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SAIT students developing real-world business skills internationally

SAIT School of Business faculty member Fiaz Merani took his students internationally to enhance their accounting and business knowledge.

SAIT School of Business faculty member Fiaz Merani took his students internationally to enhance their accounting and business knowledge.

An international trip, enabling SAIT students to enhance their accounting and business knowledge in an applied way, was an initiative recently undertaken by SAIT School of Business faculty member Fiaz Merani.

As a CPA and educator, he was asking the perennial question about classroom engagement: "How can educators structure their programs, so the chartered professional accountant of tomorrow becomes actively engaged in the classroom?"

Fiaz "connected some mental dots" and through a series of unique initiatives was able to take two accounting students to Belize for two weeks in July 2017. Fiaz and his two students worked with a non-governmental organization called APAMO (Association of Protected Areas Management Organization) to help implement a previously commissioned business plan on the sustainability and management of one of its member parks - Mayflower Bocawina. Fiaz also worked with the Executive Director of the association, Mr. Jose Perez, using his experience to mentor Jose on various strategic components.

Inspiring to connect

His inspiration for this idea came after listening to a speech delivered at the 88th Stephen Ogden Lecture at Brown University by His Highness, the Aga Khan, the founder and chairman of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN). The Aga Khan observed that in today's world we see people alone, absorbed in their hand-held screens. While the individuals holding these screens may be connected digitally, this connectivity doesn't mean greater personal connection. In our globally connected world, he inquired, can reading about another culture replace experiencing it first hand?

The speech served as Fiaz's inspiration, combined with a family background wherein three generations, his family has lived on three continents, he wondered if he could combine his classroom lessons and the experience of travelling in a constructive way. Fiaz reflected, "I wanted to teach not only textbook knowledge but also give an experience that connects with living in another country with another culture." He goes on elaborate his vision, "Normally we try to bring the world to the classroom. I wanted to take my classroom to the world."

Vision comes to life

To realize this vision, his research led him an organization based in London, UK called Accounting for International Development (AfID). This not for profit organization has established partnerships with over 500 NGO's worldwide. This became the vehicle to "connect the dots"— providing his students with the opportunity to gain practical experience internationally while also helping an organization benefit from his expertise and his student's "textbook knowledge."

In September 2016, while attending an AfID volunteer placement workshop in London, Fiaz pitched his idea to the founder of AfID. It was an arrangement that had never been done, but both agreed to try it as a pilot project.

The assignment, coordinated by AfID in Belize, required the students to tap into their full breadth of undergraduate course knowledge they acquired as students. The team designed a park brochure, a visitor feedback and demographic survey and a database to capture guest visits & cash collected at each of the parks. The highlight of their accomplishments was the creation of a comprehensive guide highlighting all the natural parks in the association.

Positive outcomes

Following the teams return to Canada, Fiaz received a letter from the Honorable Omar Figueroa, Belize's Minister of State in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, Sustainable Development and Immigration. The minister wrote: "I commend your team for taking the initiative to travel to Belize and volunteer with APAMO in the area of the environment and sustainable development. Promoting and managing our country's natural resources in a sustainable and ecologically effective manner ensures that these resources can be enjoyed by our citizens and the many tourists who visit the country every year."

In a post-trip reflection, one student wrote: "It isn't all fun and games. While there are some great opportunities to have fun, these international field trips offer an amazing opportunity to grow both professionally and personally - from meeting new people, to tackling unique occupational challenges".

In presenting the visitor's guide the team created by the Executive Director of APAMO, another student wrote: "I realized how much I had learned during my time at SAIT. This was no longer just knowledge needed to get a grade or bits of fact that would be promptly forgotten. This information I had would make this document a success, as well as contribute to the success of the project as a whole. I felt like this was the first step towards becoming a business professional, and it was exhilarating. It was a small step, but by volunteering my time and knowledge to assist in the economic development of a country, I can think of no better way to start my career."

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