Tuesday, 15 April 2014

AIESEC Go Volunteer exchange: A life changing experience

It’s eye-opening what travelling over the summer break can do for a uni student, especially if the purpose of travel is volunteer and social work. That’s what I found during my trip to Europe at the beginning of 2014, as part of AIESEC’s Go Volunteer exchange. AIESEC is a global youth network that develops leaders through international exchange. With the aid of a Business School scholarship, I was able to undertake my AIESEC exchange in Hungary over a period of six weeks. My ultimate aim was to develop cultural awareness and understanding in my work in two very distinct institutions.

My fellow volunteers, who were all from Brazil, whom I lived and worked with at the refugee camp.
The first was a refugee camp, whereby many of the refugees came from countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Iran, Cameroon, Syria and Algeria. Together with my fellow volunteers who were all from Brazil and Mexico, I taught English basics such as ‘My name is….’ and ‘it is nice to meet you’ to the adult refugees. As many of them had experienced various degrees of emotional, social and physical struggles in their own war-torn countries, their aspiration to learn English was one of their goals in their pursuit of reaching safe and democratic countries such as Australia or America. For some of them, their brave stories of enduring months of travel by foot or with strangers made me cherish how fortunate I am to live in Australia. And although my father was once also a refugee, this experience of living and working in a refugee camp propelled many questions in my mind about how Australia was dealing with its humanitarian issues.

Myself and a volunteer playing soccer with the kids at the refugee camp.
After two weeks of teaching and getting to know the families at the refugee camp, I was offered the opportunity to work in a school for blind and mentally disabled children. Having never had any experience of working with the blind, I was anxious about how I would cope and manage my interactions. However, my anxiety was unwarranted. Whether it be saying hello to me and attempting to hold up a conversation in English (very few Hungarians can speak English) or bringing fruit and other snacks to my dorm room so that I wouldn’t get lonely living by myself, the staff and students all made me feel so welcome and safe. The warmth shown to me by everyone in the school really motivated me to do as much as I could to contribute to their learning and teaching environment.

My grade 3 kids at the Blind School.
So what did my typical day look like? I would wake up at 6.45am, have breakfast in the school dining hall, and start my first class at 7.15am. I would usually go to five classes throughout the day, teaching children who ranged from 7-17 years old, all of whom had very unique personalities and levels of English proficiency. Usually, I was accompanied by the classroom teacher, who could translate for me. What was really inspiring was that the teachers at the school were also blind and aside from their teaching jobs, they each had unique interests and talents which they pursued. For instance, one of the English teachers that I worked with was an opera singer who was concurrently working on her PhD, and is involved in numerous charitable and social initiatives to raise awareness about programs and opportunities available to blind people. She is such a great mentor, colleague and friend to me, as are many of the other staff members and students that I met.

Making ANZAC biscuits at the Blind School.
All in all, working in the refugee camp and the blind school gave me so much motivation to explore ways in which I could better serve my community back here in Australia. Hence, although I am devoted to finishing my Bachelor of Commerce degree and am involved in a number of student start-ups and societies, I am committed to making a concerted effort to contribute to my community by volunteering for humanitarian and youth development causes, as well as attending festivities that celebrate cultural diversity. Looking back, I can honestly say that my 2013/2014 summer break was undoubtedly the best summer break I’ve ever had.

Christine Ma
Current student at The University of Sydney Business School

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Public and private work: Work, family and social institutions

While women who pursue a career in industries which, until the late 20th century, were largely dominated by men, have been struggling against ‘glass ceilings’ and ‘sticky floors’, many men have also had to defend their ability to perform in domains that are traditionally dominated by women. A shift in cultural norms, a changing workforce and the rise and powerful performance of women beyond their ‘traditional’ domains, have left many men having to defend their identity as good fathers, family men and capable professionals. Although men still rank higher in terms of pay and job status in fields such as science, business and politics, times are changing.
Last year there were more women CEOs of Fortune 500 companies than ever before, and in 2011, women were more likely to finish Year 11 and 12 in high school than men and also made up 55.5 percent of all enrolments at university level (Baird 2013). And while such statistics are promising in regards to the prospect of closing the pertinent issue of the gender-wage gap in Australia, it also leads us to question at what stage over the past few decades did the success of the women’s movement translate into a stage for "reverse gender discrimination"? Why is it OK to publicly joke about the highly exaggerated poor capabilities of men in some areas, and yet if those comments were made towards women, a plethora of colourful words and a lawsuit would eventuate?

