If you’ve ever had the opportunity to go to a conference, you will understand the impact that it can have on your life and how you think about the world around you. The 2017 Student Energy Summit (SES) was no different—in fact, it was even more empowering. I had the opportunity to go to the SES2017 in Merida, Mexico to represent SFU and Canada alongside 650+ students from over 65 countries. It was a unique opportunity that brought together such a vast and diverse group of students to collaborate. This conference consisted of two parts: the summit, where professionals, industry leaders, and the students themselves talking about energy initiatives, sustainable development, clean tech, and innovation; and the Community Contribution Programme (CCP) which involved 60 student delegates from over 25 countries going into the rural community of Zavala to build clean burning stoves for the community.
While only being down in Yucatan, Mexico for 9 days, my experiences with SES has expanded my horizons and taught me to look for the value in what we do every single day. There are four main lessons that I learned while at this amazing international conference.
1. People Can Teach You A Great Deal, If You Take the Time
Whether it was the speakers, the other delegates, or the community of Zavala, I discovered that one can learn from just about any experience or encounter. I went down to the conference with the intention of learning and taking back as much knowledge as I could. At the conference, one of the pieces of advice that stuck with me the most was when one of the speakers told us that innovation can come from anywhere. Another speaker, the Princess of Burkina Faso, reinforced this point when she stated that most third world countries are still reliant on oil, so we need to be innovative in cleaning up an old sector as the renewable sector begins to take hold and never pigeonhole innovation.
Another major lesson that I learned is that learning doesn’t solely have to be through listening to conversations or speeches. I learned the most valuable lessons by being a part of the Community Contribution Programme (CCP). When we entered the community, we were able to learn simple tasks like mixing cement by watching the locals. We learned about their customs and cultures from our interactions and conversations. We got to become a part of the community by simply being engaged. If you take a second to genuinely be engaged, you might be surprised at how much wisdom and knowledge you will gain from those around you.
2. Simplicity Doesn’t Indicate Insignificance
A major part of the CCP was understanding what we were doing for the community and understanding how to create sustainable technology that would be useful for their population.
When I signed up for the contribution project, I thought that we were going to be installing new shiny stoves that optimized the energy usage and cooked more efficiently. I was sorely mistaken! What we built were concrete stoves. We started with wooden frames where we would pour a concrete mixture and place molds for where the hot plates sat and the entrance where the wood would burn. I was shocked at how simple this technology was however, we started to talk about what appropriate technology meant and what that entailed.
We were taught that if we didn’t listen to how the community cooked and what they needed, they would abandon anything that we had implemented. Even though we were building these simple cement stoves, they would use about 60% less wood than traditional methods, which saves over 500 tons of CO2 emissions per year. Along with that, it also would reduce the amount of house fires because it contained the embers and it would reduce the risk of lung disease because the smoke would be pumped out with a smoke stack so inhabitants would no longer be inhaling it. This understanding really began to put simple innovation into context for me. No matter how good we think a new fancy tech solution is, if we don’t consider those we are helping and listen to them, we won’t be providing a useful solution. We wouldn’t be helping at all.
The CCP not only allowed me to make a difference in the community’s life, it challenged my preconceived notions and has allowed me to grow my own mindset. I now realize that we don’t always have to look for the best solution or the best response to problems, simple and thought driven answers can provide great value.
3. There Is Power In Collaboration
The conference brought over 650+ students together from 65+ countries all with a similar vision of making our planet more sustainable. That is in and of itself remarkable. Even after the conference, we continue to talk with one another and we have a Facebook group where people share their projects and other interesting events that are going on around the world.
Likewise, we brought in speakers from around the globe. We had speakers ranging from the Princess of Burkina Faso to the President of Exon Mexico all from numerous countries. They came because they saw the movement that was happening and how much impact that we, as a collective, can have.
During the conference, the delegates got the opportunity to collaborate on projects to develop solutions for existing problems surrounding energy. The power of collaboration was evident when one group grew to the size of 80+ students. This particular group clearly had a passion. They were tasked with getting Latin America to become a world leader in energy. This group even extended past the conference and is growing daily. They are currently sharing content, conferences and, movements that are pressing the government to make headway in renewable energy.
When you bring together people who are driven, intelligent, passionate, and full of energy, it is amazing the momentum that is created. One single person can start a change but it is a group of people that keeps the movement going.
4. There Is Joy In Giving Back
Being a part of something larger than yourself is one of the most rewarding experiences that you will ever have. While at the Student Energy Summit, we heard from many speakers and past participants who became inspired to give back because of what they heard at previous conferences. They started organizations and businesses because they wanted to make an impact and create a change around them. These were the most inspiring stories because their passion and joy from knowing they were making an impact in other peoples’ lives was evident.
The Community Contribution Program taught me that we are all global citizens part of a larger community, even though we may not share the same history, background or language. The actions of giving back and making a direct impact spoke volumes to each member of this local community. I remember going into this program not knowing what to expect yet being greeted by big smiles. A simple smile broke any barriers that existed. Not only did these locals open up their community to us, they cooked for us, joked, laughed, and ran in the rain with us. I will always be grateful to Zavala for teaching me to find joy in all ways of life.
There is a fitting passage that discusses how we treat and give to others and it goes like this: “Give, and it will be given back to you. Good measured, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured onto your lap. For the measure you use, will be measured to you.” We tend to forget that there are other people around us and all they need is a simple act of kindness. Giving back will bring you so much joy and it will change your life as much as it will change whomever you are giving to.
What I loved the most about SES2017 and the CCP was what it stood for. It stood for change and gave students a platform to engage and create a community where individuals from around the world felt comfortable to share and challenge, their peers. As an individual who has a passion for people, having the opportunity to impact people’s lives is something that I will always take advantage of. Seeing and interacting with the other student delegates and the Zavala community has shifted how I think, how I act and how I see my own place in the world. Volunteering gives me the opportunity to see that even making the smallest gesture of kindness can have a large impact. Being able to see the tangible difference that we got to make in this community is what impacted me the most.
The biggest lesson that I have learned over this past year is that you don’t have to know exactly what you are doing or how you are going to do it. You just have to be confident and willing to take a risk and use each opportunity to learn. I had no idea what I was doing or whether I was “qualified” when I started doing the activities I am doing currently, but that didn’t stop me from doing them. If you take that step forward in engaging with what you’re passionate about and what you want to accomplish, things will line up.
Braeden Peterson is currently a 5th year student studying Entrepreneurship & Innovation, Marketing, and Political Science. He enjoys pursuing a range of experiences, and through these, enjoys meeting new people. Above all, Braeden enjoys adventure, outdoor activities, and giving back.
At SFU, he is the Vice-President of SFU’s Student for Humanity club, a BMP Mentor, and part of the Technology-Entrepreneurship Cohort. Along with his academic pursuits at SFU, Braeden runs his own businesses and volunteering with many organizations. Braeden is an Entrepreneur, a Humanitarian, a Mentor, and a Public Speaker. He wishes to continue pursuing his entrepreneurial passions and help impact the world. Connect with Braeden: firstname.lastname@example.org, on Linkedin, Instagram, or Twitter