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Viewing business through an ESG lens: Lessons from Sweden through the Cansbridge Fellowship

Oct 3, 2022

Rubaina Singla

Rubaina Singla.

Michelle Elliott/MEE Photography

The Cansbridge Fellowship provides ambitious Canadian post-secondary students with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to expand their careers globally. It does so through providing a $10,000-grant for an internship abroad as well as offering a transformative annual week-long bootcamp in Silicon Valley. Rubaina Singla, an HBA ’24 candidate, is a 2022 Cansbridge Fellow and recently travelled to the Nordic region for her summer internship. In her blog below, she shares how the experience broadened her knowledge about sustainable fashion and helped her to create a strong vision to accelerate Canada’s investment in a circular economy.

Accelerating Canada's ESG sector: The Cansbridge Fellowship is Canada’s bridge to the world

I originally applied to The Cansbridge Fellowship after founding an eco-friendly lingerie line, SINGLA Intimates, realizing that my impact at the intersection of fashion and sustainability needed an international perspective to flourish. Despite having buy-in from investors, receiving mentorship from Ivey Business School and Western University’s substantial alumni network, and using resources at Morrisette’s Centre for Entrepreneurship in the Founder’s Program and Summer Accelerator, I felt I still needed more. I knew I needed to take charge of finding an environment of leadership and innovation to take my curiosity to the next level.

The Cansbridge summer internship was a self-organized process that pushed me to look beyond borders, and deep within. Throughout this process, I was supported with a grant to complement travel expenses and an industry-agnostic alumni network in every corner of the world.

SINGLA Intimates is a fashion brand centred around sourcing innovative fabrics and building authentic supplier-to-customer relationships, capitalizing on a recent global inflow of investment in sustainable materials innovation. Given that focus, I sought to get closer to the root to understand the operational challenges and opportunities in fashion.

I moved to Stockholm, Sweden in May 2022 to pursue an internship with one of the world’s largest chemical cotton textile recyclers. Through my internship, I became deeply intertwined with the creative Scandinavian fashion scene and textile manufacturing industry – two industries that do not make up much of Canada’s innovation blueprint. 

Here are a few key takeaways. 

The world needs more Nordic

Across Scandinavia, the conversations and solutions regarding sustainable fashion were unlike anything I have experienced in North America, where there continues to be a lack of awareness and meaningful conversation about environmental problems and respective solutions. Canada is the largest emitter of carbon emissions in the G7 and leads in global waste-per-capita rankings, signalling a general slowness in innovation, sustainable investing, and policy.

Fashion specifically lacks a spotlight. Throughout my time in investor boardrooms, incubators, and startup communities, I have noticed that manufacturing and non-software businesses are given little attention. On a consumer level, a lack of awareness about the importance of sustainable fashion along with greenwashing continue to create demand for fast fashion, making it difficult for those wanting to offer authentic, quality products.

Given these challenges, there is a collective opportunity for Canada’s future leaders, many who are at Ivey Business School. I hope to leverage these insights as I expand my career, and am excited by Ivey’s dedication to the cause through the Ivey Centre for Building Sustainable Value, Sustainability Certificate, and Social Impact Club.

What remote work can’t do

Remote work is more prevalent than ever, but my Cansbridge summer would not have been the same without the in-person learning. In less than four months, I moved to a new country, visited six new countries, toured various manufacturing plants, attended Copenhagen Fashion Week, and watched various photoshoots and commercial productions come to life. Amongst others, I met movie producers, authors, content creators, engineers, founders, investors, and students throughout my internship. This is because I constantly found myself in rooms in new places with interesting people.

The comfort of being curled up at home during COVID-19 was great, but had its limitations. For these reasons, as a young person, face-to-face learning is a crucial step to reap the benefits of internships, leaders, mentors, and peers. Beginning the HBA program this fall, I’m excited to be back in the classroom with a collaborative case-based learning environment. 

The Cansbridge impact

When I joined the Cansbridge community, I found it to be comprised of extremely unique, ambitious, and compassionate leaders who quickly became my best friends throughout the onboarding, training, and bootcamp experience in early 2022. Together, we have travelled the world, built impactful projects, and shared memories I will never forget.

The Cansbridge group included three other Western University 2022 Fellows; Maggie Chen, an HBA ’24 candidate; Connor Plunkett, an HBA/BESc ’24 candidate; and Santosh Solaiyappan, a BESc ’24 candidate; along with 23 other students. Altogether, the Cansbridge Fellows have worked across the world in San Francisco, New York, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Dubai, Turkey, and beyond. (Note: Non-Asia internships in Europe and North America were unique and resulted because of closed borders to Asia in 2022 due to COVID-19 restrictions. All past internships have been in Asia and future fellow internships are expected to be in Asia as well.) 

I’ve seen how the Cansbridge alumni form a tightknit group, helping one another to succeed in corporate and entrepreneurial ventures around the world for decades. Founded by entrepreneur William Yu, the organization is entirely non-profit and supported by fellows who believe in its purpose and mission. I am looking forward to supporting 2023 recruitment efforts and giving back to ensure the experience lives on.

Cansbridge will be hosting an information session at Ivey on Wednesday, October 5 from 3:30-5 p.m. in the BMO Auditorium followed by a networking session in MPR Room 0140. Applications for the 2023 cohort are now available and due on October 16 by 11:59 p.m. EST.

Get live updates on the application process, campus visits, and travels from around the world via Cansbridge’s Instagram and LinkedIn channels and its newsletter.