This form of gender discrimination is deeply rooted in many areas of our contemporary society, and if popular culture is any indicator, the idea of modern manhood is a joke. It is so heavily pervaded within our society, that all you have to do is turn on the television and look at the representation of men in shows such as Two and A Half Men, The Simpsons or Family Guy. Better yet, turn on any show and wait for the ad break where men are commonly represented as the forgetful father who makes breakfast for dinner, can’t clean up after himself let alone his children, or the simpleton who looks at women as if they are a piece of meat. Are all men like that? No, of course not, and similarly women don’t enjoy being portrayed as fantastic cleaners who are incapable of jobs that traditionally typically belonged only to men. But times have changed, and so should our attitudes to the opposite gender.

Men who work in traditionally female-dominated industries such as aged care are all too familiar with this, as the Aged Care Workforce 2012 Final Report indicated that men working in residential facilities experienced discrimination from colleagues, supervisors and care recipients. According to the report, “Some workers indicated frustration with continually having to prove their competence”. A feeling that would be familiar to many women working in industries traditionally dominated by men. So why then, do women who, as the women’s movement tells us, have been stigmatized and undermined due to their gender, inflict the same treatment to men who work in traditionally female-dominated industries? This seemingly unconventional inequality goes further than professional domains; for example, in a majority of cases mothers are favored over fathers in parental disputes (Mosel 11/03/13). Despite this evidence, Australia is currently lacking in human rights initiatives targeting men, as Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick recently noted that the Australian Human Rights Commission has no initiatives targeting men (Mosel 11/03/13).

What I am seeking to argue here is not by any means attempting to undermine the hardships that women have historically endured in regards to gender inequality. But that the endurance of such hardships does not mean that men should also be ridiculed or undermined by social groups in domestic environments, workplaces or government institutions for their capabilities across traditionally female domains. 

Rose Gell
Current student at the University of Sydney Business School.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

KPMG International Case Competition: Team Ignite Advances to the Nationals, with a Chance to Compete Internationally in Brazil

Entering a competition while at university was something that each of us had on our bucket lists, so when we heard about the annual KPMG International Case Competition (KICC), we knew we had to give it a shot.

KICC is a global competition run by KPMG that replicates the work that KPMG consultants do, calling for teams of four students to analyse a case study, develop solutions and pitch it to their consultants - all within three hours. This year, the winning team of both the state and national heats has the opportunity to represent their country in Brazil for four days of competition and networking.

As great friends, and having worked as a group for the Business School’s management consulting capstone unit, we formed Team Ignite. Our team consists of Jeremy Dean (Accounting & Finance) as our IT expert, Matt Juchau (Finance (Hons.) & Accounting) as our finance guru, Charles De Souza (Marketing & International Business) as our budding management consultant, and myself, Katie Russett (Accounting & Law) bringing the accounting focus. 

In our application, we were able to convince the judges that we had the necessary skills and experience to potentially be the top team for Australia, and were invited to the state heats.

To kick off the competition, we had a day of training at the Sydney KPMG office, consisting of an intensive workshop on how to analyse case studies and solve business problems. The next day, we faced our first case study: a 20 page case asking us to advise TripAdvisor on how best to ensure their success amidst a rapidly changing environment in each of their lines of operation. Despite seeming reasonably achievable at first glance, after taking half an hour to simply read through the case and the details of the appendices, we realised that this was really going to test our business knowledge and whether we could put what we had learned from university into practice. To complicate things further, we were not allowed any internet access or notes. Despite our best efforts to budget our time, it was definitely a rush to the finish, and at the three hour mark, we had to face the judges, hoping to convince them that we had the best solutions for TripAdvisor.

To our delight and amazement, we won the state heat! And now, a few months later, we will face the national finals this Friday, with the prize being the chance to represent Australia in São Paolo, Brazil.

