A report from the Skoll Social Innovation Case Competition

May 14th, 2015 No comments

 A report from Deepti Pulavarthi and Samantha Bastian, current MBA students at Saïd Business  School and this year’s Case Competition Co-Chairs.

“The students of the current MBA class organized the second Skoll Social Innovation Case Competition on May 2, 2015. With participants from across Oxford we saw some exciting and innovative solutions to problems faced by social entrepreneurs. We had ten teams compete; each team consisted of three participants from various University departments ranging from business, finance, engineering, sociology, interdisciplinary bioscience and public policy.

Agratam India case winners

Agratam India case winners with Agratam Founder, Akshay Verma

This year we had two organizations, Agratam India and Gram Vikas, as cases for student teams to provide solutions to business problems. Both cases were written by student organizers and focused on real challenges being faced by the organizations with questions revolving around scaling impact delivery, financing scale-up plans and measuring social impact.

Gram Vikas is an established not-for-profit in India tackling various tribal and rural development issues for the past 35 years such as education, land-use, housing and more recently water and sanitation. Agratam India, on the other hand, is a relatively new organization attempting to increase rural incomes through for-profit fish farming.

The teams were sent the cases 36 hours before their presentation and were given an opportunity to meet for a Q & A session with Yashveer Singh, Head of Strategy and Collaborations at Gram Vikas and Akshay Verma, Founder and Director of Agratam India.

An esteemed panel of experts from the social enterprise, impact investing and consulting field judged the final presentations of the solutions. The panel included Pamela Hartigan, David Hill, Fred Hersch, Natalia Pshenichnaya, Daniela Papi-Thorton, and Candice Motran.

The winners for the Gram Vikas case was a team of MBA students – Owen Scott, Chris Rex and Jessica Lau for their recommendation on bringing focus to water and sanitation work to attract CSR funding while managing a portfolio of other funders for supplementary rural and tribal development work. For the Agratam India case the winning team was Dan Copleston, Charlotte Lau and Bhavna Mittal from business and public policy. They recommended a phased approach for scale-up with innovative financing and incentives solutions.”

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Delivering Water’s Promise: Getting People the Water They Need for Healthier, More Productive Lives

April 27th, 2015 No comments

Valerio Pereno

Current DPhil student Valerio Pereno gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum’s seminar session ‘Delivering Water’s Promise: Getting People the Water They Need for Healthier, More Productive Lives’.
On any other weekday, I would be wearing my white lab coat in the basement of my laboratory on the outskirts of Oxford, preparing for a new set of afternoon experiments. However, at 11.20am, instead of opening the lipid freezer to test a new formulation, I was walking up the stairs of the West Wing of the Saïd Business School to take part in a seminar on water access at the Skoll World Forum.

Within minutes, all the seats in the room were full and Dr. Renwick of Winrock International was opening the discussion. Sitting around the table were representatives of the most influential organisations in the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sphere; NGOs, funders and technology experts – all with a common goal: ensuring people have access to the water they need to live healthy and productive lives.

Water undoubtedly plays a key role in all aspects of life – directly affecting health, food security, education and the environment. The water, energy and food nexus cannot be disassembled. Securing a sustainable supply of water for everyone is a key global issue that requires a holistic and integrated approach.

People’s needs. Drinking constitutes only one of the many uses of water, which include household activities (e.g. cooking, washing and sanitary services), agriculture, and manufacturing. The importance of consumer-centered design in ensuring effective water management strategies was a recurring theme of discussion. All stakeholders should be engaged in the design process: what uses do communities have for water? Where, what quality, and how much do they need for each use? Are all the uses intended? These are only a few basic aspects to consider when planning relevant strategies. Programmes that lack consumer-centered design often exhibit a mismatch between what people need and what is provided, subsequently missing the intended outcomes.

Available water sources. Following usage elicitation, a detailed analysis of the available water resources must be performed to lay the bases for efficient allocation. The following classifications may be used to simplify the analysis:

Quality – The organic and material content of the water determines the suitability of a source for its intended use. These parameters often change over time – periodic water analyses are therefore crucial in determining whether a source is potable, or whether it can be used for livestock, irrigation or industrial applications.

