Remote it may be, but insular it ain't. A Shetland high school has initiated an international project to market fish to the world. Su Clark reports
When Miriam Guzman's teacher cornered her in the corridor of her American high school to ask if she had a passport, she had no idea what was going on. When she replied yes, her teacher simply smiled and walked off. Two weeks later Miriam was on a plane from her home in Trenton, New Jersey, to Scotland, a place she'd barely heard of, let alone visited. After a quick stop-off in Edinburgh, Miriam was shipped even further north to Shetland.
To the rest of the UK, Shetland may appear to be at the edge of the world; a 12-hour ferry ride, often through choppy seas, or an expensive flight.
But for Miriam and eight other students gathered from across the globe, Shetland will be the centre of their world for the next 18 months.
They are part of the first global consultancy network set up by Anderson High in Lerwick. The school has long had an international flavour, due to its place within the oil industry. This internationalism has been kept alive as the oil industry has diminished by the enthusiasm of Stewart Hay, the school's depute head. He is the driving force behind its global learning programme, which earlier this year won it Schools of Ambition status and, with it, enough funding to realise one of Mr Hay's most avid dreams - to start a global enterprise project that wasn't just academic.
"The council launched a project called Shetland Forecast, where Shetlanders could write about where they thought the islands would be in 20, 40 or 60 years' time. Some of our students wrote about how it would be a centre of excellence in whatever it produced and that got me thinking about what we did produce," explains Mr Hay.
"We have the oil, but that is finite, and we have fish. The dream came from there."
Mr Hay's idea was to bring together a global network of students to work remotely at first, and then together, on a project developing Shetland's fishing industry. He took it to one of Shetland's biggest employers, Shetland Catch, which has an annual revenue of pound;55-pound;60 million.
Its response was exactly what Mr Hay had wished for.
"We were delighted with the opportunity to get involved," says Shona Manson, marketing executive for Shetland Catch. "When Stewart approached us with his idea we listened, because we've worked with him before and we don't tend to say no."
The aim is for the students to research potential for expansion within the developing world of a small specialist subsidiary of Shetland Catch, Shetland Smokehouse. It produces smoked products which are distributed across the globe. The internationalism of the consultancy team appealed to Shetland Catch.
"They will bring an international expertise, which would be good for us as we export our products around the world," adds Ms Manson. "They will work on their own, but we will always be on hand to give advice and share expertise."
The company is also supporting the project with pound;24,000 sponsorship.
In return, it gets one year of consultancy from an international team of enthusiastic, bright young people, followed by six months of full-time, on-site consultancy.
"The students had to agree to defer a year of their education so they could work full time on the project in the second year," says Honza Balac, an ex-member of Anderson's global classroom. He was also an extended exchange student at Anderson for a year before going to the London School of Economics to study economics. He will lead the project.
The rest of the students on the team come from schools that Mr Hay has built partnerships with over the past 15 years. The most recent - two weeks before the launch of this latest project - was Trenton High in New Jersey.
Although picked randomly from among the students who possessed a passport, Miriam is just the sort of person Mr Hay was looking for: bright, articulate, enthusiastic and broad-minded. She is being joined by Lena Masch from Germany, who appears shyer but equally enthusiastic; Peter Shaw, a promising student from Anderson; Kristian Nilsson from Australia, the youngest on the project; Xola Mtshisa, born in Umtata, South Africa, who despite his impoverished background has won a place at Cape Academy for Maths, Science and Technology; Adam Peterka, who comes from the same school as Mr Balac in the Czech Republic; and Johan Eliasson from Sweden.
Negotiations are under way for a ninth student to join them from Anderson's partner school in Nara, Japan.
Mr Balac has ambitious plans for the whole team, and is not going to let language difficulties or time differences get in his way.
"I will be in regular, probably weekly contact with them throughout the year. The plan is that they will set up networks of interested individuals back home to support their research," he says. "I will then set them individual research projects or sometimes they may have to work jointly with another team member in another country."
The team met in Scotland in early November for the first time and spent a few days bonding, but they have now returned to their homes in Europe, Africa, Australia, and America and probably won't meet again until next year.
For the rest of this academic year, all contact will be by email and video conferencing. After that, they will meet again in the areas of the developed world identified by the team and Shetland Catch as having potential for expansion of Shetland Smokehouse.
The students hope to see the whole project come to a close at the end of that time, with the successful launch of new businesses for Shetland Catch.
But Mr Hay is determined it won't be the end of the global consultancy. He is already in talks with other employers about ethical expansion abroad, such as solar panel cookers for South African townships.
"With the Schools of Ambition funding, we will be able to set up the infrastructure for our global projects, which we plan to reuse with each new project," he says."It will keep on going."
WHAT THE STUDENTS HOPE TO GAIN
Honza Balac aged 23 London School of Economics, originally from Zlin, Czech Republic
"I am very interested in this, having been part of the global classroom with Anderson for five years. It will run alongside my university course, giving me something practical to do to distract me from the pressures of my academic studies. I will act as adviser and mentor, and I will be in regular email contact with the students."
Adam Peterka aged 19 Gymnazium Zlin, Zlin, Czech Republic
"It will be interesting to see how this group of young students can take a business plan forward and make it really happen. It will be good to see what we can achieve over the 18 months."
Miriam Guzman aged 16, Trenton Central High School, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
"In America I am used to hearing how the US is involved in just about every other country in the world. But I'd like to see how I can be involved without the US being in control. This is a chance to show that collaboration can work, and things can still get done without having to take over."
Peter Shaw aged 16 Anderson High, Lerwick, Shetland Islands
"I'm looking forward to the team work. We met as a group for the first time this morning, but for the next 18 months we will be working together on something completely different to what we are used to. I'm looking forward to seeing how that works."
Xola Mtshisa aged 17Cape Academy for Maths, Science and Technology, Cape Town, South Africa
"I want to use this to develop my own entrepreneurial skills and then use those skills to help improve the skills of others in developing countries, and to educate young people globally about business."
Kristian Nilsson aged 16 Hawker College, Canberra, Australia
"I am hoping to learn about opportunities in business from the different people involved from all over the world and do something with the skills I develop."
Lena Masch aged 19 Graffriedrichschule, Diepholz, Germany
"I think the concept is really good and I hope that I can learn a lot about business. We want to be able to help a developing country to help themselves; to give them the means to take it forward themselves."
Johan Eliasson aged 18 Fresundsgymnasiet, Malmo, Sweden
"I am looking forward to the challenge of building an enterprise in a developing country, but I also like the idea of working as a team across the globe. It should be fun."
Fishy business: Honza Balac from the Czech Republic and Miriam Guzman from the USA visit the Shetland Smokehouse which they will promote over the next 18 months