For students new to it, learning how to lead can be hard, not to mention intimidating. Even for students with some experience, leading is a concept that isn’t the most intuitive. Are you supposed to just take charge in every group assignment? Make sure your voice is the loudest? Delegate responsibility until all that’s left is you as supreme overlord of the Sith and—ok, maybe not that last point. The truth is, leadership is something so dynamic and diverse that there isn’t a single way to learn it. That was one of the main guiding principles behind this conference I attended last Saturday called UConnect, a leadership conference based in University College.
Before I made the decision to finish my education, I was fortunate enough to experience the beginnings of a promising career in social innovation. It was an exciting time because I was working in a community transitioning between a decade long recession and a promise of economic recovery. This community, at the time, was being courted by several large-scale industrial projects with deep pockets. Though the social implications from these projects’ investments were mostly welcome, the challenge lay in figuring out how best to benefit from them, while mitigating as many negative social impacts as possible. The majority of my work involved leading projects that required me to be immersed in the world of social innovation.
Unfortunately, for all of the work I was doing on the ground, there were always significant obstacles being met at higher levels. I guess this is the plight of grassroots movements, but as frustrating as it was to experience, it also brought me to an understanding of the difficulties faced by today’s social innovators. In this understanding, the only way I could see myself becoming a more effective social innovator was to finish my degree and gain more access to higher level decision-making processes.
Student-run conferences have become a big part of my involvement in campus activities. By “conference,” I refer not to a United Nations-like assembly of prominent politicians in suits but to a much less intimidating form that has really enriched my learning experience.
I’ve participated in a few and have had great experiences with them. Smaller events will often be free while larger events may require a fee that covers food, speakers, or renting out the space. In January, I attended the UTGB Student Leadership Conference where we discussed the impact of international short-term volunteering and the importance of understanding the underlying social and political context of the countries we serve. Just last month, I registered for the Fraser Institute seminar on public policy, which touched upon a range of diverse topics such as Aboriginal title in Canada and free market trade.
There are some cool advantages to attending student conferences – here are some features I personally enjoy: