Sustainability Storytelling & Dialogue Night

This blog piece is part of the Sustainability Peer Program. In the program, students were asked to create a sustainability initiative as a way to foster sustainability leadership on and off campus. Each student or group was asked to complete a reflection about their initiative. Here is Ren Buhay and Priscilla Lam interviewing each other to share their peer project experience.

On March 13, 2018 they hosted the Sustainability Storytelling & Dialogue Night at Halpern Centre, a free student event with light snacks. Four students shared stories based on the theme of “everyday sustainability” practices. Following the storytelling, participants in table groups had the opportunity to dialogue and co-design visuals based on the stories shared and guided questions led by volunteers.

Priscilla: Can you describe where the project idea came from and why it mattered to you? In what way did the project have a positive impact on the SFU community?

Ren: I’ve always enjoyed storytelling and blogging about everyday sustainability to students for Embark’s community blog. So why not take the online sustainability community and bring it in person!

This project was meaningful to me because it helped me see the impact students can have in communicating sustainability through storytelling and dialogue. I was able to take away some new insights from the speakers and participants; likewise for everyone in the room.

I think the project left a positive impact because it helped students move out of their comfort zone by sharing their stories in front of an audience or facilitating a dialogue group for the first time. Students don’t have many opportunities to share their sustainability passions so to be able to provide a platform for them to tell their stories was very meaningful to me. By the end of the event, student engagement was evident as some participants were still having conversations!

Participants gathered in table groups for dialogue.

Ren: What role did you play in the project and what did the process look like?

Priscilla: I helped with the execution of the project and co-hosted the event. Since the project was organized by just two people, the process went smoothly. Ren and I were able to effectively communicate online or in person over the course of three months. The responsibilities we had overlapped a lot. We both had a hand in a little bit of everything.

Priscilla: Can you describe how the event went? What were the highlights?

Ren: I think the timing and flow of the event went pretty smoothly. For the storytelling portion, four students shared their personal empowering moments of why they are passionate about sustainability and gave advice to students trying to be more sustainable. Stories ranged from social sustainability, nature connection, veganism, self love and acceptance, the daily student struggle to bring containers, and reduce waste and single-use items.

Thirteen people participated in two group dialogues led by volunteer facilitators and notetakers. Each table group had three guided questions for participants to answer that included: reflecting/sharing everyday sustainability practices, the challenges and solutions to everyday sustainability, and ways to scale up sustainability practices into institutions like the university. One group was able to take part in the co-design portion and draw their ideal sustainable city. At the end of the dialogue, one representative from each group discussed a key insight from their table. We then presented the speakers with small gifts as a token of our thanks.

For the co-design, participants illustrate the possibilities of implementing sustainable practices at the municipal level.

A highlight was seeing the students tell their stories. A few hours before the event we had a dry run with the speakers in a crowded library study room. We provided some feedback regarding their presentation style, content and the occasional “um”. Then when it came time to see them speak in front of the room I was caught off a bit surprised. Their audience engagement, energy and room presence were more lively than in the previous dry run. The change in how they presented their stories was great to watch. I was much more connected and captivated in the moment so that was a highlight for me!

Ren: What skills/abilities did you gain from the project? What did you learn from the process of creating your own project?

Priscilla: This was my first time developing external relations skills. I learned how to write partnership emails and secure speakers. I can say I am definitely more comfortable with reaching out to potential partners in future projects.

I learned that creating your own project is not impossible. Some of the things I’ve done for this project are things I have never done before. They are things I had to learn as I go. You don’t need experience to pursue a project like this; you just need the passion to go for it.

Priscilla: What advice would you give to anyone who would like to host their own storytelling and dialogue night?

Ren: For an event like this reaching out to your personal networks and partners is key. I had friends and mentors who hosted past storytelling and dialogue events give me really good feedback from planning the agenda, to timing each activity and coming up with the event logistics. Reaching out to others who’ve hosted events like this helped ensure our own event had a strong foundation. Also in face-to-face communication works best to get people to come!

Ren: What advice would you give to anyone who would like to host their own storytelling and dialogue night?

Priscilla: Pick an interesting and accessible topic! Choose a topic most people can talk generally about, then use discussion prompts to promote deeper thinking. Good luck!

Group photo of 2017-2018 Sustainability Peers and volunteers.

Thank you to Embark Sustainability and the Sustainability Office, we would not have been able to host this event without you!

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