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Investing in a Sustainable Future: My Work Placement with Invest NI Continued

It’s been almost two weeks since I started my work placement with Invest NI and, as far as office work goes, things couldn’t really be any better.

As some of you may have guessed from my NGO placement, I’m an outdoor creature, preferring fresh air to the stuffy indoor office atmosphere. I’d rather jump in a river or climb a mountain than make phone calls and read emails. My uniform of choice is a pair of worn boots and a torn t-shirt, not a suit and tie. Having said all that, a change is often as good as a rest, and this has been no exception.

I started at the deep-end, attending team meetings, making important phone calls, networking via email, and just this morning I presented myself to a room of thirty people, updating them on the progress of my work. Nerve-wracking, but fundamental steps to becoming confident in the workplace. It can be a ‘do or die’ environment, and those involved in business at this level can smell blood from the other side of the open-plan office.

Luckily for me, I work with a great team who have all been patient and supportive in helping me to settle in and get a start on my projects. As I mentioned before, I’m involved in a pooled ‘Innovation Voucher’ programme, bringing together small, local sustainable development companies, and relevant knowledge providers to create innovative solutions to common problems within the industry. The voucher is worth £4,000 ($6,600) of the knowledge providers’ services and each business involved in the collaboration can apply for a voucher, i.e. if there are 10 enterprises working together, then they can apply for up to £40,000 ($66,000) in vouchers. This is a huge opportunity, especially for new businesses who are struggling to get ahead in the current financial climate.

I’ve identified potential projects within the biomass energy, smart grid, and energy efficiency sectors, all of which could benefit immensely from this kind of support and investment. I’ve made the appropriate phone calls and sent the required emails to the people within the industry who can help me bring these projects together and, as I wait for their responses, I research the areas in question so that I don’t get left behind at the next meeting.

The work here flows at a different tempo and I have been astounded at the amount of knowledge within the organisation and the speed with which it is applied. Sit in enough meetings and you definitely begin to notice recurring themes and the same buzz words and phrases used again and again, but this is an environment where you need to stay on your toes, keep your information up to date, and be prepared to shake a lot of hands. Networking has emerged as probably the most important aspect of doing any kind of work within the governance sector. As the saying goes: sometimes it’s not what you know, but who you know that counts.

Freddie Harris is currently studying for a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his current experiences as a sustainability student, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He hopes to remain optimistic about the future!

Posted on: May 10, 2011, 9:00 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: , , ,

4 Responses

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  1. Freddie Harris said

    Janet, thank you very much for your positive feedback. It’s great to hear that people are as interested in reading about these things as I am about doing them! The contrasts and similarities between the sectors are definitely proving to be a thought provoking subject. Who knows what my next placement will bring? I’m hoping to get a placement with a local energy consultant who also owns a shop selling ‘green’ products. Fingers crossed! All the best.

  2. Janet Foreman said

    Freddie, i have been so interested in reading about your experiences as you explore the world of sustainability and pass on your knowledge to us. I have been particularly interested in the comparison of your experiences at Sunseed and now with a more formal organization. From grass roots – or ‘cana’ roots, as the case may be – to government organization. It will be interesting to see how a basic, self sustainable experience will impact your work with small, local companies. Keep it coming!

  3. Freddie Harris said

    Susaniaofnarnia, thank you for your question.

    The biggest advantage of the voucher scheme is that it puts the enterprise in touch with a relevant knowledge provider who helps them solve a problem within their business. This differs from a standard grant in that the emphasis is on the transfer of knowledge, thereby increasing connectivity within the industry. It’s not just money for money’s sake.

    Does that answer your question?

  4. Susan said

    What is the benefit of a voucher scheme over using a standard grant application process?

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