Student nabs chance at a sustainable IMPACT! on the world

Paul Mayne//Western News

Geography graduate student Kevin Vuong will be one of a handful of Canadian students participating in IMPACT!, a youth conference for sustainability leadership this May in Guelph. He will be tackling the issue of apathy and youth disengagement.

How do you address apathy and youth disengagement when it comes to sustainability? How do you convince them they are uniquely positioned to shift governments toward a stronger sustainability-based agenda?

Count on Kevin Vuong to have an IMPACT! on those issues – and more.

Vuong is one of 175 university and college students from across Canada invited to IMPACT!, a youth conference for sustainability leadership, scheduled for May in Guelph. The students will team up with experts to develop sustainability solutions to take back to their campuses, communities and current, or future, workplaces.

“Youth apathy is an issue of prominence now, and has been for quite awhile, and we believe, as the younger generation, we are a lot more familiar with the conversation and if we are engaged more politically as well, we are able to drive that conversation toward sustainability,” Vuong said.

A graduate of Western’s Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies (BMOS) program and currently working on a master’s degree in Geography, Vuong is already a veteran when it comes to ‘travel missions.’

In 2010, he was part of the G8 and G20 Canadian youth delegations in Toronto. That same year, he travelled on an economic trade mission to Hong Kong and Malaysia. And earlier this past year, Vuong spent a week-and-a-half as one of five Canadian students to be part of the Y20 conference in Russia, part of the larger G20 event.

“It was a great opportunity to bring back what I learned abroad and apply it here,” said Vuong, a 2014 Western Green Award winner for his participation in rePurpose for Change. “There are a lot of global best practices we don’t necessarily know about here.”

For Vuong, it all comes down to aligning benefits in order to convince people about the importance of sustainability.

“It’s not an instant win or an easy process,” he said. “It’s going to be an ongoing, evolving process that has an educational aspect. We need to be engaging people, getting their feedback and finding out what they truly care about, and show them how that relates to sustainability.

“It’s all about how does it affect you.”

In advance of the event, Vuong will complete an online sustainability course, connect online with fellow conference delegates and learn about certain sustainability challenges. During the conference, he will apply this knowledge and work with various experts from academia, industry and government.

Following the conference, grants will be available to the students for them lead community initiatives in their city.

“This conference brings people from across the country, from different backgrounds and different cities, so that we can get a unique perspective from everyone,” said Vuong, adding sustainability wasn’t always his main focus in life.

“I wanted to be the ‘meanest banker in the world’ and make as much money as possible,” he admitted with a laugh. “But travelling abroad, I came to realize how fortunate I was to be born and raised in Canada. I saw how some of our civil liberties we take for granted weren’t universally practiced, and that was my ‘a-ha’ moment.

“I came back and didn’t want to make a whole bunch of money. I wanted to do something that would have more of an impact on society and began working with a lot of community organizations.”

While it continues to be a battle to sell sustainability, Vuong is one who won’t back down.

“We’re never going to be able to affect any sort of positive, impactful change, if we don’t try. We have to take ownership” he said. “With this generation, it’s always been media overload, so it’s trying to simplify it and say it in a way where it’s successful and people understand. So it goes back to getting to know what they really care about and speaking within those terms.”