Recommended Sponsor - Buy Original Artwork Directly from the Artist

Source: University of Otago

On Purpose Social Impact Speaker event, 2020, featuring Amal Abdullahi and Guled Mire.
It’s been 10 years since an idea to help Otago students connect with the community saw the birth of the University Volunteer Centre, now known as the Social Impact Studio (the Studio). 
A decade on, the Studio’s impact on our student community has been widespread, and they’ve got love letters to show for it, says Sze-En Watts, Manager Social Impact Studio. 
“We’re matchmakers,” says Watts, “connecting the time, energy and talent of our students with community organisations and causes that matter to them.” 
Watts says most of the initiatives started over the years have come from the community, making the Studio a ‘valuable avenue for community connection’ and turning ideas into social impact initiatives. 
“The University has a huge presence in our community and through the Studio we are helping to build that link and cohesion with our home city.” 
Watts shares the example of the Aspire Programme, which came about from community partners expressing a need to engage young people at risk of disengaging with learning. Aspire, which started in 2014, is a campus-based mentor programme that matches Year 7 and 8 students with university students. 
“And this pattern has continued. We are currently setting up a trial programme with Alzheimer’s Otago, which came about from a serendipitous conversation between one of our student leads and the Alzheimer’s Otago manager.” 
The Studio team were early adopters of the Sustainable Development Goals, using them as a ‘north star’ for the work they do. 
“Students come to us with a wide variety of motivations. The SDGs are a really effective way to connect their passions with globally relevant issues.” 
People participate in a Fluro Friday event, organised periodically by Silverline, where people gather in fluro for sunrise chats, yoga or saltwater dip at the beach to raise awareness about mental health.
A key part of the Studio’s success is the team of Social Impact Leads – student volunteers who are recruited each year.   The Social Impact Leads actively contribute to the running and development of the Studio, says Watts. 
“Students have changed so much over the years and if we truly want to shape our work in a way that is meaningful to them, we have to put students at the centre of it.” 
Social Impact Lead and second year Bachelor of Arts and Science student Ibuki Nishida says the role has been a valuable learning experience. 
He says The Studio’s opportunities give students the chance to break out of the “bubble of uni life and reconnect with the wider Dunedin community”. 
“I think sometimes when you’re attending lectures day in and day out and the assignments come piling in, you forget that there’s a whole world of people outside of the uni environment too.” 
Ibuki Nishida.
Studio Programme Activator Poppy Johns says students like Ibuki are a great example of the impact their work has. 
“It starts as sparking change in the students’ minds helping them think about how they can give back to the community, which then morphs into this amazing student energy that drives the Studio and our initiatives.” 
This energy often carries over when students graduate, Johns says. 
Otago graduate Matthew Moloney, currently a Principal Advisor Strategy and Performance with the Ministry of Social Development (MSD), says he is still inspired by the Studio team he worked with over his four years at Otago, calling it “one of the formative experiences of my life so far”. 
“The Studio allowed me to meet a diverse range of people, which opened my mind to new ideas, perspectives, and approaches. 
Working on initiatives like Aspire influenced how I work and engage with people and gave me the opportunity to practice my soft skills.” 
Matthew Moloney on the left.
As his contract with MSD comes to an end soon, Moloney is looking forward to taking his passion for giving back to the frontlines, working for a not-for-profit or social enterprise. 
Watts says this reflects how students’ and graduates’ expectations have evolved over the decade the Studio has been in existence. 
“For students today, there’s almost a default expectation that these experiences are a part of their university journey. There is also a greater expectation of lecturers and employers that their learning encompasses multiple literacies like cultural or sustainability.” 
It is at the crossroads of expectation and reality that the Studio sits, she says, encouraging students to challenge the status quo by getting involved in the community.  
Watts hopes the next decade will see the Studio expand into exploring staff engagement, especially with the introduction of staff social impact leave late last year.  
She also wants to work towards making volunteering activities more equitable, inclusive, and accessible so more students and staff can participate. 
“Creativity, collaboration and connection are key to how we operate and grow. Working together to achieve something different. 
“We’d like to believe that there is no reason why a student or staff member can’t be involved in social impact work. We’re here to help make that happen.” 
Kōrero by Sandra French, Internal Communications Adviser