Letters from the dorm: how international competitions have shaped my ambition

Talise Tsai
Talise Tsai |

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Making a social impact and living globally have always been my personal mandates. Over the course of the last four months, these interests have taken me on all-expenses-paid trips to San Francisco and London to take part in socially-minded competitions, and it has been absolutely life-changing.

The amazing thing about competitions like this is you really aren’t required to know much going in, and through the process you will discover and learn more than you already know. All you need is the right attitude, a passion and willingness to understand and find a solution to the problem, and an active mind. The rest is pure hard work and a little creativity: how you want to approach the problem, what you think the main drivers of the issues are, which area you want to focus on, and of course, what ideas you have.

What has surprised me over the course of doing multiple competitions is that, oftentimes the most ridiculous sounding ideas are the ones that eventually turn out to the be the most innovative, realistic, and impactful.

In December three of my schoolmates and I entered a competition called the Hult Prize. It’s a global social enterprise competition where finalists take part in a start-up accelerator and have the chance to pitch their business idea to the Clinton Initiative for US$1 million. We wanted to come up with a business that would help restore the rights and dignity of 10 million refugees by 2020 – an appropriate ask given the ongoing refugee crisis, recent laws passed in the US restricting immigration, and the general trend towards nationalism all around the world.

Needless to say, we went with something a little crazy and grand, but we got in to the next round in San Francisco and that’s where the magic happened. Seeing 300 students from all around the world at events like these proves that youth can and ARE already making a large scale impact on their communities.

Another experience that has been tremendously close to my heart was the Unilever Future Leader’s League Global Finals in London. There were 90 students representing 30 countries, and as part of an icebreaker we were put into 6 groups and tasked with a challenge.

It was such an enriching experience to work closely with people with different ways of thinking and work through language barriers – Google translate was critical – to come up with something bigger. I made lifelong friends, was exposed to how business culture can be very different globally (“business casual” attire was interpreted very differently), and learned so much about Unilever’s own Sustainable Living Plan and mission.

Taking part in these events generates ideas and is an excellent networking opportunity. When you bring people together from different backgrounds and ways of thinking, you end up with a huge variety of ideas. They might not all work, but they could be a stepping stone to fixing something in the world.

It is encounters like these that inspire and fuel my ambition to give back to the world, as well as making me see that the world is worth giving back to.

Edited by Sam Gusway