VCSIA Winner — Shayma Salih
As a child I often found myself pondering over the apple tree in our London home — season to season, I’d watch how it would change. I’d climb the tree and notice various insects skittering along the trunk. If I was quiet enough, I sometimes caught a glimpse of a Magpie or Robin resting on the branches. In my silence, I’d hear the crickets in the grass and frogs in the pond. I would contemplate over the different ecosystems existing around me and how we are all interconnected.
Growing up in a vibrant and multicultural city, I’d meet people from all walks of life. A single carriage on the tube carried countless stories from all corners of the globe. Each of us different but somehow similar. The nature of the world and the systems that dwell within it led me to pursue a degree in Engineering — I was curious to understand why things work the way that they do and how they are connected. With these foundations, my focus was directed towards building a career where I would have an active role in contributing to a sustainable future that is in sync with nature. To help with this, I decided to pursue a Masters’ degree in Urban Sustainability & Resilience at UCL where my research was centred around the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
I soon realised that in order to create real-world change, effective collaboration needs to take place. The abstract and complex nature of sustainability means that creative solutions can be suggested from almost every discipline — the people that you meet & the impact that can be made in an interdisciplinary context is phenomenal. I am both grateful & honoured to have had the opportunity to meet and work alongside individuals from various backgrounds to create effective change.
Some of the most recent projects that I’ve worked on were in association with Cambridge Consulting Network (CCN), Six Degrees Cambridge (6D) and Cambridge Zero. In pursuit of creating social impact on a corporate level, I worked as part of a team of early career researchers to help one of the largest car manufacturing companies better understand their scope three emissions & how to mitigate and reduce them. In addition, I had the opportunity to lead a 6D project where we helped a leading chemicals company understand the concept of circularity & how a circular approach to procurement may help them reduce their scope three emissions. Businesses have a significant impact on the planet and on the way that people live, helping them operate more sustainably is crucial from many perspectives. A challenge that several businesses face, is the increased pressure to return to shareholders, whilst operating sustainably and surviving disruption — particularly after experiencing the effects of COVID-19. My PhD research seeks to discover how businesses can become more sustainable and resilient through a deeper, more enhanced understanding of trust.
Whilst it is exciting to work on large scale projects, one of my favourite social impact ventures was closer to home. Shortly before starting the CCN & 6D projects, I became certified as ‘carbon literate’ by the Carbon Literacy Trust via Cambridge Hub. Despite having an academic background in Sustainability, I loved how foundational the programme was — anyone interested in learning about climate change & what they can do to help combat the challenge could benefit. The training was centred around helping individuals & organisations understand their personal carbon footprints, the associated costs & how to mitigate/reduce them. Having better understood the subtle changes that I could make to my daily routine and the associated impact on the planet, I thought that if more people (especially young people — the leaders of the next generation) were taught these simple & easy-to-implement skills, there could be a significant decarbonisation effect. This prompted me to set up an ‘Engage for Change’ project based on scaling up the Carbon Literacy Project (CLP) to local schools in Cambridge. The CLP really puts into perspective how we all have a responsibility and duty to take care of the planet and how each individual can create social impact through making small, but significant changes. It’s a great initiative and I hope that the project continues to expand, with CLP training being made available to more people living, working and studying in Cambridge and beyond.
Whilst conducting my PhD research and implementing these projects, I became a mother (twice!) — I share this because I hope that it will inspire anyone and everyone to make a commitment to social action. I’m truly grateful to have been nominated for a Vice-Chancellor’s award — I hope that this recognition will help push these initiatives further & open the door for many more collaborative opportunities. I’m focused on continuing to work towards a more sustainable future and am committed to changing the world — two generations at a time!