Future17's SDG challenge offers students a fresh approach to sustainability | Top Universities

Future17's SDG challenge offers students a fresh approach to sustainability

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Tsharna Daniel

Updated Oct 02, 2023



Bret Dow, Future17 volunteer

It is becoming more critical for students to understand what sustainability means and apply this knowledge at the workplace. This is exactly what Future17 SDG Challenge brings into curricular: SDG literacy and skills, universal for any industry.

Future17 is a consortia set up by QS and the University of Exeter that includes such universities as: CUHK, University of Sao Paulo, Stellenbosch University, the University of Auckland, Arizona State University, UCL, and others.

Future17 students are first introduced with some training before the programme begins. This induction ensures that the students use the same vocabulary throughout the eight-week course. There is a wide range of topics covered, including project management, design thinking, and intercultural communication. 

We sat down with a Future17 alumnus to talk about their journey so far and how the programme has helped them to grow their knowledge and skills. 

Please introduce yourself, your background and why you applied for Future17. 

I'm Brett, I just turned 20 in July and I am a second year Politics and Sociology student at University of Exeter. I applied to Future17 because I heard about it through my politics newsletter and it sounded really interesting to help companies around the world with sustainable development goals and helping improve their sustainability – it's a big draw for me. 

Exeter is one of the founding members of Future17 so I would imagine within the university, there is a lot of buzz about the programme.

When you applied, how did the process work? 

I filled out a few questions about why I was interested and I got talking with a few friends and a few people that had been involved in a study the first year before and it just all sounded really interesting – Myself and a few friends just talked about applying for it so when we got it, we were super happy. 

Can you tell us more about the project you've been assigned to? 

I got paired with an Indonesian company called Su-re.co. They work as a think-to-be-tank and are a business that sells very sustainable products that are locally sourced and help the livelihoods of farmers in Bali. They also run a lot of events, helping students and going into the fields to help farmers with climate field schools to teach them about how to use biogas produced by the company. So there's a lot going on from business to engineering, to research and think-tank work. 

Can you elaborate a little bit about which project you were a part of? 

I was part of one of the groups that was working on business-to-business partnerships – I was working primarily on the business side of things, helping them to find potential partners, both locally in Indonesia and abroad. We also helped with things to do with eco-labeling and everything to do with the process from product to consumer. 

Which universities were represented in your team? 

Our group had what felt like the biggest amount of students participating universally. Among them were, Stellenbosch University, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and three students from The University of Exeter, including myself. 

Can you please share how you converted your Future17 experience into an internship? 

The first thing is to take the project very seriously, because our group were only offered to come as interns because we gave a good presentation and had a helpful rapport. So you need to be able to communicate with the partner organisation very well and you need to really show them that you can genuinely help and make real change. It’s about getting to grips with how the organisation you are partnered with functions and helping them to find practical solutions so that they can potentially offer you and give you a leg up in terms of applying for an internship.

I'm quite a young student here, so a lot of the people that come here as interns are master's students, but I've been given this amazing opportunity because of the relationships Exeter and Future17 provided. 

What are you doing as a part of your internship? 

I applied to support all sides of the project with a big focus on the think tank side because that's what applies to my course the most, in politics and sociology. It's the thing that interests me the most, but I've also been supporting so many projects from the coffee production, to communicating with the farmers, going into the fields and helping the students run the events. It's been great and i've learned so much on all fronts. 

Bret Dow, Future17 volunteer

Do you feel that Future17 provided you with new skills and knowledge? 

During Future17, it was a lot about working as a group and a lot of online skills because all of that was done virtually. Right now, I'm working in person with a team. We do have a few people working virtually around Indonesia, but working in the office, I've become a lot more accustomed to professional work and a proper strict nine-to-five schedule, whereas during the Future17 course, it's just like a module that you're doing virtually and you need to really tune in and be hard on deadlines and be hard on rules as a team so that you can see real changes as a team.

Otherwise, it's not very realistic. Everyone becomes lazy and you need to coordinate it as a group. You need to both be self-organised and really put a lot of pressure on the group to work which is a hard skill, but it's possible. So, from your very first day, be very organised in your meetings and really outline a clear system that you will follow.  

What are the top three skills from Future17 that will resonate with employers best? 

Firstly, intercultural communication, because at times there is a slight language barrier and I think other teams may have experienced that even more. Secondly, Organisational skills are huge. You really need to be able to plan professional work, so people have big expectations of you and need to see things materialise. So you need to be able to deliver.

Thirdly, you need to be a confident member – you need to really show yourself and prove that the group can help the organisation and that you're not there just for a fun time, you really need to show that you're serious about it. 

How long have you been there now? 

I've been here two months now. So very, very quick. Straight after I heard a presentation, 'Would you like to come for an internship?'. I jumped on that and within a week I'd booked my flight. 

What will be your tip for other Future17 students looking for an internship?

I would recommend getting involved, showing that you're enthusiastic and reaching out to the organisation. We were lucky to be offered an internship, but if you're not offered an internship and you feel like you've done a good job, never be afraid to reach out.

As soon as we got offered the internship, I sent an email and I gave su-re.co a very specific set of dates that I could work in, I updated and attached my CV and everything. And it goes from there.  

Some helpful tips there - did the university help in any way? 

No. Well, I didn't really feel the need to reach out to the university, I thought it was on me to do the work and to show my interest. And I think that's the way it should be. If you want it, then you should really ask for it, be assertive and show that you can really make an impact. 

Has Future17 brought new aspects to your future career that you didn't really think of before joining?

Definitely, I mean, it's the first sort of experience i've had at university that's properly opened up careers to me. The experience has led to a really great experience here in Bali. Future17 had a big influence on the way I thought about what I want to do professionally and later on after university – it made it really easy. 

With thanks to Zainab Zafar, Future17 alumnus, for her assistance with the interview.