Six RMIT students were recognised by industry leaders at the Industry Networking & Student Showcase Night 2019 for their unique approach to addressing the illegal rhino horn trade in Vietnam.
The students worked closely with Wilderness Foundation Africa, a South African conservation organisation, to identify issues related to the illegal trade and understand the motivations of consumers in Vietnam. They also unpacked the myths about rhino horn and the hidden horrors which can negatively impact the health of consumers.
The student project, Tiny Rhinos, gained the attention of industry leaders at the event, and the team was awarded the Best Student Project Award 2019, Social – Most Social Media Engagement, Facebook, and Pitching – Best Idea and Presentation award.
Tiny Rhinos co-leader Nguyen Mac Nguyet Anh said the project was a collective effort from herself and the team, as well as RMIT professors, other students, and the RMIT Activator, a university program that provides students with the means to develop an entrepreneurial mindset.
“We were able to find some critical and practical solutions thanks to the three skill-up workshops from the RMIT Activator: brainstorming, arranging and presenting our ideas,” she said.
“At the beginning of the competition, we didn’t have much confidence in ourselves, but we gave our best effort because we believed that if we put our hearts into this project, we could create something truly meaningful that all of us could be proud of. So we were all genuinely delighted and couldn’t be more satisfied with the results.”
Vietnam is one of the world’s biggest importers of rhino horn, based on false beliefs that the horn’s keratin (the same protein in our hair and fingernails) can cure illnesses and erectile dysfunction. It also symbolises wealth because of the high price tag placed on the illegal import.
Wilderness Foundation Africa COO Matthew Norval said he was “very impressed [with the Tiny Rhinos team], not only by the passion and creativity, but also the commitment.” Instead of focusing on the poaching dangers to the rhinoceros population and the cruelty involved, the students highlighted the hidden health risks of consuming Anthrax bacilli, E. coli and Pseudomonas aerugenosa, pathogens commonly found on rhino horn.
“I thought [the students’] approach to the project and the complimentary activities proposed were of a very high standard and we immediately agreed to find ways to collaborate,” Norval said.
The six RMIT students, Nguyen Dang Minh, Nguyen Mac Nguyet Anh, Vuong Minh Phuc, Le Quang Kim Ngan, Tran Minh and Tran Nguyen Thuy Giang, will now continue to work with Wilderness Foundation Africa to incorporate the project ideas and support existing campaigns.
RMIT Activator Manager Karen Rieschieck said this kind of industry experience is invaluable for students. “The Activator demystifies business issues for startups. A lot of successful entrepreneurship is about experience and confidence; these students have already had their first meeting with an industry partner - a true client - before they’ve even graduated,” Rieschieck said. “The Enactus Club has also worked incredibly hard to create this experience, and have shown their entrepreneurial skills as a group.
“The structure of what happens in the classroom can have its limitations, and as a result, some students feel apprehension about going out into the real world. The boost that the Tiny Rhinos students have gotten from this experience is incredible. I feel intense pride; I’m really excited for them.”
The Industry Networking & Student Showcase Night brought together more than 185 high-profile industry representatives and RMIT students and staff. Twenty-five student projects from different programs were showcased at the event, while the best student projects were voted on by industry guests and awarded.
Organised by RMIT Careers and Industry Relations, the event gives students a chance to go beyond their comfort zone and present themselves to professionals. It also shows industry guests the calibre of RMIT students through their projects.
Story: Lisa Humphries