“My faculty advisor really helped me stay focused in my studies. Every course I took was connected to my interest in mining and sustainable development."
Sabrina Dias started her career as a ceramic engineer, and while she found the work interesting she knew she wanted her work make an impact around social good, and she felt she needed more than her engineering degree to make it happen. She went back to school to get her MES and pursue a career in sustainable development.
Now 12 years after her graduate diploma, Dias is well on her way to her dream of building her own consulting agency into the go-to firm for extracting with sustainability objectives. Leading a team of six, she fosters a talent roster and company culture to provide the ideal combination of experience, expertise, and methods required to uncover opportunities and build solutions for sustainable development in the extractives sector.
Dias had this long range goal in her sights right from day one at York, which is why she enrolled in the Business and the Environment diploma offered jointly by FES and the Schulich School of Business.
She uses the core businesses classes involved in joint diploma “on a daily basis,” and her Environmental Studies classes fuelled her passion for making a difference and helped give her the tools to get the job done.
“My faculty advisor really helped me stay focused in my studies,” Dias said. “Every course I took was connected to my interest in mining and sustainable development -- from Aboriginal culture to program implementation. I also ensured every paper I wrote was connected to my thesis topic.”
A course she took on action learning, which is the methodology of putting yourself into the context of what you were researching, was particularly useful in her thesis and all her field work since.
Like many MES students, Dias’ thesis focus was overseas. She did a case study around a proposed extraction project in Madagascar. She lived in a remote village within the influence area of proposed mine site for 8 weeks, immersed in day to day life to gain an understanding of how the locals lived and their perceptions and expectations of the pending multibillion dollar mine site.
With this in depth industry exploration and field experience under her belt, she graduated with the confidence and skills to immediately pursue her dream job. She offered employers a skill set that bridged her engineering background, new found business acumen, a sophisticated holistic approach to resource management and the most current environmental thinking around sustainable business objectives.
FES and her thesis were the ideal preparation for the next decade of her career as she spent almost 10 years primarily working overseas, managing sustainable program development for mining corporations and visiting villages to learn first hand about their social needs. While she found the travel part of the equation, with airports and visas and customs, exhausting, the work itself was hugely gratifying.
“I love hearing people’s stories and being welcomed into their homes,” Dias said. “Even with the experience I have gained in my career it’s impossible to design a program that will really make an impact and reduce harm from behind a desk.”
Nowadays most of the fieldwork is done by her team. With a young child at home she prefers to be away for only a couple weeks at a time, if possible.
Her advice to the next generation of FES students is to start school with a clear objective and revisit it frequently.
“The flexibility in the program is great,” Dias said. “And the faculty is so fascinating that it could be easy for your research to creep into other directions.”
Dias knew exactly where she wanted her career to go and she applied a laser like focus to get herself there. The end result is a career where her own success means a legacy of helping families around the world. “It’s hard work and it can be long hours, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Dias said.
Current Job Title
- President, Sabrina Dias Consulting