The International Development Conference at Southampton University: “This is an absolutely crucial period”

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After much anticipation, the International Development Conference, organised by Southampton Hub, was held at Highfield Campus on Saturday 18th October. Already in its sixth year, the theme of the all-day conference was ‘Global Citizenship’, upon which the speakers based their presentations. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Southampton Hub committee and its members, the day ran very smoothly – in spite of an unforeseen technology glitch at the beginning – and all of the attendees were offered an ethically-sourced lunch, in line with the environmental and ethical issues covered in the talks.

Dr James Dyke began the day’s sessions with his presentation on ‘Global Challenges’, which focussed on the considerable pressure that human beings, notably western citizens, are placing on the world daily. He touched upon global warming and climate change, the consumption of non-renewable energy resources, habitat extinction and deforestation, the harmful impact that factories have on ecosystems and local communities, and the phenomenon of population growth. Although brief, it was a powerful talk that really brought home the damage we, a planet-altering species, are doing to the Earth. Sadly, the countries least responsible for these actions are the ones that are paying the price. “This is an absolutely crucial period”, Dyke insisted, while explaining that we will need to get through a ‘bottleneck’ to arrive to a sustainable future; technological innovation is just not sufficient. It was thought-provoking to say the least. On a final note, he mentioned that, as citizens, we should still participate in the political system, even if we perhaps don’t hold it in the highest esteem. By placing pressure on our local MPs, we can make changes at a grassroots level and, individually, try to be an effective global citizen.

The fantastic thing about the conference was that under the label ‘Global Citizenship’ a diverse range of topics were covered. Following the talk on global challenges, Amnesty International’s Irene Halford gave a short speech on modern-day slavery. Shockingly, there are now many more slaves in the world today than there were during the entirety of the transatlantic trade, which really brought to the fore the severity of the situation.

Jemima Hartshorn then addressed the conference on behalf of the Hunger Project – a global, non-profit organisation that is working to achieve a sustainable end to world hunger. The charity supports rural communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America in such a way that they are not welfare dependent, rather they learn to become the ‘agents’ of their own development.

After the lunch break, talks were centred on working and volunteering in the third sector. Ruth Taylor, the International Development Manager for Student Hubs, spoke on the ‘Impact International’ programme, which focusses on educating and equipping students who wish to volunteer abroad. It was sad to hear about how the ‘gap yah’ craze to be an international volunteer can do more harm than good, and that communities and children inside orphanages are being exploited purely to generate capital.

Then, to close the conference, speakers Emma Kelleher and Jeff Riley gave some useful advice on how to pursue a career in international development. Students were able to relate to Kelleher, in particular, because she is a University of Southampton graduate who has successfully managed to get her foot on the career ladder in an industry that she is passionate about.

At the end of the conference, Aurora Justice, the International Development Coordinator for Southampton Hub commented: “Students have the ability to drive social and global change. The IDC provided a foundation to understanding international development, students’ responsibility as global citizens and their future social action”

In response to how she, herself, tries to be a responsible global citizen, she replied: On a day to day basis, I personally try and ensure that I consume ethically by identifying how and where products are sourced. On a wider level, I want to remain up to date with global and social challenges so I know how to address these

Overall, the conference was a success and everything ran smoothly. The speaker sessions coupled with the market stall holders – representatives from different international development schemes and organisations who came along to promote their own projects – provided just a glimpse into the international development sector, but it was definitely enough to inspire attendees to make changes themselves in their day-to-day lives. This was reflected in the positive feedback for the conference at the end of the day:

“Very helpful especially for careers- inspirational”

“Raised awareness of issues you never would have considered before”

“Great new ideas about International Development. Very thought-provoking and interesting topics.”

 “Loved the topics covered and the info given! Eye opening.”

Southampton Hub is a SUSU-affiliated society and part of Student Hubs, a national network of student-led groups in 10 universities working to get more students involved in social action during their time at university and in their careers. Through transforming students’ involvement with social and environmental challenges in Southampton and around the world, Southampton Hub envision a time where University of Southampton students are fully embedded in the wider community, with every single one engaging in social and environmental issues during their time here.

For more information and to get involved with Southampton Hub, please visit their website here.

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