I have worked for as long as I can remember - shovelling snow off my neighbours’ driveway, babysitting, cutting grass, selling lemonade at food festivals, delivering newspapers, house sitting, landscaping, lifeguarding, swim instructing. I even had a job working for the City of Toronto riding a tricycle and asking taxis not to idle their cars - I am sure you can imagine how well that request was received.
These jobs all taught me valuable and often, unexpected lessons. Lessons you only learn by working through problems and challenges that occur unexpectedly. Lessons you only learn by working with a range of employers, colleagues and customers in a variety of situations. Lessons you only learn by finding yourself outside of your comfort zone in new situations. These lessons are hard to manufacture, which is why the experiential and authentic learning that occurs at THS is so special. Working with partners to solve real issues provide students with the unique opportunity to apply their knowledge and solve problems that occur when working in the real world.
Meraki Giving, the high school’s Project Development class is also a registered society in Hong Kong and students in class are equal voting members. Decisions regarding how we work together, initiatives, timelines, goals and so on are decided by the members of Meraki Giving. Students create their resumes and apply for their desired role in marketing, finance, business, fundraising or retail. Each department is managed by business managers who monitor the progress of each department, and consult with me when needed. It is structured to provide students with autonomy, collaborative and leadership opportunities, and guidance with an emphasis on accountability.
Meraki Giving’s mission is to collaborate with local and global communities to identify issues of concern and create a solution. These collaborations lead to a multitude of experiences that many of us do not usually encounter until we are in the workforce.
We are able to provide an authentic experience only by working with real partners. Take Meraki Giving’s current project and coffee brand, Caferuna which they have just launched in Hong Kong. Caféruna collaborates with the asociación de Productores Agropecuarios de Tigre Pampa, a small cooperative of coffee farmers in Marancocha, Peru. The aim is to build a successful business of Caféruna so we will be able to invest our profits back into the Marancocha community. Caféruna aims to raise awareness of the importance of fair trade and direct trade principles, while working with coffee farmers in Marancocha, Peru.
Running an organisation comes with the real life consequence of failure. This initiative has come with a number of unforeseen challenges like customs restrictions, logistical considerations, language barriers, shipping requirements, starting a bank account in a developing nation, licensing in Hong Kong, and that is just to get us the coffee beans. We then had to find roasters, retailers, customers, appropriate packaging, effective branding, all while trying to break into one of the most competitive industries.
Each challenge required creativity, patience, and unbelievable resilience, because at times the frequency of problems that continuously popped up was almost comical. But every obstacle provided valuable lessons. Our students learned how to communicate with our customers and our partners. Our business manager was in almost constant communication with our mentors at Otterbox to discuss logistics and shipping. Our operations team needed to keep our roasters up to date with the progress of our beans and Retail was in touch with potential partners regarding potential samples and business. With each challenge, students gained knowledge and experience.
There is a steep learning curve in creating a student-run organisation, especially one that aims to create social impact through unfamiliar entrepreneurial ambitions. However, our students have the drive, the resilience and the genuine desire to create meaningful, sustainable change in the world that they live in.
If you are interested in finding out more about what Meraki Giving is doing or would like to support coffee farmers in Marancocha, Peru by buying a bag of delicious Caferuns beans, please visit www.merakigiving.org