International studies student and non-profit entrepreneur Taya Wall reaps rewards from UN Millennium Fellowship
Taya Wall, an international studies undergraduate, had an unforgettable experience as part of the first SFU cohort to be accepted into the UN Millennium Fellowship. This United Nations leadership program encourages students like Wall to learn about the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and put them into practice by organizing community projects. Wall jumped at the chance to participate, not only because she’s an international studies student, but because she is already a non-profit entrepreneur.
In 2020, Wall and her mother created the Divieaya Society Sisters of India, a non-profit that imports textiles and handcrafted artwork made by women in India and sells them in Canada. The proceeds are then returned to the artists so they can support themselves and their families.
“We’ve done humanitarian aid work in India since I was 11 years old,” Wall says. “In 2020, we said, ‘okay, we’ve seen enough of them, we know the problems and ethical issues by working for various NGOs, so let’s start our own and do it the right way.’ That’s been a big part of my degree, focusing on ethical aid, ethical development and international non-profit work.”
Wall uses the SDGs all the time in her non-profit but says she benefitted from learning about them in detail through the fellowship.
“I knew a lot about the SDGs and the work around them before going in, but it was really nice to get a more intimate, inside look at the ethics, values and reasoning behind a lot of the projects they do,” she says.
Wall, along with Danika Young, served as a group leader and peer mentor to the other students participating in the fellowship. Initially, she didn’t realize what a big responsibility this role would be, but she rose to the occasion and says the position really allowed her to build her leadership skills.
“It took a while to slide into that role, but once I did it was fantastic. I was incredibly impressed by the dedication from the other girls and the work they put into their projects,” she says.
The students’ projects ranged from building community art spaces to the founding of a UN Women’s Club at SFU, and at the end of the semester they threw an event to launch all their projects. Wall’s project focused on fundraising for the Divieaya Society Sisters of India, and she used the final event to do so.
“My goal was to raise enough money to fund renting a community center space in India for the women to gather and make their products in and basically have a safe space, because they face a lot of violence and oppression,” she says.
Wall’s courses in international studies were paramount in her success as a UN Millennium Fellow and mentor. She found IS 302: Humanitarian Aid and Relief: An Introduction especially useful.
“We talked endlessly about the ethics of development and really what’s involved when you embark on these kinds of life saving, or poverty reducing or gender equality introducing missions.” Wall says
IS 309: International Law with Dr. Amyn Sajoo was another standout, and overall Wall says that she can’t imagine taking on this leadership role without some understanding of international relations.
“Doing these kinds of projects, you have to know the ethics behind it and you have to understand the impacts and the broader picture to really be effective. You can’t just go in with a dream and an idea, you need to have all that knowledge behind you,” she says.
Overall, although the fellowship was a big undertaking for Wall, who also had a full class schedule, she’s still glad she participated and would recommend it to anyone that aspires to work in the humanitarian field.
“Honestly, I already have various job opportunities and experiences that I can get because of that work now, so it’s already done wonders for my goals and my future. I’m definitely grateful for it,” Wall says. “I would recommend it to anyone who’s interested in doing any kind of work like this, I think it’s phenomenal! The advice I would give is to have a clear idea of what you want to do. That’s what allows you to move forward and make something really special and achieve something really cool.”