Finding a Common Purpose

Natasha Lock is studying BA History, International Relations & Chinese at the University of Exeter, Streatham Campus. 

Natasha Lock

From the 5th-11th January 2018, I was lucky enough to be selected for the Common Purpose Programme hosted at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. Here, amongst 30 other students from Exeter, I was given an insight into leadership skills, the city of Sharjah and Emirati culture, and how to ensure that cities of the future are both inclusive and sustainable.

Boundaries are everywhere: between sectors, specialisations, geographies, generations, backgrounds and beliefs. Common Purpose aims to support future leaders who can work across these boundaries, who are therefore ultimately more likely to solve problems and create change. In the ever competitive world for graduates seeking employment, it is no longer enough to rely solely on one’s IQ. Common Purpose aims to show the importance of having EQ (Emotional Intelligence) – the ability to connect with people on a social level, and CQ (Cultural Intelligence) – the ability to work with people that are not like you. It demonstrates the necessity of being able to successfully lead people of a different culture, race, age, gender and religion.

Common Purpose students at the American University of Sharjah

The programme was hosted over four days and provided ice-breakers, pitching sessions, guest speaker sessions, trips to businesses and debates. On the penultimate day, we were arranged into groups of six and asked to design a product that would help Sharjah to become a more inclusive and smart city. We were given 24 hours to come up with an idea, design a poster, make a video, produce a written outline of our concept and finally give a 3 minute pitch to three senior members of local companies followed by a Q&A session. I found this particularly memorable, not only because of my wonderful group who worked so well together, but also because of the incredible ideas that every other group developed in such a short space of time.

“Common Purpose aims to support future leaders who can work across boundaries, and who are therefore ultimately more likely to solve problems and create change.”

Common Purpose programmes are based on the idea that cross boundary leaders need to experience the world and the people around them. With this in mind, the programme organised visits to four start-up businesses in both Dubai and Sharjah. Here, we were able to meet with both local and international entrepreneurs and get some insights into the core skills required to start your own business, the most important being resilience. Despite the difference from business to business all of the entrepreneurs agreed that starting your own company is undoubtedly the best way to get a grasp and understanding of enterprise, corporate structures and themselves.

Aside from the programme, we had the opportunity to explore Sharjah and Dubai in our free time. We quad-biked in the Al Qudra desert, went up the tallest building in the world and went to the world’s largest aquarium. Every Common Purpose trip takes place in a different city – previous trips have been located in Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur, Philadelphia and Melbourne – allowing for the unparalleled opportunity to explore a city on a scholarship funded trip.

The Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world

The Common Purpose trip to the American University of Sharjah was a huge learning experience and one that I will value throughout my academic and career progression.

For students reading this and wondering how they can enhance their enterprise skills and employability, here would be my two recommendations:

Local: Get involved with Think Try Do at Exeter University! The team offer sessions to enhance enterprise skills and provide support to students who are engaging with their own entrepreneurial activity. You can find a list of their current sessions and more information on the following link: https://mycareerzone.exeter.ac.uk/workgroups/student-enterprise-support

Global: Apply for the Common Purpose trips! This is a great way of networking with like-minded people, building on your soft skills and having a taster of life in a different city. You can find more information about Common Purpose here: http://commonpurpose.org

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