At the end of my first week at Oxford, it’s clear that this is where I’m meant to be. A thousand- year history of world-class education, cutting-edge global research, magical historic landscapes and an expansive yet intimate community of scholars and leaders- that’s the backdrop for this MBA adventure. Even better, it includes the Skoll Centre, the world’s leading academic entity for the advancement of social entrepreneurship (and second home to some pretty amazing scholars, professors and practitioners).
After a mad rush to move and settle in, we were bombarded with a flurry of orientation sessions. Last week”s event was perhaps closest to my heart, “What to do when Markets Fail: Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation at SBS”. The title alone is compelling precisely because in so many cases, the increasing fusion of business and social impact has been catalyzed by market failures. The Washington Consensus and donor prescriptions for economic growth fail to trickle down in less developed countries and NGOs stepped/ step in to fill social needs that governments cannot. Recessions hit, labor markets suffer and unemployed professionals decide to become entrepreneurs (and social entrepreneurs, if idealists). Financial crises hit, donor funding dries out and NGOs and visionaries strategize ways to make their services financially self-sustaining. Returns diminish with scale and companies in developed markets struggle to find ways to grow, and sometimes discover the key is in emerging markets, in the bottom of the pyramid or simply in marketing their CSR. And so on.
Innovation, including social innovation, is often borne out of necessity and as Pamela Hartigan remarked at yesterday’s session, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. It’s not that social entrepreneurship is anything new, all businesses exercise a social impact just by creating jobs. It’s that now there’s a shifting economic and geopolitical landscape and greater impetus than ever for companies and organizations to create social/commercial synergies.
Yesterday’s event served to help us reflect on how to leverage the MBA experience for social entrepreneurship, and broader strategic synergies. Speakers, such as Michelle Giddens, from Bridges Ventures, or Mike Barry, from Marks & Spencers, highlighted a few strategies such as impact investing and sustainable procurement. Academics, such as Xiaolan Fu and Maja Andjelkovic, likewise shared potential intersections between Oxford research initiatives and major business opportunities. And various alums visited with insights about how to leverage coursework, extracurriculars and the Oxford network to achieve our dreams, raise capital and expand impact.
We are living in the midst of dramatic shifts and it’s a real gift to be gaining such vital knowledge and resources to leverage them, strategically and fruitfully.