Feb. 19, 2019

Student group seeks international development answers through storytelling

Sustainable Development Goals Alliance event prompts deep discussion from panellists, community members, students
The Storytelling the SDGs evening drew a full house and interesting discussion from guests and panellists.

Storytelling the SDGs drew a full house and interesting discussion from guests and panelists.

UCalgary alumna Bernice Lee

“Local actions can have global impacts … we’re all interconnected.”

“International development isn’t glamorous.”

“Find an issue that makes you angry and fuel that anger towards making change!”

- Storytelling the SDGs panelists

These were just a few of the conclusions that were shared by panelists at the end of the second annual Storytelling the SDGs evening, hosted by the Sustainable Development Goals Alliance (SDGA) on Feb. 6 during International Development Week.

Drawing on a storytelling theme, attendees heard from University of Calgary students and community members who have worked, researched or studied in an international context. A keynote address and panel discussion focused on the opportunities and challenges within the international development field, in addition to topics such as colonialism, privilege, and the importance of collaboration and meaningful partnerships.

Dr. Kimberly Williams, a medical doctor who co-founded the mental health teaching collaboration Kolabo, aims to increase the capacity for psychiatric care and mental health support in the Mwanza region of Tanzania. Her keynote presentation addressed the importance of building equitable partnerships in the field of global health. The phrase “global is local” was a key theme interwoven throughout her story, highlighting the impact even the smallest actions can have on our international community.

Attendees also heard from panelists working in a broad range of international development fields including gender equality, economic development, maternal, newborn and child health, and clean water and sanitation. Topics addressed during the discussion included the role of business and for-profit models in the development sector, multi-stakeholder collaboration and gender equity. Panelists also tackled common misconceptions about their work, including the belief that international development is glamorous and always beneficial to its recipients.

Panelists included:

  • Lena Bunzenmeyer, P.Eng, Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology
  • Martin Parnell, author and Guinness World Record holder
  • Christina Hassan, MPH, co-founder, FullSoul Canada, Faculty of Law, UCalgary
  • Erin Knight, development studies student, University of Calgary

“International development is a field filled with misconceptions and complexities,” says Tyler Warnock, SDGA co-chair and student in the Cumming School of Medicine. “It is easy to get wrapped up in the excitement of working internationally as there are an abundance of opportunities, but I would encourage students to critically assess their impact as it is not always obvious if the work we are doing is empowering and capacity-building.”

While attendees listened and learned, post-event, current undergraduate student work was showcased to empower peer-to-peer sharing of experiences from studying and working abroad. From field school research in Tanzania to study abroad experiences in Europe and Asia, students used posters, PowerPoint presentations and photos to convey some of the realities of international development.

Storytelling the SDGs was supported by University of Calgary International and the Office of Sustainability.

Tyler Warnock and Katherine Liu are students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences - Biomedical Sciences program in UCalgary’s Cumming School of Medicine. They are the co-chairs of the SDGA, a student-run organization seeking to improve student engagement with the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.