Tuesday, August 19, 2008

AIESEC Canada - Nurturing Leaders for 50 Years

I was fortunate enough to get Maroon and White, SMU's alumni magazine going out to over 27,000 alumni, to write an article about AIESEC. After all, it's our 50th anniversary! Below is most of the contents of that article. Special thanks to Cheryl Bell for writing an awesome article, and Helen Dolan for pushing our cause.

AIESEC Halifax is something of a hidden gem on the Saint Mary’s campus. Yet for those who have participated in its programs, it has been the gateway to life-enhancing experiences both professionally and personally.

AIESEC was established after World War II to help foster cultural understanding between countries. Today, it is the world’s largest student-run organization. It works in partnership with business and higher education to send students on internships around the globe and to give internationally aware young leaders valuable leadership and cultural experiences. Its programs are designed with the aim of giving its participants hands-on experience of running a small business long before they graduate from university.

Members proudly display their Nova Scotia tartans at the National Leadership Development Conference held at Ryerson University in 2007

At the time of its inception, AIESEC stood for “L'Association Internationale des Etudiants en Sciences Economiques et Commerciales." However, as fourth-year Science student and local alumni coordinator Adam Harris explains, the organization is now known solely as AIESEC. “The original name was appropriate when the organization was formed, but we are now inclusive of all Faculties – not just economic sciences and commerce. We continue to use the acronym AIESEC because of the well - established brand and history that it has.”

This year, AIESEC Canada is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a National Congress in Montreal, which will bring together more than 300 alumni to talk about the organization’s past and future, and to launch a new strategic plan. As part of its anniversary celebrations, AIESEC Canada is profiling 50 alumni, including Karyn (Mathieu) Power, an alumna of Saint Mary’s University. Karyn studied for a BComm at Saint Mary’s in the late 1980s. With her interests in business and working abroad, AIESEC was a perfect fit. Starting as a member, Karyn then worked on the special projects committee and served as vice-president of marketing between 1987 and 1989. To be a part of AIESEC, she explains, was to be involved in “running a not-for-profit organization on campus. We had to sell the concept of AIESEC to businesses in Halifax, manage the money coming in, run special projects, and attend conferences. For me, it was a chance to take the theoretical knowledge I was learning in class and apply it.”

After graduation, Karyn was one of six people chosen to run the organization in Montreal for a year where she was involved in encouraging Canadians to take traineeships in developing countries in Africa, Asia and South America. She then moved to the Dominican Republic to help give AIESEC a firm footing there.

In addition to providing her with a wealth of experience, Karyn also credits her involvement in the organization with helping her to land her first sales and marketing job with a manufacturer of medical diagnostic equipment in Halifax, a job she held for 17 years. “I know that I got my first interview because I had AIESEC on my resumé. Someone who had been with AIESEC himself saw my resumé roll off the fax machine and said that I would be a good person to interview. And when it came
time to do a mock sales presentation, I did it on AIESEC because that’s what I knew and believed in passionately.”

AIESEC members gathered for an alumni event at Your Father’s Moustache in Halifax. Left to right: Kim Yu, Bryan Ching, Adam Harris, Carol Cooley, John Sewuster, Sheena Francisco, Shani Pearson, Linda LeBlanc, Michelle Paradis, Sean Kavanaugh, Huay Woon Chee, and Johnnel Adderley.

Karyn’s work has seen her travel widely, both in Canada and abroad, and over the years fellow AIESEC participants have continued to crop up in unexpected places. Karyn has also continued to lend her support to the AIESEC Halifax group in particular, explaining to local businesses why they should hire students from abroad. “I say to them that if they are looking to do business with another country,
what better way to give their company a cultural awareness of their target market than to hire a student from that country.”

To mark this special year, AIESEC Halifax is planning its own anniversary celebrations, including a time capsule to which alumni can donate items such as pens, stickers, pictures, songs, and even old cheers from the last few decades. Alumni can also contribute to the timeline that is being assembled as the backdrop to a reception that will be held in the university art gallery early this

Looking to the future, local alumni coordinator Adam Harris maintains that the cultural understanding and business skills that AIESEC promotes continue to be relevant for both the students and the companies for which they work. And for Saint Mary’s alumni, hiring an AIESEC intern from another country is the perfect way to “give back” to an organization that means so much to so many.

AIESEC Halifax alumni can reconnect with the organization by contacting Adam Harris at 902.491.8673 or by emailing halifax.ca@aiesec.net