Quantity – How much water can a given source provide? Is the availability seasonal? What uses can this source sustain? How will the water be extracted from the source? If so, at what rate? While these questions seem intuitive, they are integral building blocks of the analysis.

Location – Where are the sources and how can they be accessed? Can infrastructure be improved to reduce the time spent to reach the sources? Is the surrounding environment e.g. livestock or industrial waste likely to contaminate the source?

Reliability – Who owns the source and is it renewable? What are the risks of quality deterioration? How long will the extraction mechanism last for and will it require constant maintenance?

Improved health, livelihoods and the environment. Potable water consumption greatly impacts the health and livelihood of local communities. Control of organic contamination of drinking water significantly reduces the incidence of water-borne diseases. These account for 4.1% of the total global Disability-Adjusted Life Years (DALYs) and for the death of 1.8 million people every year (WHO, 2004). Provision of a reliable, convenient and safe water source decreases the time spent away from school and work, particularly for women. Likewise, the integration and promotion of WASH activities and education further improves outcomes. Planned use of water sources also positively impacts the environment by reducing waste, protecting crops from brackish water and decreasing the risk of contamination.

Improved service sustainability. Income from livelihood activities provides users with incentives to cover ongoing operational, maintenance and repair costs. A market approach centered on beneficiary needs – with the engagement of the private sector – creates an incentive structure that increases value and strengthens the community. The likelihood of effective maintenance and therefore long-term operation is further increased through the empowerment of local entrepreneurs with the private sector.

Financial institutions also play an important role in providing access to affordable credit to households in order to meet their water and sanitation needs. With access to safe water and sanitation, time that was previously spent fetching water and/or in ill health can be spent on productive activities such as income generation and education.

The way forward. The multiple-use water services approach seeks to define the connection between systems to develop our understanding and ability to manage them with the aim of meeting the needs of the community. This complex topic presents multi-dimensional research challenges that require user-centered, multi/interdisciplinary approaches to addressing them.


Beating the Odds: Lessons Learned from Social Innovators in Government

April 22nd, 2015 No comments

Tarun Varma

Current Pershing Square 1+1 Scholar and Oxford MBA student Tarun Varma gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Beating the Odds: Lessons Learned from Social Innovators in Government’.

Innovators in government deal with issues that have an extended sphere of influence. When three innovators spoke about their challenges, I saw a thread in how they drew upon their internal locus of control. The context and their actions hold lessons that could work across contexts.

Dr Guerrero in his second term as Mayor was tasked with bringing down the homicide rate of Cali, Colombia, from 83/100,000 a year (three times the Latin American average). It was a rate of incidence likened to a pandemic. Dr Guerrero turned to his training as an epidemiologist dealing with an unknown disease. The mayor’s team analysed the cause of homicide (loose firearms and alcohol policy), occurrence (weekends) and patterns (poor neighbourhoods with 50% of cases intoxicated) to obtain data. To garner support they quantified data into economic impact these homicides had. This resulted in the IDB releasing the first ever loan to a city to solve a pandemic. The process of data analysis helped the city of Bogota also identify causes and reduce homicides.

Diana Good as an independent commissioner with ICAI, is tasked with scrutinising the DFID spend for impact. The international development agency has a reputation for making a difference. It uses its 11 billion pound annual budget to operate across 28 nations to end poverty. Measuring it for impact requires Diana to turn to 30 years of experience as a litigator and a trusted advisor to some of the most high profile CEOs and leaders in the world. In these three decades she had learnt to be herself in a male-dominated industry. Whilst many advised and pressured her follow the masses, she realised that to work with people in power, only the boldest dared to articulate messages the inner circle would not enunciate. Today this ensures the parliament has confidence in her when she measures DFID and is asked to showcase its impact on a simple RAG (Red Amber Green) status instrument.

Sabri Sadam, a former telecom’s minister in Palestine, was told by a twelve year old that the Middle East needed to look within. The United States runs NASA with 17 billion dollars, he said, and yet the Middle East spent half a trillion annually on cigarettes.  The former minister sensed hope in his people. To turn this call for hope into a louder crescendo than the negativity that underlies a strife torn nation, Netketabi was born. The minister went to the well of education; relying on digital games to put learning into the hands of children. In a country tuned to negative news, games were an addiction the parents and children loved.

