UBC Sauder Gives Back: Volunteer students on the frontiers of social change

Posted 2019-10-03

Students, staff and faculty participated in a number of projects as part of the inaugural UBC Sauder Gives Back series — a volunteer program that encouraged the school community to join hands to affect change and impact people and the planet.  

From weeding invasive shrubs at Pacific Spirit Park and cleaning up Jericho Beach, to helping administration staff at BC Children's Hospital and consulting Downtown Eastside community members on job interviews, the 11 varied activities aimed to contribute towards positive change within communities across Vancouver. 


A powerful thing

Kristian Oppenheim, a second-year BCom student, was undeterred by waist-high thorny bushes at Pacific Spirit Park, where he led fellow UBC Sauder students, faculty and other volunteers in weeding invasive blackberry species. 

Volunteers used shovels and clippers to excavate the soil around the roots and clear the ground for fresh native shrubs to grow. 

"Volunteerism is just a really powerful thing. And I love that faculty and staff also came out to support the youth — it creates a great sense of community," said Oppenheim. 

The work of UBC Sauder volunteers at Pacific Spirit Park can have a lasting impact. The invasive Himalayan blackberry shrubs prevent the native 'trailing' blackberries from taking root in the fall season, which can have deteriorating effects on the local ecosystem. As invasive shrubs proliferate out of control — with some encroaching on trees and reaching as high as 20 feet — park members value the extra help to clean up the area. 

For Oppenheim, this work is an example of how dedicated, organized volunteer opportunities can make a difference. He's part of the team that founded UBC Sauder Gives Back — a project that he said provides a platform for students to volunteer and connect with communities in the city. 

"There are many students who really want to do a lot of good at UBC Sauder, and we wanted to provide them with an outlet to contribute in a meaningful and organized way," said Oppenheim. 

"In the future, we want to expand it so that all of our student clubs and services can come out together and use their business skills to impact the communities — because the community in turn does so much to help us expand our knowledge of business and understand how businesses can spur social change."

Oppenheim emphasizes that business skills, business education and engaging with the community all go hand-in-hand. And in light of pressing challenges facing the globe, this was never truer than now. 

"Corporations and corporate leaders are going to play a huge role in the next decade as we fight climate change," said Oppenheim. "Coming out here and doing physical work and reminding ourselves how important that is — that's what we want to do with Sauder Gives Back."


Kristian Oppenheim uproots invasive blackberry shrubs at Pacific Spirit Park. He said business skills, business education and engaging with the community all go hand-in-hand.


An obligation to the world

These sentiments were echoed at Jericho Beach. While the problem of trash is not so big as to cause an eyesore, stray litter and unattended plastic waste pockmarks beaches in Vancouver when you look closely. Sirena Harrop, a second-year UBC Sauder student, was doing exactly that. 

Along with volunteer students and UBC Sauder staff, Harrop scoured Jericho Beach until sunset so beachgoers the next day would be able to enjoy the sand in its close-to-pristine form. The result of their efforts: cigarette butts, a toilet roll, beer cans, pens and used hand-wipes collected in garbage bags. 

For Harrop, cleaning the beach is part of an ongoing commitment to take care of sacred ground — traditional and unceded lands that belong to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations.

Volunteering is also central to her identity as a UBC Sauder student. 

"Business students don't just work in banks to try and gather lots of money — but rather we are working members of society and we contribute every single day," said Harrop when asked about stereotypes of b-school students. 

"A big part of being a UBC Sauder student is to value respect and responsibilities. As UBC Sauder students, we have an obligation to our community. As a business student, we have an even bigger obligation to the world around us," said Harrop. 


Sirena Harrop led the efforts to clean up Jericho Beach in Vancouver. "A big part of being a UBC Sauder student is to value respect and responsibilities," said Harrop. 


UBC Sauder inspires beyond classrooms

Harrop derives inspiration from her classes at UBC Sauder, both when she's part of a volunteering team and when she's making choices as a consumer. In particular, she credits faculty members who teach Comm 101 - Business Fundamentals — Zorana Svedic and Conor Topley— in making her more informed about how her decisions have consequences.

"There's a difference between a company just masking behind 'sustainability' as a buzzword, and another company that genuinely gives back to the environment. The class lectures made a big difference in how I view companies and brands," said Harrop. 

Oppenheim too sees first-hand how lessons learnt at UBC Sauder accompany him beyond classrooms and can become tools to inspire change.

"Because of the business knowledge we have, we're going to have the toolkit and the ability to turn our passions into sustainable projects that contribute to healing the environment," said Oppenheim. 

"At UBC Sauder, we talk about wealth not as the amount of dollars in our bank account, but rather by the number of people who are positively impacted by our actions."