It was such a great experience working under intense pressure and seeing how we were able to perform, so we were happy to have just participated in the competition, let alone be announced as the winner for NSW.  Credit also goes to Team Monopoly, another University of Sydney team, who were announced as the runners up.  Now, with a chance to represent Australia on the line, it is back to the study notes and practice case studies for us, and fingers crossed for Team Ignite from NSW!

Katie Russett
Current student at The University of Sydney Business School.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

A bittersweet irony: What does the ‘boundaryless’ career mean for Gen Y employees?

The notion of career offers a vantage point from which to understand the relationship between individuals and their organisations.  But from which vantage point should we be looking? Let’s look at the pre-existing career; the one that hasn’t started for most of us Gen Y university students, yet the one that looks to be the most seductive in its ‘limitless’ form - the ‘boundaryless’ career.

‘Boundaryless’ has become a fashionable concept in organisational literature, but what does this really mean for us Gen Y employees?  Does it give us greater choice, empower us, or perhaps a right to more flexibility at work?  Some may argue yes.  Others may shake their head.  It brews instability, insecurity and an excuse for organisations to not commit to us in return.  Nevertheless, the trend for Gen Y seems to be swaying towards option A, and it’s no wonder.  After all, we are the generation who ‘wants it all’ but wants to do it differently to how it’s been done before.

The boundaryless career tells us we must embrace our careers as our ‘personal property.’  No longer should the organisation dictate the structure of our career.  If we are to flourish in this new environment, we must become self-reliant, rid our dependence on the organisation, and most importantly develop our own competencies to become the architects of our own careers.  And while we’re busy doing all this, gone are the boundaries that once constrained us from doing so!

While this initially alludes to greater career empowerment, charactertised by greater flexibility and autonomy, in reality it confronts us with a bittersweet irony.  Physical mobility has almost become a given; we’re expected to move freely between jobs in search for ‘the best’, and we believe we are entitled to do so.  But while we admit to this ‘free agent’ attitude whose loyalties are spread, we also want the support we’ve been so accustomed to receiving from our parents mirrored by the organisation.  We want the best of both worlds.

We [Gen Y] have been perceived as embracing overinflated egos, a given ‘sense of entitlement’, and an expectation that employers should share our enthusiasm for a work/life balance.  But the greatest revelation is that our greater work experience and level of education has led us to become more mobile.  With our qualifications, it’s become simple for us to move between employers if we are unhappy (and why shouldn’t we?).  It’s no wonder the concept of the boundaryless career has emerged.

But here’s the catch, here’s that bittersweet irony - we want to break free from traditional constraints, while all the more wanting to follow a yellow brick road that’s been paved before us, leading us to our ideal career.  We still need (and want) that given sense of direction.  So we must ask the question, while we expose ourselves as job-hoppers with greater demands than generations before us, are we revolutionising the concept of career (as we like to think we are), or are we making it more difficult for ourselves in the long run?

In reality, while we jump between jobs in pursuit of our ideal career, we are cementing the view of us Gen Y employees having short attention spans and lacking in focus. For employers, who wants to interview (or better yet hire) someone who is the ripe old age of 30 and has an exhaustive list of different workplaces on their CV?  Surely the employees’ commitment comes into question, and instability comes to the fore.  And now the Gen Y hopper is stumped.  As we pursue the opportunities this boundaryless horizon seems to offer, we must caution ourselves of its effects in the long run.

Evelyn Chronis and Sylvia Chronis: Current students of the University of Sydney Business School.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Work experience of a life-time with American Express in the Big Apple!

Day 5 Skyline
View from the Empire State Building

When I landed in a freezing, wintry, New York on the night of Thanksgiving, even the long hours of travel, harrowing connections and stale airplane food could not contain my excitement on finally reaching the Big Apple!

My brief was to job shadow Mr. James Ferguson, Vice President Corporate Cards at American Express New York.  I have only ever been to New York as a tourist before, and to be there again, getting a flavour of what it would be like to live and work in the city that never sleeps, promised to be an experience of a lifetime.

James Ferguson, Vice President Corporate Cards at American Express New York

American Express NY is located at 3 World Financial Centre in Lower Manhattan. In fact, the walk to the office took me right past the Ground Zero memorial site, where the Freedom Tower is now being built. I was moreover told that the American Express building had also been severely damaged in the 9/11 attacks, requiring extensive repair for a period of one year. Therefore, it felt very poignant to have the opportunity to work in a place that was so much a part of New York’s history.