In all these stories the architects turned to their inherent skills to carve change that could be replicated. In all of them, culture – that of drinking and owning guns in Colombia, male domination in litigation and addiction of bad news in Palestine –  were large players. For Sabri to have his pulse on what people felt, for Diana to rise through mid-career knocks to not make waves and the Mayor to promise data driven change meant being able to identify inherent strengths.

In turning within they lead by example. This leadership span ensures they can balance the tensions between government, the private sector and the needs of their people. These are strengths that can stand scrutiny and turn a trickle into a flood. Strengths that might cause us to look within too.

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The Path from Innovation to Impact in Global Health

April 21st, 2015 No comments

Nora Petty

Current Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA student Nora Petty gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Path from Innovation to Impact in Global Health’.

Our approach to scaling-up healthcare pilots has been similar to how many people approach having their first child. As one participant at the delegate-run discussion ‘The Path from Innovation to Impact in Global Health’ pointed out, we tend to think “Great, we are pregnant now,” but not consider how we are going to raise the eventual child. Within global public health, this haphazard approach ends up inhibiting scale-up of successful pilots.

The Path from Innovation to Impact in Global Health, Priya Agrawal

Dr. Priya Agrawal, the Executive Director of Merck for Mothers, said that she had learned from working at Merck that pharmaceutical companies begin designing the entire value chain, from advocacy to commercialisation, for a new product while it’s still in the lab. This forward-look approach enables pharmaceutical companies to dramatically shorten the time period from innovation to implementation. Nonprofits and social enterprises could benefit from adopting a similar methodology.

Delegates agreed that nonprofits and social enterprises need to start planning how they are going to scale their business model from inception, and pilot projects should be developed with this ultimate end-goal in mind. One of the potential dark sides to donor funding is that it can lead organisations to develop unsustainable business models because they are not held accountable for costs at the start. For social enterprises, it is essential that their business models reflect their customers’ needs and the true business realities. For nonprofits, sustainability is often linked to the successful handover of pilot-level projects to Ministries of Health. This handover requires involvement of government counterparts from day zero, and their deep involvement, and buy-in of the ultimate model.

To be responsible parents for our innovations, we need to make better plans from the start to enable successful scaling of healthcare innovations.

Unleashing Girls’ Power

April 21st, 2015 No comments
Nidhi Thachan

Nidhi Thachankary

Current Oxford MBA student Nidhi Thachankary gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Unleashing Girls’ Power’.

If I had to pick one thing to work toward for the rest of my life, it would be to ensure that every child, both girl and boy has the access, means and support to pursue ‘quality’ education right from primary and secondary to higher education.

This conviction, this belief if you will, that an educated human being holds the key to tackling our worlds most severe challenges is inherited from the strongest woman I know, my mother. She believes that fame, health, wealth, can all disappear in a day; that your education is the only thing no can ever take away from you and that it gives you the power to design your destiny. As Jacqueline Novogratz encouraged us to do in the opening plenary, I reflect on the beliefs I have inherited and this is one I carry forward with me.

I have been in Oxford for eight months now. I have attended many talks on the state and future of education and I have two disheartening observations. One that the focus seems to be only on primary education and two, that enrollment in school was translated to mean children are learning.

Mabel van Oranje of Girls Not Brides have an introduction to the session that had me thinking ‘finally’! She began by saying that while the Millennium Development Goals were focused on early education for girls, there was a hole in the middle and we just picked them up again when they were 18 years old. The focus of the panel would be to have a conversation around why this was and how to ensure the Sustainable Development Goals would include the adolescent girl. And what an amazing panel – Lucy Lake, Memory Banda, Rebecca Winthrop and the incomparable Graça Machel.GIRLS

The session began with Memory Banda of Girls Empowerment Network sharing the story of her sister who was married and pregnant at the age of 11. This was the story of many of the girls Memory grew up with and yet as Mabel reflected, Memory had escaped this fate, attended college and now works with the Girls Empowerment Network and speaks at the Skoll Word Forum. Was it luck or determination? Born and raised in India where as reported by UNICEF, 18% of 20-24 year olds are married by 15 and 47% by 18, how was I doing an MBA at Oxford and attending the Skoll World Forum? I believe that luck and where you are born should play no part in your access to education or the age at which you are married. This is however not today’s reality.

