As a farmer’s daughter who grew up in Trenton, Ont., I couldn’t be further from home as I look out my hotel window to take in the beauty of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
It's a place of interesting contrasts, where you can step into a high-end shopping centre and hear the Muslim call to prayer from the mosque next door. Yet it’s remarkable how the people of Malaysia have made me feel right at home.
What brings me to the other side of the globe? The 2011 SIFE World Cup, where more than 3,000 students, academics and industry leaders from 37 countries have gathered to wave their flags and showcase the positive power of business.
SIFE is an international movement that works with leaders in business and higher education to mobilize university and college students to make a difference in their communities while developing the skills to become nation builders. Participating students form teams on their campuses and apply business concepts to develop outreach projects to help improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need.
An annual series of national and international competitions provide a forum for teams to present the results of their projects, and to be evaluated by business leaders serving as judges. I am honoured to have led our Canadian delegation to KL to fight the heat, humidity and jet lag, along with the likes of Doug McMillon, who heads Wal-Mart International, and other executives from KPMG, HSBC, Coca Cola, Unilever, Campbell Soup and Cargill, all of whom stand firmly behind the global SIFE organization.
The 2011 SIFE World Cup is a display of the best in our business of change. The event is a competition – and a fierce one at that – but I can tell you from experience that it is also a transformational learning experience for participants. No matter what their race, colour, gender, age, religion or socio-economic background may be, the movement is a shining example of what can be achieved when generations of leaders work together, joined in purpose and cause.
You couldn’t help but be inspired by Tuesday's events: Students representing our national champion, Memorial University of Newfoundland, demonstrated how they are helping medically discharged and retired military personnel start and run their own business, empowering Canadian heroes to transition to life after service.
The SIFE team at Kabarak University of Kenya set up BioSand filters in a community without drinkable water because 80 per cent of its population lives on less than $1 a day, and then it taught the locals how to turn that water into a profitable business.
SIFE Russia’s national champion, Tomsk State University, has helped 162 bus and 226 car owners switch to natural gas, saving each of them $750 a year while decreasing their environmental footprint.
These are just three stories from three communities in three countries. In the leadup to last year's World Cup, close to 9,000 projects were delivered by more than 50,000 students from 1,500 academic institutions in 37 countries.
From Cairo to New York City, SIFE is harnessing the talents of generations, bringing them together and inspiring entrepreneurial action to make a real economic, social and environmental difference.
The students, faculty and administrators from Memorial University are tremendous ambassadors for Canada, as are the members of their cheering squad, who hail from St. Mary’s University, the University of Windsor, Mount Royal University and Simon Fraser University. It is their leadership and their heads for business, coupled with their concern for their communities, that causes everyone who connects with them in Malaysia to say: I want to visit, go to school or work in Canada, too, eh?
Through written annual reports and live audio-visual presentations, 37 SIFE national champion teams from around the world are evaluated by industry leaders who consider the relevant economic, social and environmental factors to decide which SIFE team most effectively empowered people in need by applying business and economic concepts and an entrepreneurial approach to improve quality of life and standard of living.
On Tuesday, competing teams were placed into eight opening-round leagues. From there, two teams from each league advanced to the semi-final round of competition where, through a drawing of time slots, the teams placed themselves into four semi-final leagues. Emerging from the semi-final round of competition will be four teams that will draw for time slots in the final round of competition on Wednesday, and the chance to be named the 2011 SIFE World Cup Champion.
Share in the experience with us by checking out the website. Once you've witnessed the hope, passion, and entrepreneurial spirit of the young people involved with SIFE, I'm convinced you'll see, as I have, that the future of our country and our world is in good hands.
You may even feel compelled to wave your flag.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Amy Harder is the president of Advancing Canadian Entrepreneurship (ACE), a national charitable organization dedicated to teaching and igniting young Canadians to create brighter futures for themselves and their communities. ACE also operates the SIFE program in Canada.
Join The Globe’s Small Business LinkedIn group to network with other entrepreneurs and to discuss topical issues: http://linkd.in/jWWdzT