Following television series such as Dragon’s Den and The Apprentice, society has become fascinated by the business world, but has this interest affected students?
I’ve spoken to Clementine Taylor, President of the King’s College London SIFE (Students in Free Enterprise) society, a branch of the global organisation that operates in 39 countries and has 48,000 students participating worldwide. KCL SIFE is one of the most successful SIFE societies; it has won national competitions and runs eleven projects both in London and abroad.
Clementine, how do you think KCL SIFE differs from the many other student societies out there?
I think because it’s got so many different aspects to it: it’s a business society, and we work closely with some huge international corporations like HSBC and Shell, but then all our projects aim to benefit communities. They’re meant to be sustainable, so we’ll run them for a year or so and then ideally we can leave and the project will keep going. For example, last year we started a project in the Philippines called Born in Manila, working with women in the local community to develop a sustainable jewellery making project, using local materials. It’s still running even though we’re no longer in charge of it. The jewellery made is actually sold in the King’s University shop.
So, what exactly attracted you to get involved in KCL SIFE?
I’m doing a fairly non-committal degree (French and Classics) and I wanted to do something that was more practical in the real world. I think that whilst you’re at university you might as well do something more than just your degree; you’re never going to have this much freedom to explore what you want again.
Do you think you’re more committed to SIFE than your degree, then?
(Laughs) Yes, it’s the sort of thing that you can’t say you’ll do and then not do it properly. You can get away with missing a lecture, but you can’t get away with arranging to meet the CEO of a company and not turning up.
I guess with all the economic problems in society it’s useful for our generation to understand more about money and the business world?
Absolutely, I think it’s far more practical to do something like this than a business degree, since it gives you a genuine insight into the business world. We actually run a project teaching children from disadvantaged primary schools in London how to run a small business. We give the children £20 at the start of the project; they must manage this money and develop a crafts business then sell the products at the end of term. The profit goes to charity.
For children who struggle with school this is a good opportunity?
No one ever teaches kids these sorts of practical skills. We work with kids from hard up areas; they’re so intelligent and know what they’re doing: these are often children who wouldn’t pay attention in a Math’s lesson.
What do you think King’s students get out of SIFE?
I think it gives you a massive perspective, doing something for your university and also on an international level. You also meet working professionals that you would never normally meet, for example partners in law firms. Also, London universities are so massive, it’s nice to belong to a smaller community within that, and everyone becomes really close. We have students from all different degree courses, so anyone can get involved whether it’s volunteering for an hour a week on a project or at management level.
So finally, what’s the number one selling point for why students should do SIFE?
(Long pause) Can I do two? I’d say do it for yourself, because having a degree isn’t enough anymore, you need to be able to show employers that you’re passionate about something other than your studies. But also, for non-selfish reasons, because I think you can change your world and you can also change other people’s worlds. You are genuinely regenerating the country we live in.
This interview made me completely re-consider my concept of business. It’s not just about making money, but about regenerating our nation on a practical level.
To find out more, visit www.sife.org.
There are also branches of SIFE at other London Universities; Queen Mary College, LSE, SOAS, UCL, City University London, Imperial College, London Metropolitan and Royal Holloway, so contact your nearest branch to get involved.