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From Paris to Pole. Oxford MBA student to travel to Antarctica to highlight concerns about environmental management

One of the postcards that inspired Songqiao

A set of postcards from Antarctica, received as a gift at 9 years old, sparked a lifelong passion for the environment and sustainable development. Now current Oxford MBA student and Skoll Scholar, Songqiao Yao, has the opportunity travel to Antarctica herself, and will use the trip to start a number of campaigns which will raise awareness about the continent’s future, its role in global climate change and environmental tourism.

Songqiao was selected to take part on the expedition, leaving on 12th December, along with a number of Chinese explorers, artists and businessmen to learn about the region which faces a number of threats from climate change, fishing and tourism. Songqiao has concerns over the impact of tourism and wants to promote public awareness about conservation on the continent before the Antarctica Treaty expires in 2048; the treaty currently protects resources from being exploited. She will use the trip to consider the best way to protect it in the future, by running environmental workshops and speaking with scientists in order to identify ways of preventing the area from becoming exploited. ‘I really hope to raise awareness of the need to protect the territory in a responsible manner in order to avoid environmental damage and degradation in the future,’ she said.

She launched a fundraising campaign to support the trip at the World Youth Summit in Paris, part of the COP21 Paris Climate Change Conference, where she spoke about intergenerational justice and the urgency to address climate change sooner rather than later. 

One of her main goals is to engage children (in particular, Chinese children) with environmental issues and, inspired by her childhood gift, she initially plans to produce photographic postcards. ‘It was because of these postcards that I developed a strong interest in nature and the environment; I hope to spark the same interest in today’s children with the hope of creating a whole generation who are actively engaged with protecting the planet.’ After the expedition she will develop an educational video, a children’s book, and a multi-faceted curriculum on Antarctica which will enable children access to tools which can be used to create a sustainable future. She also plans to arrange a summer camp for Chinese families which will raise awareness of the importance of environmental protection. 

Songqiao, a global entrepreneur passionate about accelerating social innovation and sustainable development, has previously worked on global environmental sustainability issues such as food, water, and climate change. She started actively campaigning on environmental justice and climate change as a researcher and youth delegate at UN climate change conferences in 2010. In 2012, she helped build the environmental NGO International Rivers' China office and strengthened its programme on river protection in China through extensive field research and policy publications. More recently, Songqiao co-founded a healthy, ethical juice and snacks brand in Beijing, and is opening a tomato processing project in Sierra Leone to reduce food wastage and strengthen local food security.

She has already found the Oxford MBA to be hugely rewarding. ‘I’ve found the GOTO module on water scarcity incredibly engaging,’ said Songqiao. ‘The tools, such as scenario planning, which we have been introduced to are so useful and highly relevant in an increasingly uncertain world.’

Songqiao will run a crowdfunding campaign to support her trip to Antarctica which aims to raise GBP 5,000 in the UK, and GBP 9,000 from a similar campaign in China. ‘This trip is the beginning of a conversation movement for Antarctica’s sustainable future; I’m working with experts from the Antarctica Ocean Alliance, as well as key influencers in China, to ensure the protection of the continent,’ she said.

More information on the expedition, including how to support Songqiao’s campaign

From Paris to Pole: Inspire Children of 2048 for Antarctica
Kat Orman chats to Songqiao Yao following her expedition to Antarctica