So how do we support the adolescent girl? How do we take luck out of the equation?

Graça Machel (international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, former freedom fighter and first Education Minister of Mozambique) said it perfectly, ‘’It is not the responsibility of just human rights activists, it is the family, the community, the school and the traditional and religious leaders that need to take combined action to support girls and allow her to make choices.”

Lucy Lake, CEO of CAMFED talked about what supporting girls meant for them. First, ensuring girls finished secondary school (a shift from the prevalent focus only on primary education), second that they achieved pass rates 10% over the national average (a move toward the quality of education and not just enrolment) and third the delay in age of marriage and motherhood. She went on to say that, ‘girls education sits at the intersection of power, money and sex’ and talked about the importance of understanding these fundamental dynamics that render girls vulnerable. To support girls all three needs to be addressed together.

The shift in the global conversation around girl’s education is heartening. A new, shared vision is emerging around not only enrolling girls in secondary education, but also retaining them till they finish and a focus on the quality of education. New data shows that it’s not the years of schooling but the quality of education that makes the difference.

Rebecca Winthrop of the Center for Universal Education summarised the five issues that the global community is coming around to build a shared agenda for girl’s education.

Access – get girls into schools and retain them through secondary schooling.

Safety – on the way to school and when they’re at school.

Quality Learning – for the whole education system, to make sure girls and boys master the basics and graduate with the skills they need.

Transitions – into the labour market. Several countries have high graduation rates for girls but they are unable to make the transition into the labour market.

How to get achieve the top four goals – by supporting girls education leaders especially in developing countries who have local contextualised solutions to the problems girls face.

My favourite part of the session is something Rebecca said. Beyond the numbers, the ripple effect and the ROI, invest in girls because it helps the girl, just like you would invest in boys because it helps the boy.

The Age Before Impossible: Young Voices, Big Dreams

April 21st, 2015 No comments

Elina Naydenova

Current Oxford DPhil student Elina Naydenova gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Age Before Impossible: Young Voices, Big Dreams’.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them” – Albert Einstein.

The problem space is changing – global challenges today are different from yesterday, they require a fresh mindset and unbiased solutions, designed for our current demons rather than ghosts of the past. BUT how do we re-invent our solutions and re-equip our ‘toolboxes’? How do we restructure our healthcare systems, re-imagine our school curriculums and create new economic opportunities?

With belief at the core of this year’s Skoll Forum, what better a way to end the week than with a discussion on young entrepreneurs. This session was an electric chemical reaction between:

  • Four agents of change: Misan Rewane (WAVE), Jimena Vallejos (Fundacion Paraguaya), Joseph Opoku (African Leadership Academy) and Noam Angrist (Young 1ove) who each shared their personal young entrepreneurial stories
  • Three catalysts of change: Pamel Hartigan (Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship), Ahsan Jamil (The Arnan Foundation) and Fred Swaniker (African Leadership Group) who each create eco-systems to nurture and accelerate the development of hundreds of young entrepreneurs

The Age Before Impossible: Young Voices, Big Dreams, L-R: Kristin Gilliss, Ahsan Jamil, Fred Swaniker, Pamela Hartigan.

Kristin Gilliss from Mulago Foundation gave a wonderful narration that united these seven powerful voices and transformed the conversation into a recipe on how to create young entrepreneurs on a larger SCALE – a recipe for how we can move beyond individual success stories towards an entrepreneurial movement amongst young people globally.

“It’s not the years in your life but the life in your years that counts.” A young entrepreneur is a big dreamer determined to find a way to voice their passion for change. What Misan, Jimens, Joseph and Noam all shared was a unshakable belief in a better future and a profound responsibility to realise this future for all of us.

“We don’t empower people, they empower themselves, if provided with the right support and opportunities” insisted Pamela Hartigan. The skills our young people need today are often not taught at school: optimism, relationship building and empathy. Fred, Ahsan and Pamela, at their respective institutions, are working to equip young people these attitudes and unleash their entrepreneurial potential through incredible opportunities and life-changing experiences.

Magical fairies who sweep in to solve all our problems may not exist, but giving our young people the wings to fly might just do the trick. Let’s start a movement: let’s stop thinking of youth as a problem we need to solve and instead consider it an opportunity to change the world.