International students pitch conservation of forests in Heart of Borneo

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Students discussing issues with panellists.

Miri – 10 June 2015 – Undertaking a unique form of learning beyond the classroom, students from 15 universities in 15 countries and across 5 continents worked in virtual international teams over three months to come up with public relations (PR) strategies for the Heart of Borneo (HOB) Initiative.

Their efforts were part of the Global Communication Project or GlobCom 2015 being held for the first time in Malaysia at the campus of Curtin University, Sarawak Malaysia (Curtin Sarawak).

The Heart of Borneo Initiative is a conservation agreement initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 2007 to protect a 220,000 square kilometre forested region in Borneo known as Asia’s last great rainforest. As signatories, the governments of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia are committed to conserving and managing the contiguous tropical forest and incredible biodiversity within the HOB.

GlobCom is an annual global communications competition started in 2003 that requires students to collaborate online in virtual international teams, each taking on the roles of PR agencies and pitching for one client, which this year was the HOB Initiative.

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GlobCom co-founder Dr Volker Stoltz.

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The winning team comprising students from USA, Portugal, Malaysia, India, New Zealand, Germany, Italy and the UK.

Three teams of finalists comprising 80 students from various universities were in Miri from 4 to 6 June to pitch their strategies to a panel of judges who included WWF Heart of Borneo Leader Dr Henry Chan, Head of Communications WWF-Malaysia Rumaizah Abu Bakar, AlJazeera International Media Network Samer Allawi, GlobCom co-founder Dr. Volker Stoltz and GlobCom Vice President Professor Enric Ordeix.

The winning team comprised Michael Whitecar and Christina Safford (Emerson College, USA), João Lourenço (Polytechnic Institute of Lisbon, Portugal), Lee Jin Woei and Sandra Constance Yip (Curtin Sarawak, Malaysia), Ankita Pareek (Convergence Institute, India), Samuel Baxter (Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand), Patricia Weiss and Kathrin Kamm (Erfurt University, Germany), Inna Rosa Lupo (University of Udine, Italy) and Natalia Sainz (Leeds Beckett University, UK).

They cited being located in different time zones and cultural differences as some of the initial hurdles they encountered. These were quickly overcome, however, and coming from different countries and cultural backgrounds actually proved useful when it came to contributing ideas and adopting a global outlook.

All said they had never heard of the HOB Initiative before GlobCom and found it a very interesting learning experience trying to formulate a global PR strategy for it. Through their ‘amazing teamwork’, they were able to come up with a winning strategy which focuses on building awareness of the initiative both locally and globally as well as lobbying governments to make necessary policy changes.

Acknowledging Malaysia’s commitment to the HOB Initiative, Sarawak Chief Minister and patron of GlobCom 2015 Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Satem said a large portion of Borneo’s primary forests has gone to logging and farming and hence, the need for Sarawak to practise sustainable use of its remaining forests and natural resources.

In his speech delivered by Assistant Minister of Communications Datuk Lee Kim Shin, he said the HOB programme in Sarawak has five pillars which include the conservation of biological diversity; sustainable forest management; eco-tourism based on culture, adventure and nature; community-based rural poverty eradication; and sustainable agriculture and land use.

“These areas are among my administration’s top priorities and we are always looking for ways and means to develop, strengthen and promote our conservation, eco-tourism and sustainable development efforts,” he said.

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Curtin Sarawak Pro Vice-Chancellor Prof Jim Mienczakowski.

Curtin Sarawak Pro Vice-Chancellor Professor Jim Mienczakowski, meanwhile, remarked that as a university of around 60,000 students worldwide, Curtin is very engaged with its institutional mandate to ‘make tomorrow better.’

He said it strives to improve the lives and futures of the communities it serves – not just through offering high quality, internationally accredited qualifications but also through extensive student volunteerism and community service.

“After over 15 years of offering higher education and developing learning opportunities in Borneo we are excited and grateful to be able to now contribute in a small way to some of the Heart of Borneo initiatives. For some time now we have been focusing our CSR activities upon helping people who live in the remotest regions of Sarawak,” he said.

He added that Curtin Sarawak is now gearing up its activities to further support (through educational initiatives, student and staff participation in environmental activities and scholarly research) the vitally important role that sustainable development and multi-stakeholder engagement will play in the HOB Initiative. In so doing, it will also continue to remain a neutral place of learning in which solutions are sought and problems are solved.

GlobCom 2015 organising chairperson Dr. Kamala Vainy Pillai of the university’s Department of Marketing and Management said GlobCom was designed to create opportunities for students to apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired in their studies to a significant global campaign.

She chose the HOB Initiative as this year’s focus to acknowledge the ongoing initiatives by international agencies such as the World Wide Fund for Nature and the United Nations, governments, corporate entities and other organisations in conserving and protecting the rich biodiversity of our rainforests.

It is also an endorsement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to be tabled in New York and adopted by nations in Paris at the end of this year, marking a historical milestone for humanity and our planet.

Michael Whitecar, a communications management master’s student of Emerson College commented that he gained a global experience through GlobCom. “For someone who has never left the United States, working with students from around the world was a great opportunity and enlightening experience,” he said.

Thai student Maethinee Teusakul said that she was fortunate to join Globcom and she met new friends from all over the world while getting new international insights in public relations. Erfurt University student Vanessa Uenning meanwhile said she learned to look at problems from a different perspective in an intercultural and multi-ethnic setting.

Portuguese student Joao Lourenco said, “The experience integrated the various disciplines in communication and brought together an understanding of different cultures, different academic approaches and different media into a combined frame of reference. PR is a global discipline and working on an international campaign helped me to understand different cultures and provided a deeper learning platform.”

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Students presenting their PR strategies.

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The panellists comprising environmentalists and industry experts.

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