MORE than 80 international students feel that sustaining and protecting Borneo’s forests is possible if people act together.
Putting public relations theories and case studies learnt in classes into practice, three teams of international university students presented their public relations pitches about forest conservation within the Heart of Borneo region, at Curtin University in Miri.
The teams are the finalists for the Global Communications Project or GlobCom 2015 being held in Malaysia for the first time.
Beginning from March this year, eight teams comprising students in different countries got briefed online about the Heart of Borneo region, the single largest stretch of rainforest left standing in South-East Asia.
Eight international teams of 30 students each in various countries used the interactive tools of the GlobCom website as well as email, Skype, Facebook and Twitter to discuss and develop their presentations.
Working as virtual teams through the Internet, the students from Malaysia, the UK, US, Australia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, India, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Russia, India, New Zealand and Spain competed on public relations pitches.
Michael Whitecar, an American master’s student and member of the winning team said, “I gained a globalised experience in participation.
“For someone who has not left the US, working with students virtually around the world was a great opportunity and enlightening experience.”
Curtin Sarawak pro vice-chancellor Prof Jim Mienczakowski said that as a university of around 60,000 students worldwide, Curtin is engaged with its institutional mandate “to make tomorrow better”.
“We strive to improve the lives and future of the communities we serve — not just through offering high quality, internationally accredited qualifications but 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.”
He added that the university was gearing up its activities to support the important role that sustainable development and multi-stakeholder engagement would play in the Heart of Borneo project. The activities include educational initiatives, student and staff participation in environmental activities and scholarly research.
GlobCom 2015 organising chairperson Dr Kamala Vainy Pillai said this year’s global communication challenge was designed to create opportunity for the students to apply the knowledge and skills they acquired during their studies to a significant global campaign.
Their strategies are pitched to a panel of experts with the potential to see its implementation.
Kamala said the HOB campaign was selected with a two-fold objective.
It serves as an acknowledgement of the ongoing initiatives by international agencies such as the World Wildlife Fund and the United Nations, government leaders, corporate entities and civil societies in conserving and protecting the rich biodiversity of rainforests.
It is also a strong endorsement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which will be tabled in New York and adopted by nations in Paris at the end of this year, marking a historic milestone for humanity and the planet.
In GlobCom 2015, each team worked on the same public relations brief and had to submit a public relations strategy which included research, media relations and planning for different audiences.
The HOB project allowed the students to develop skills and knowledge transferable beyond a classroom setting.
They had to work as PR agencies solving global PR issues and harness cultural diversity to implement global strategies locally.
As a result, the students from 15 universities experienced and created a different kind of active, virtual learning in public relations.
Maethinee Teusakul, a student in Chulalongkorn University, Thailand, said she was fortunate to join Globcom and she met new friends from all over the world while getting new international insights in public relations.
Germany’s Erfurt University student Vanessa Uenning said, “I learned to look at problems from a different perspective in an intercultural and multi-ethnic setting.
“The learning environment at Curtin Sarawak created an informal environment to meet people from all over the world and understand communication skills better.”
HOB includes Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei and the winning team’s strategies were to get the schools, businesses and community involved through a World Wildlife Fund representative visiting participating schools and universities, and explain the need for protection and conservation of the forest.
At the same time, the HOB project engaged students to develop their own projects, whether it is sustainable art or nature projects, and suggest ways of resolving problems.
The best ideas will be presented at the proposed HOB Festival, which will drive the message of protecting Borneo’s biodiversity.