Category Archives: Business Economics and Informatics

Graduating as a couple and changing their lives for the better together

Henry and Raisa Capetian have been together for 7 years and both graduated on the same day this month. Henry graduated from BSc Economics, Raisa from BSc Economics and Business. This is their story. 

Henry and Raisa Capetian

Both in their early thirties, Henry and Raisa chose to pursue degrees later in life for different reasons. For Henry, this was his first foray into higher education, after years of working in retail and not feeling challenged. “It was a job to pay the bills and live day-to-day”, Henry explained. “Brexit happened and it sparked my interest in finance. I started looking into it, reading the Financial Times, doing a bit of market analysis and managing small investments.” Having no A-Level qualifications, Henry started by enrolling on a Foundation degree in Economics, and then doing a BSc Economics degree at Birkbeck. 

For Raisa, studying at Birkbeck was her third time pursuing an Economics degree. Other opportunities had arisen for Raisa which led to her dropping out of two other universities. She began a career as an influencer, doing YouTube make up, lifestyle and wellness tutorials and blogging, amassing a number of followers. Microsoft headhunted her for a Marketing Manager role, which Raisa decided to pursue. A few years on, Raisa decided to pick up where she left off and chose to transfer her credits from other universities to Birkbeck, meaning she only studied at Birkbeck for one year. 

They describe their time at Birkbeck as life changing. Henry explains, “It’s been interesting because it hasn’t been the journey I expected. I thought I’d hold the same part-time job over the three years, but I’ve had three promotions and four different jobs in that time. Studying at Birkbeck has changed the way I think and approach things and it’s allowed me to grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to. I’m now working as an account management executive at a tech company.” Raisa adds, “Henry is a totally different person. You wouldn’t recognise him from when he started his degree.”  

Making friends at Birkbeck was easy for Henry and Raisa, with Henry being part of the Economics and Finance Society. He went to their socials, bringing Raisa along. “Everyone at Birkbeck had different journeys and we felt like we belonged to a community. The society leader introduced me to a network of city banking professionals and it was great to enter that world prior to graduating”, Henry says. “The teaching at Birkbeck was great and we liked the fact that everything was so easy – you get all the course notes well in advance”, Raisa adds. 

On their Graduation day, Henry and Raisa felt disbelief, pride and joy. “I’m the first person in my family to graduate”, says Raisa, “so it was an emotional day for me. My grandparents couldn’t read and write and they always used to say ‘we work with our hands but you work with your brain – keep being creative and never stop studying’ – I was thinking about them the most on that day and how proud they’d be.” 

Both Henry and Raisa are looking ahead to the future and considering Master’s degrees at Birkbeck. Raisa is looking to pursue a Master’s in January in Marketing, “I’m really proud to be part of Birkbeck, an institution where I can hand on heart say it aligns with my values and morals.” 

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Henry and Raisa Capetian

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Uncertainty Deconstructed: We Should Have Seen It Coming

We welcomed Dr Bruce Garvey and Dowshan Humzah to a conversation about their latest book co-written with Storm Le Roux, which challenges the concept of uncertainty.

The authors sitting in armchairs discussing their book.

On Wednesday 19 October 2022, Birkbeck’s Centre for Professional Development was delighted to welcome authors Dr Bruce Garvey and Dowshan Humzah to celebrate the launch of their book Uncertainty Deconstructed: A Guidebook for Decision Support Practitioners, co-written with Storm Le Roux.

In a week that saw the resignation of Home Secretary Suella Braverman, shortly followed by Prime Minister Liz Truss herself, it seemed fitting to consider the role of uncertainty in the political and private arena.

Is uncertainty really the villain we make it out to be, or could we better lay the blame for inaction or poor decision-making at the door of groupthink, inflexible strategy and an unwillingness to apply creative thinking to complex problems?

Based on the premise that uncertainty is not really uncertainty at all, but just demonstrates a lack of vision and willingness to think about the unthinkable, the book formed an appropriate foundation for a discussion that ranged from the current volatile political climate to managerial decision-making and harnessing our inner creativity.

Chair Dr Pamela Yeow began the discussion by inviting the authors to deconstruct the concept of uncertainty. Bruce highlighted that, prior to the financial crash, it was typical to speak of “risk” rather than “uncertainty”. Whereas risk is quantifiable, he argued that “people use the term uncertainty to talk about mess-ups that have happened on their watch.”

Attendees were invited to take part in two quick polls to facilitate the discussion. 55% agreed with the statement: ‘Uncertainty is not really uncertainty at all but just demonstrates a lack of foresight, imagination, and vision.’

Graph showing the results of the poll asking if attendees agree with the statement "Uncertainty is not really uncertainty at all but just demonstrates a lack of foresight, imagination and vision"

The second poll, ‘What one factor can improve decision-making given uncertainty?’ had four options. The result overwhelmingly showed ‘diversity and difference’ taking the lead with nearly 70% selecting ‘Having more different, diverse and challenging people and viewpoints’. It is interesting to note, that the option of ‘Bringing in established management consultancies’ scored 0%.

