Training for nothing and dinner for free

Dean Nash — a BizAcademy participant — talks about some of the more colourful elements of the program.

One of the perks of writing for a blog sponsored by Salesforce.com is that when a fancy soiree is being held, there’s a chance we get to attend. Such was the case when Baia restaraunt — overlooking the water on Cockle Bay Wharf — played host to the Biz Academy dinner.

On this occasion I had the usual mild concern that I would be in the quietest section of the table surrounded by socially awkward people who were only interested in staring at their entree. That thought was dashed the moment I arrived — admittedly after more than a couple of fashionably late minutes — when there was impromptu speeches, cheering, clapping and a non-stop whirlwind of conversation, all before I even had a chance to take my seat.

The function was the final stop in a week-long journey for Biz Academy cadets. The program is run for underprivileged youths working with Mission Australia and put together by the Salesforce.com Foundation. The aim of the initiative is to give hands-on business training and experience to those who may normally find it difficult to access.

I was squeezed into a seat next to Jeffrey Choi, who had just gone through the ropes of the Biz Academy program and told me it was at times grueling, amazing and lots of fun. In a moment of startling honesty, Choi also told me that a week ago he would of had trouble having this conversation with me (the bubbly public relations people had already outed me as a Cloudtopia blogger) but thanks to a week in the program he had gained renewed confidence.

Call me skeptical, but it did not seem likely that 1 week was enough time to give anyone a significant self-confidence boost and I said as much — thanks largely to the free-flowing vino. One of Choi’s team members, Dean Nash, leapt to his comrades defence and also pointed that he too had gained in confidence as a result of the week’s adventures.

The reason for this is how intense and well-managed the entire event was. Participants were sent through an interview process — like they would if they were applying for a job — before the program began. From there they were treated as consultants for the remainder of the exercise, with the goal of assessing the carbon footprint of the Salesforce.com Sydney office and how to reduce it.

Upon arrival on day one, the cadets were sorted into groups of four and then sent into a recording studio to cut a hip-hop album onto CD. No I didn’t make that up, the first activity — usually a classic ice breaker like throwing a ball around and asking everyone their name — was to work together to make a rap compilation.

Afterwards the groups were taken through a series of investigative challenges, often interviewing Salesforce.com’s staff to gather real data on the office’s carbon output. Choi points out that they were treated as real consultants and given training in report preparation, presentation and management.

Nash was actually so successful that he was invited back for a 1 month internship with Salesforce.com, which was quite a feat given there was only a single place offered and he was competing with a room packed full of enthusiastic attendees.

You could of powered several small neighbourhoods with the energy that was in the room that night, it was high-voltage stuff. The farewell process was long and drawn out and really brought home how close the volunteers, participants and Salesforce.com staff members had come in just one week.

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