Empowering global change at U of A's International Week

Parisa describes her engagement with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals game during I-Week.



YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Parisa (she/her) is in her first year of her MSc in Dentistry. She is from Zanjan, a small city in Iran and enjoys connecting with folks to discuss a recent book she has read, as she loves the world of words. In making the most of every minute of her stay in Edmonton, she finds her happy place bike riding and listening to a recently released album. After a long day, for a well-deserved break, she enjoys going down the rabbit hole of YouTube searching for standup comedy videos. Parisa enjoys observing her campus community in Quad in the pursuit of their dreams, and her ultimate goal is to become a faculty member, further pursuing her love for academia.

International Week at the U of A is an award-winning program, a significant annual gathering that promotes global citizenship and addresses pressing issues. I-Week, hosted by U of A International - Global Learning, establishes a platform for individuals to listen to each other, gain new perspectives and collaboratively find solutions. Originating in 1986, this event brings global conversations to our campuses, fostering discussions and debates on contemporary global challenges. In 2024, the focus centred on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), connecting speakers' contributions to these goals. Open to both the U of A community and the local public, I-Week's free events provided diverse opportunities to explore the 17 SDGs and effective ways of engaging with them. 

The Innovative 2030 SDGs Game, facilitated by Carol Yeung, a social entrepreneur associated with iNNOVGoals and a U of A alumna, was held on the last day of I-Week. Developed in Japan by the Imacocollabo company in 2016, the game, which has reached over 300,000 participants worldwide, simulates the world in 2030 and challenges players to collaborate on achieving sustainability goals.

The game is designed for 5 to 50 players, with the potential to expand to approximately 200 participants across multiple parallel 'worlds.' During I-Week, 24 players attended, and the game kicked off by forming pairs, each receiving 14-time cards and four money cards, along with various projects to build. The initial phase allowed 9 minutes for groups to pursue group goals, balancing gains in money or time and engaging in project construction. A key aspect was navigating the trade-offs between economic benefits, societal gains and environmental impact when each project was built. 

At the end of phase one, despite significant economic growth on the board, the environment and society suffered, with only a few teams achieving their goals! In phase two, we collaborated, asking other groups for assistance to inspire a mindset focused on building a better-balanced world. This phase mirrored the real-world challenges, emphasizing that every project involved trade-offs and connections with other groups in creating a balanced society through resource trading. The most intriguing part for me was witnessing the shift in mindset as we observed the detrimental effects of our projects. Our collective effort in phase two successfully compensated for the imbalances, reflecting the real-world challenge of achieving sustainable development goals by considering economic, societal and environmental factors.

The 2030 SDGs Game effectively simplifies complex issues, making them accessible and stimulating curiosity. It encourages players to pursue worthy goals, building confidence and enjoyment. Beyond the game, it motivates players to take real-world actions. Carol rightly pointed out that the game itself is not the end goal; the reflection on the game and how its lessons apply to life is more crucial.

During the reflection phase, questions about emotions when achieving goals, influences on decision-making and potential changes in strategy were considered. Thought-provoking answers emerged, such as "don't solely focus on personal goals" and "consider the whole world to win the game," aligning perfectly with the game's message emphasizing the interconnected nature of sustainability goals. The game highlights that the journey toward sustainability begins with individual actions, underlining the importance of a holistic approach.

As I think about the game and the whole week, I realize the responsibility I hold as an individual and a citizen of the world. Terri Swearingen's quote, "We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to," is in my thoughts. The recurring theme shaping my perspective on this week is the butterfly effect. It is essential to acknowledge every day that sustainability goals act as a powerful reminder of the profound interconnectedness in our world, emphasizing how a seemingly small event can have a significant impact on a larger system.