, and an advocate for humanitarian and development work, Dharamsi believes Canadian youth have a lot to offer.

“I think young Canadians are really passionate,” she said. “We were among the first people to push for fair trade coffee, and some of the first on board fighting climate change and animal cruelty. We have networks and we know how to get things done through them by engaging each other and really working together. If you can engage youth and make them passionate about something, you can really get the message out there.”

At the UN panel, Dharamsi spoke to an audience of over a hundred about three key ways that youth can be better engaged in disaster risk reduction. She stressed the importance of providing youth with jargon-free, age-appropriate information, and suggested that young people need tangible measures to follow in order to raise awareness. Most importantly, she said young people need to be empowered to make change and share their ideas on how to make improvements.

“Disaster risk reduction information traditionally comes from one-way communication channels, and the reality is our generation is different, we crave dialogue,” she said.  “We don't want to work in an environment that presumes the experts have all the answers and that we're just here to mobilize them.  We blog, we Tweet, we Facebook. We want to be part of the process and to share our assets, because we have answers too.”

Dharamsi has been doing volunteer work since she was eight years old, but her enthusiasm for humanitarian work took off after the Southeast Asian tsunami hit in 2004. Since then, she has led the 30-Hour Famine at multiple high schools and volunteered in Vancouver’s economically challenged Downtown Eastside as well as Canuck Place Children's Hospice.

She has also taught in the slums of Guatemala, and visited widows’ cooperatives, schools and nutrition clinics in Rwanda. Throughout these experiences, Dharamsi was constantly trying to find ways that youth can be involved in humanitarian work.

When she entered Sauder, Dharamsi began exploring ways in which business students can use their unique knowledge and experience to make a difference in the developing world.

“It's all about this global responsibility that will make us better business people,” she said. “The business of tomorrow is ethical business. It is business that is good for the planet—it's triple bottom line: good for the planet, good for the people and it still makes a profit.”

Moreover, Dharamsi believes Sauder students have different expertise to offer than other UBC students.

“We've seen a lot of these issues being tackled by international development students, political science students and arts students, and that's great, but business students should be playing a lead role in finding solutions to the world’s problems,” she said. “We've had different courses, and we've been exposed to economic development from a different perspective. As a result, we can offer a unique set of assets to deal the issues.”

Dharamsi admits juggling a full course load with her volunteer work is no easy task, and it will only get harder this summer, when she starts interning at KPMG. However, she believes that when you know your true passion, you will make time for it no matter what.

“We see that a lot at Sauder,” she said. “People who are really giving up their time and trying to build themselves into people who are not only at the school to learn business, but who are there for a better purpose. I think that's really important.”

Watch a video recording of the panel discussion on the UN website.