It’s well known that young people are paramount to driving change - in fact, this is the very reason for the SDSN Youth’s existence and the same reason that I’m writing this post. Because of that, I’m not going to bombard anyone with stats or emotive language about the importance of youth leadership. If you’re reading this, you already know that - probably even better than I do.
My home university, Monash, is officially home to more than 70,000 students, and a massive proportion of these are very young. Monash has also been at the forefront of innovation and sustainable action for a number of years, whether it be the construction of the world-class Green Chemical Futures Building or the recent net-zero emissions by 2030 announcement.
Youth at Monash are already highly motivated and active concerning the Sustainable Development Goals. There’s the newly formed Monash Students’ Sustainability Association (MSSA), Fossil Free Monash, a Master of Environment and Sustainability and branches of AIESEC, VGen, Engineers Without Borders, SEED, and so many more that it might be impossible to list. At the heart of it, this is a good thing - there are always going to be people who say they’re interested in sustainability, but often that’s just because it’s a popular term these days. At Monash, people are walking the talk.
Unfortunately, for all the pure-hearted intentions that so many Monash students have, the efforts of all these bodies are hurt by how fragmented they are. Sure, Fossil Free and VGen have clearly differing aims and methodology - but this isn’t always the case. As it turns out, there’s lots of people working on the same thing, at the same time and in the same place. What’s important is finding a way to get all of these people in the same room.
So we did. A good friend of mine (another Dan), who is chair of the Monash Students Sustainability Association and I hatched the Monash Sustainable Development Summit, with the assistance of the wonderful people at the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and the Monash Office of Environment and Sustainability. We assembled a talented team of passionate students, and away we went into the mysterious land of event management.
Another thing I won’t do is provide a detailed account of everything that happened in the lead-up to the Summit, nor will I run through the day. I’ve set up why we were there, so what I will do is delve into whether or not I believe the summit was a success, why, and what I learned from this.
For some reason, I was surprised by how passionate people were. We had wonderful keynote speakers, inspiring student panelists and an incredibly fun afternoon mini-hackathon that featured an amazing level of engagement from the 70 students who attended. Most impressively, all of these people gave up their entire Saturday, and in week 10 of the semester no less. That’s what I call commitment.
It’s not just the attendees that were passionate - we had a support network of about a dozen people who helped out along the way, for no reward or recognition. None of them got to do the glamorous (albeit terrifying) role of MC like me, or host the mini-hackathon like (other) Dan. In fact, they were all perfectly content hanging out in the background, because they were there for a reason bigger than their own personal gain. Looking back, I guess I should have known this - after all, I already talked about how everyone knows the importance of youth as changemakers, but I guess I’m not included in everyone. Regardless, I couldn’t be more grateful for the incredibly passionate and driven students and staff we have here - we could never have done it without you.
The day, and it’s desired outcomes, were almost a great success. Our speakers were wonderfully engaging and interesting. The panel session was awesome, and the mini-hackathon too. We had a huge outpour of interest into the Monash Students Sustainability Association, which is exactly what we hoped would happen.
There was just one problem - we didn’t have the infrastructure ready for this kind of reaction.
I mentioned how capable, driven and passionate the students at the summit were. I also mentioned that they’re all from different bodies which at their core have the same goals, and how important it is to find a way to work together. And here they were, all on our doorstep excited and ready to get involved. But with what?
We probably let ourselves down in that regard, but we’re on track to recover. Students are still messaging the MSSA, and they’re all willing to wait until we put more projects in place for them to sink their teeth into. We’re almost there, too, and what an exciting moment it will be when we start to get some collaboration between the best and brightest at Monash.
The Summit was an incredible experience for me, Dan, and hopefully for everyone who was involved. I’ve learnt a lot about the SDGs, but more importantly what it’s going to take from us as young people to reach them. Ultimately, I really believe that sustainability at Monash is better off after the summit, if for nothing else other than the collaboration, networking and future projects.
This has already been a long post, and I guess in a roundabout way I’ve talked a lot about things I promised not to talk about. I’d like to leave you with my favourite moment from the day - a quote from one of our panelists that beautifully sums up why we do what we do:
“Youth leadership isn’t a choice, it’s a responsibility” - Hayden Choi, SEED.
Daniel Blakeley is a Monash University BSc Advanced - Global Challenges student, a course which focuses on translating science into real-world impact. His core interests surround sustainable development, particularly climate action, waste reduction and social equality.
These values are embodied through Daniel's current pursuits – firstly, as campus coordinator for the SDSN Youth, which he was initially involved with through running a Global Climate Change Week Expo in 2016. His involvement continued in 2017, running the Monash Sustainable Development Summit in early October.
Daniel is also currently co-founder and CFO of a Melbourne start-up called Untapped, which repurposes the waste of the beer brewing process by producing healthy snack foods. Through this, Daniel aims to address SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production.
He has also been accepted as a fellow at Pollinate Energy, an Australian social enterprise focusing on bringing solar power and employment to disadvantaged Indian communities.