Rewriting the “I know a guy” phraseology

Posted 2020-04-30

When business opportunities or job prospects arise, many of us have heard the simple words “I know a guy.” It’s a colloquial way of saying that you know someone who is right for the job. UBC Sauder Bachelor of Commerce (BCom) student Emielia Dahl-Sam couldn’t help but notice that qualified female candidates are omitted from this popularized workforce saying. She and two friends started the I Know a Girl initiative to help challenge perceptions, crack the glass ceiling, and rewrite our phraseology.

In late 2018, Dahl-Sam and fellow UBC students June Geyer and Lilla Bond founded the student-led I Know a Girl organization as a way to support and empower self-identifying females to achieve their professional and personal goals. With all three of the co-founders studying in different UBC faculties, they also wanted to connect the siloed community networks across campus.

The initiative hosts on-campus workshops and networking events to link UBC students with industry professionals. Keynote speakers at past events have ranged from an environmental architecture firm representative who spoke about the importance of having a social media presence to small business coaches who focused on how to build a personal brand. 

“It’s everything from being able to present your ideas with confidence to knowing what to put on your resume and how to give a thorough handshake,” explains Dahl-Sam of the lessons from each event. “The content is applicable across all fields.”

With I Know a Girl now having an established presence on campus, Dahl-Sam says she is most proud of the fact that their events are seen as welcoming as opposed to high pressure. (Editor’s note: As of March 2020, in-person events are on hold at UBC due to COVID-19.)

“The most impactful thing for me is the fact that the majority of our attendees are first- and second-year students and they come alone,” says Dahl-Sam. “This really says that we’ve created an environment where these girls feel comfortable coming in and learning something.” 


Driven by a love of social entrepreneurship

Though I Know a Girl helps spread business acumen across campus, Dahl-Sam admits she didn’t always know she wanted to pursue a business education. “I knew I really liked leadership positions, I liked working in teams, and I liked international development,” recalls Dahl-Sam.

At the end of her first year at UBC Sauder, Dahl-Sam was selected to participate in the Sauder Social Entrepreneurship (SSE) Kenya program. She was one of only two first-year students among a cohort of mainly fourth year students to travel to Nairobi, Kenya to teach business tools to a class of emerging entrepreneurs. Dahl-Sam and her UBC Sauder teammates delivered lessons in financial management, marketing, and strategy in the Nairobian urban township of Kibera. 

“It was a special moment because it was the first time here at UBC Sauder that I really clicked with the whole idea of doing of business for good,” says Dahl-Sam. “It opened my eyes to this whole world of social entrepreneurship and how we, as business students, can use our resources for bottom line benefits beyond profits.”

Dahl-Sam says the experience in Kenya also helped her overcome feelings of imposter syndrome, which she often felt being surrounded by high calibre students at school.

“Through SSE Kenya and other opportunities UBC Sauder has afforded me, I’ve been able to place myself in challenging situations, overcome those situations and gain a sense of confidence,” says Dahl-Sam. “A lot of this confidence came from my SSE teammates who really believed in me and thought I was 100 per cent capable.”


A trip made possible with the help of donors

Donors and sponsors play a crucial role in the ongoing success of SSE Kenya. Donations support students through program bursaries and cover various project costs like air travel, facility rentals, and workshop materials. 

“The only reason I was able to go to Kenya with that program was because of donor support,” says Dahl-Sam, who used her bursary to help cover airfare costs. “I was self-funding the trip and would not have been able to afford it had it not been for their support.”

Dahl-Sam notes that she became involved in a lot of on- and off-campus initiatives related to social entrepreneurship once she returned from Kenya. Perhaps not surprisingly, she co-founded I Know a Girl later that same year. 

As she prepares to enter her final year of the BCom program, Dahl-Sam has her sights set on attending graduate school to expand her expertise in the areas of sustainability and social impact. Thanks to her influential experiences at UBC Sauder, she’s also determined to structure her career around tackling the most pressing societal issues of the day. 

“When I was in Kenya, I learned how to frame my career projections around identifying social and environmental issues and finding a job where I could help solve those issues,” says Dahl-Sam. “I’ve been very motivated and sure of what I want to accomplish ever since I was exposed to that first glimpse of what social entrepreneurship looks like in its rawest form.”