Sophia Arkinstall is on a mission. The UQ MBA graduate is setting out to make smart cities a reality, taking the concept beyond infrastructure, to look at how our cities will enable us to live healthier, happier lives into the future.
I’ve always been a huge advocate of staying active – it makes you feel good, is a great way to make friends and even discover new places. As a child, I loved sports, particularly swimming, and had visions of becoming a superstar in the pool that would represent my country. My weekends were filled with swimming carnivals and Saturday sport.
As I started to grow a bit older, I also developed a love of science, almost as much as I loved being in the water, so I toyed with the idea of marine biology as a career. Ultimately I decided to combine my two passions by studying a combined degree in Business and Health Sciences, which also offered a broad range of career paths.
When I graduated in 2010, I took on health administration roles in the public sector. While they seemed like a natural fit, I had a burning desire to do more in the business space. I also had a deep love of the French language, having learnt it from a young age. So, when the opportunity arose to take a project role at a French-speaking association for entrepreneurs, I jumped at it!
The role took me to Paris, where I was able to immerse myself in French culture, improve my language skills, and work for an organisation that was funding startups around the world. The experience was incredible. It was exceptionally inspiring, being around the people who were making things happen.
When I returned to Australia, I took on an education and health role at city planning firm, Springfield City Group. I had no idea I was about to develop a new passion – for the future of our communities.
We hear a lot about the 'smart' city and what this means for infrastructure and the economy, but I am more interested in what it means for the people who live there. A smart city should be one in which we can lead happier, more productive, and, ultimately lead healthier lives. A smart city doesn’t need to be big, but it should be digital, connected, and harness the power of the community, that’s what will make a city a great place to live.
From my own overseas travels, I began to analyse what comprises a good smart city. It's a place that encourages community and is defined by spaces where people can come together, particularly as we see an increase in high-rise living. A true smart city should be accessible, where people can move around easily, and the mobility of the community is an influential part of the planning. Being a keen cyclist myself, I am passionate about the role cycleways play in our city; promoting healthy activity, reducing congestion and having a positive impact on the environment.
Quite unexpectedly, I had a whole new career direction that made a lot of sense for me. It brings together my love of sports, health, science and business. It is a space where I can have an impact, and perhaps leave my legacy. I want to be at the forefront of innovation and change in our cities.
To realise my dream and contribute to the future of cities and building better communities, I knew I had a lot to learn. Initially, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) made sense as a first step because it would give me the business knowledge to kick-start this new adventure, but it has done so much more for me.
The UQ MBA has changed the way I see things. Working closely with such a diverse group of people always gives you new perspectives, you learn so much from their experiences that you couldn’t learn in any other environment.
I am, by nature, an introvert and I lacked confidence when it came to public speaking or putting myself out there. I knew if I was going to have an impact, I had to be able to stand up and have my voice heard.
The UQ MBA helped me to develop the confidence to speak up, to put value on my own contribution. The learning experience is challenging and rewarding, it gives you confidence when you walk into a room that you belong there and that you have something to contribute. Since studying my MBA, I have even given a guest lecture to undergraduate and postgraduate students, something I wouldn’t have believed I could do before.
During my studies, I also created the Future City Legacy – a space where we can have a conversation about the cities of the future and what that really means. I've travelled around the world making videos, from Melbourne to Dubai to Oslo, looking at how smart cities work and what we can learn from them. I've also recently been accepted into the Australia and New Zealand Smart Cities Council, as an Emerging Innovator and the Queensland Coordinator which I hope to increase my reach and impact.
We are lucky to live in such a beautiful country. Australia is a fantastic place to live and our cities have so much potential; I am excited to be part of that future.