My first couple of days at AMEX, were spent getting an overview of the Company and how Global Commercial Services (i.e. the GCS Division-of which James was a key executive) fit into the global structure. James also introduced me to various teams such as investment prioritisation, sales, treasury, financial reporting etc. and I was able to get first hand details of how the various departments functioned.

Day 2 - AMEX
Myself and Valerie from the Customer Card business

The rest of my time was spent sitting in on the Global Corporate Services planning meetings, where all the divisions within the Corporate Cards business came together to set deadlines for their Quarterly Reporting. These meetings provided me with some insight into the complexities involved in reporting, much like various jigsaw pieces that had to be assembled to create a picture at the corporate level. 

And of course, no trip to New York is complete without the touristy traditions of a visit to the Empire State Building, Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, not to mention Macy’s on it’s infamous Black Friday Sales. In fact, New York at this time of the year is truly at its festive best with Christmas carollers outside all major department stores, dazzling Christmas lights lining all the trees on 5th Avenue, not to mention the giant Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree.

Rockefeller Centre Christmas tree

Overall, my NY experience surpassed all my expectations and has certainly created a lot of special memories.

Shreya Viswanathan: Current Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Sydney Business School and 2013 winner of the prestigious Institute of Chartered Accountants Australia 'Mission Exceptional' competition.  Shreya’s prize included a trip to New York in December to job shadow a Chartered Accountant at American Express and a scholarship to the Chartered Accountants Program.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Jewels in the social entrepreneurship crown

I've recently completed a one-month social entrepreneurship project in Bangalore, India, working with other students to empower women from a rural village community by training them to produce 'Roka' jewellery.

Made from bi-products of local village quarries, the ultimate aim of this jewellery is to allow these women to make an income and bring about real changes in their lives. Our role was to design both the pieces and the production process, then engage with and teach them to run the enterprise for themselves. The project is set to play an important social and educational role, with profits from jewellery sales going towards funding after-school tuition centres that my peers and I also volunteered in. 

There were a few challenges along the way, with a few students becoming ill and finding it difficult to adjust to the local foods and environment. But for the most part, everyone enjoyed excellent health and really embraced the village way of life. There were plenty of highlights, such as going into the cities to source materials, even though we didn't speak the local language (Kannada). It pushed us all out of our comfort zones and forced us to fall back on our cross-cultural interaction training.

Networking with the locals was also a fantastic learning experience. As social entrepreneurs, we started from the bottom and worked our way up, making strong headway in spite of limited internet access and zero business contacts in the initial stages. Volunteering in the after-school tuition centres was also so much fun. The enthusiasm of the kids and the genuine passion they had for learning English was so inspiring, especially given their difficult life circumstances.

This entire project was an amazing opportunity to not only apply what we’d learned through our university studies, but also to help make a real difference to the lives of people who need it most.

Find out more about entrepreneurship opportunities at 40rtyK.

Christine Ma: Current Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Sydney Business School. 

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Beta Alpha Psi - The year that was in accounting, finance and information systems

My year as President of Beta Alpha Psi has been one of the most unique and fulfilling experiences I've had whist studying at the University of Sydney Business School. There have undoubtedly been the odd challenges and sleepless nights trying to juggle my Presidency alongside study, work and social commitments, but now as I reflect on the year that’s past, I am proud of everything the executive team has achieved. 2013 has been an exciting year for Beta Alpha Psi at the University of Sydney Business School, and we have accomplished a great deal.

The Sydney University (Lambda Omega) Chapter is one of only two in Australia, and this year I am thrilled to have witnessed a significant increase in our membership base, with only more rapid growth to come in the future. Although fraternity-style societies do not play a big role in the traditional Australian university culture, having been a part of Beta Alpha Psi has not only given me access to a global community of high-achieving students and professionals, but has also provided me with opportunities I never would have thought possible.