Graph showing the results of the poll "what one factor can improve decision-making given uncertainty?"

If we are to meet the challenges that an ever-changing world is throwing at us, then the task of accepting that uncertainty is about exploring the possible, rather than the impossible must be taken on board by all. It is our reliance on the past and accepted models and lack of accepting maverick, even challenging perspectives, which limits us and closes opportunity space. We need more creativity, innovation and embracing difference.

While uncertainty is undoubtedly out there, we are not without the tools to understand it. The authors drew parallels between decision-making and the design process: while it may initially seem nebulous, applying a structured approach to the problem reveals greater clarity.

Dowshan called for a balance between linear, traditional approaches to problem-solving and creative, free thinking which enables us to find new solutions. He reflected on the damaging impact of silo mentalities on organisations looking to address wider issues. Discussion with the audience explored how such ideas could be applied to a range of real-life case studies, from our academic context at Birkbeck to the health service and large consultancy firms.

Asked for their key takeaways from the book, Bruce encouraged attendees to “continuously update contingency plans” and to approach management as a continuous process rather than discrete functions. Dowshan called for organisations to go beyond paying lip-service to introducing diverse perspectives: “recruit to challenge, select to challenge – do what you say”.

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An Introduction to Carbon Literacy

Masters students Jonet Dunmore, Nina Perunovic and Verity Snow shared learnings from their Carbon Literacy Training in the final Responsible Business Centre Seminar of the summer term.

As the highest temperatures on record were reached in Britain during the July heatwave, we were reminded of the urgent challenge of addressing the climate crisis. While leadership is needed from government and business to address the crisis, many individuals are increasingly aware of climate change and looking to see what part they can play in combatting global heating.

For the past year, Birkbeck has been delivering Carbon Literacy Training to staff and students, helping our community understand key concepts and jargon and to commit to personal and organisational action to tackle the climate crisis.

On Wednesday 20 July 2022, Masters students Jonet Dunmore, Nina Perunovic and Verity Snow, who have each completed the Carbon Literacy Trust certified training, shared their learnings through the Responsible Business Centre seminar: Introduction to Carbon Literacy.

Global Warming – Key Terms

Jonet Dunmore began the discussion by explaining some of the key terms associated with climate change:

  • The Kyoto Protocol – The UN framework on climate change, which committed countries to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The Paris Agreement – In 2015, at COP 21, a goal was set to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably 1.5 degrees Celsius.
  • Net Zero – A target to negate the amount of greenhouse gases produced by humans by balancing carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere with the carbon dioxide removed from it.
  • 2050 – The UK Government has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 100% of 1990 levels.
  • COP26 – Governments were obliged to set out more ambitious goals for climate change under the Paris Agreement to “keep 1.5 alive”.

Which countries are most vulnerable to climate change?

Nina Perunovic highlighted the global injustice of the climate crisis. Developing countries, who are least responsible for carbon emissions, are at the frontline when it comes to the impact of climate change, from natural disasters, to food and water shortages. High polluting countries, such as China and the United States, will be slower to feel the effects of climate disaster than countries such as Yemen and Haiti, which are already living with the consequences. However, if no action is taken, the impact of climate change will soon spread across the globe.

How can Carbon Literacy help us take action?

Verity Snow concluded the seminar with a message of hope: by educating ourselves on carbon emissions, we can take the actions needed to make a change. Participants were encouraged to test their knowledge of climate change solutions using an interactive quiz.

The group also discussed the impact of personal activity such as diet, transport, energy use and lifestyle on carbon emissions. You can explore your personal carbon footprint using the WWF footprint calculator.

The Carbon Literacy Project aims to equip individuals and organisations with the knowledge and motivation to make a positive change for the environment. What small changes could you make to help the planet today?

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Birkbeck hosts ‘Environmental Finance for the Common Good’ Conference

The conference, organised by Dr Ellen Yu, was generously funded by the Money Macro and Finance Society and the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

A group of people standing in the lecture theatre.

Birkbeck’s Department of Management was delighted to host the ‘Environmental Finance for the Common Good’ conference from 31 March – 1 April 2022.

More than 170 people registered for events during the two-day hybrid conference, which was organised by Dr Ellen Yu, Senior Lecturer in Finance.

Speakers included representation from international organisations and industry (the World Bank, Climate Policy Initiative, the US Conference Board, and the CFA Society of the UK), religious communities (the Vatican and the SGI UK), and academic peers from all over the world, who presented and shared ideas on environmental finance.

The conference aimed to understand the investment implications of environmental and social factors across different economies to achieve greater common good. Workshops over the two days included studies from industrial and middle- and low- income countries, providing a platform for all people working on environmental finance issues to discuss the latest insights and foster dialogue between academics and practitioners.

The diversity of speakers and attendees was highlighted at the evening keynote lecture, where representatives from industry, academia and religious communities came together to discuss pathways to a more inclusive, greener future.

The conference was funded by the Money Macro Society and the School of Business, Economics and Informatics.

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