In addition to managing the strategic direction of the Chapter and overseeing budgeting and reporting processes, over the course of this year, my team and I worked directly with firms such as Ernst and Young, Bloomberg and the Commonwealth Bank to organise networking events for our members, held numerous technical workshops on campus (including SAP, negotiation skills and client interviewing workshops), and jointly hosted community service days with The Salvation Army. We also held our annual induction ceremony for members at the University of Sydney Business School MBA Campus in the CBD.

It was our privilege to host the Oceania Regional Conference in April. This was a three-day conference that brought together Beta Alpha Psi members and faculty advisers from the University of Sydney, UTS, the University of Auckland, Victoria University of Wellington and the University of Waikato. The Regional Conference gave members the opportunity to develop networks with neighbouring Chapters, share best practices and growth strategies and gain valuable insight into topical issues in accounting and finance through various sessions and workshops run by guest speakers.

In August, I represented the University of Sydney and our Beta Alpha Psi Chapter at the Annual Conference held at the Hyatt Regency, Orange County in Anaheim, California, along with three members of the executive team. The 2013 Annual Conference brought together over 1000 Beta Alpha Psi executives from all over the world for three days. Building on from the successes of the 2012 conference held in Baltimore, Maryland – which I also had the privilege of attending – this year’s theme was “Dreams of Tomorrow Becoming Reality Today”. My team and I attended concurrent sessions on varied topics from social enterprise to forensic accounting, participated in professional development and community service events hosted by major corporate sponsor KPMG, and listened to inspirational presentations from keynote speakers including Ralph De La Vega, CEO and President of AT&T Mobility and Clark Jones, Vice President of Finance at Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. We also had the privilege of presenting a session entitled “Surviving as a Small Chapter”, where we shared our unique successes as a chapter Down Under to an enthusiastic audience of our American colleagues. It was an amazing experience to be, once again, surrounded by so many other like-minded students as well as to witness first-hand the strength and prestige Beta Alpha Psi has in the accounting and finance industries on a global scale. One of our executives was also able to participate in the renowned Project Run With It competition. The opportunity to engage in a real-world consulting project in a team with students from other countries was unlike anything she had previously experienced.

On another note, I am excited to announce that this year we established a University of Sydney BAP Facebook page and that our new website is going to be launched early 2014. It’s amazing to see the response we have already received and how the Facebook page has improved our communication with existing and potential members, by providing them with a resource to deliver the most current event schedules and information on relevant topics on a regular basis. I look forward to further extending our online presence and engaging with more members, as this will play an important role in our quest for Gold Chapter Status, which is the highest status any Chapter can achieve.

This year has been one of the most rewarding and satisfying years of my academic career, and I am finding it hard to believe that my year as President is winding down to a close. As much as I find it difficult to leave the idyllic University lifestyle and such a fabulous organisation that has helped me to transition from student to professional in every way possible, I know that the Beta Alpha Psi Alumni community will keep me connected and involved for life. Through attending Beta Alpha Psi international conferences and regional events I've made so many lifelong connections and friendships, and the Beta Alpha Psi Connect online alumni portal will allow me to keep in touch with fellow members and alumni from around the world. It also provides access to webcasts, leadership information, information on local chapters’ activities and discussion forums. There is also a BAP Newsletter which is distributed quarterly and ensures members and alumni are aware of upcoming opportunities and the latest news.

I would highly recommend eligible students to get involved and take advantage of all the organisation has to offer.  In the coming months (March 2014) we will be holding elections for the new executive team and nominations will be distributed to existing members shortly. If you’re interested in joining Beta Alpha Psi please visit our Facebook page or our website or the Beta Alpha Psi University of Sydney Chapter website for instructions on eligibility and how to apply.

On behalf of the Beta Alpha Psi Lambda Omega Chapter, I would like to sincerely thank the University of Sydney Business School, our faculty advisor Pearl Rozenberg (Sub-Dean), and the Global Board of Directors for their ongoing support. I would also like to personally thank my executive team and our current members for their considerable commitment, enthusiasm and involvement in Beta Alpha Psi this year.

I hope that all of our valued members will continue to be involved in our organisation as it grows from strength to strength and we look forward to welcoming new members in the year going forward.

By Sumita Theagesan - President, Beta Alpha Psi, Lambda Omega Chapter, the University of Sydney Business School.