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An evening of getting to grips with world-scale problems

Skoll Scholar and Oxford Saïd MBA student, Pip Wheaton, shares her insight into the Live Pitching Event which took place on Monday 13th June 2016. Images are courtesy of MBA Student, Ryan Chen-Wing.

The Saïd Business School’s mission refers to “tackling world-scale problems”. While there are days where the pressure of assignments and classes gets in the way, this year I have seen proof that this school lives its mission. Last night was one such moment of proof. At an event that combined the inaugural Oxford Global Challenge, and the fourth Skoll Venture Awards students and alumni from Oxford Saïd and the wider Oxford University student body came together to showcase the diverse ways they are addressing world-scale problems.

The Oxford Global Challenge came about as a response to the normal university business plan competition. An initiative of The Skoll Centre, it is based on the premise that tackling global challenges starts with understanding a problem and its wider context, rather than jumping straight into a business plan or an idea for a quick fix. It gives participants an opportunity to develop a deep understanding of a pressing social or environmental issue by mapping out the landscape of the current solutions and identifying missing opportunities for positive change. In this first year, there were 43 teams who applied, of whom nine were selected as finalists and four pitched at last night’s event. The issues ranged from telemedicine in South Africa, to refugee integration in Germany, and agriculture in Sierra Leone. The winning team were two students focused onmaternal mental health in India and South Africa.


Songqiao Yao, Ryan Chen-Wing and Kasper Baumann (2015 MBA Students) presenting their Oxford Global Challenge project on thr Tomato Value Chain in Sierra Leone.

The Skoll Venture Awards support ideas in the next phase of development: where solutions have been developed and tested, but are still in the early days of implementation. Alumni and students apply for a £20,000 grant to grow their existing, early stage ventures. Here the applications were just as varied as in the Global Challenge: a large-scale renewable energy project in Mongolia, an early-childhood development initiative in Kenya, and online tutoring in India, and more.

In what was one of the toughest projects I have worked on since coming to Oxford, I was part of the team of students who short-listed the 21 applicants and selected the two finalists who presented last night. Having spent the last six years being on the applicant side while running my own venture in South Africa, it was fascinating to learn about the selection side. Specifically, there were three main learning points

  1. About how much process matters – the criteria and questions might seem arbitary from the outside but unless you get them right, it’s almost impossible to make fair decisions.
  2. About how to minimise cognitive biases like ‘group think’ and ‘curse of knowledge’; and
  3. About the challenges of comparing ventures at different stages, in different geographies, tackling different issues.

Through this experience, I found myself looking at organisations like Acumen and LGT Venture Philanthropy and appreciating why their due diligence processes last upwards of six months. I also found myself relieved to be able to hand over to a judging panel of industry experts rather than having to make the final decision myself.
Last night the two Skoll Venture Award finalists presented their organisations. The first, i-Drop Water, is one of the most exciting clean-water access businesses I have come across; and is piloting concurrently in Ghana, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa. The second, was Tulivu – a medical diagnostics service provider, currently offering low-cost ultrasounds to pregnant women in Kenya. While originally there was only going to be a single prize of £20,000; in what felt like a fitting result, the judging panel were able to award not one, but two grants. i-Drop Water was awarded £10,000 and Tulivu was awarded the first place prize of £20,000.

Skoll Venture Award Winners - MBA Students, Matt Rehrig and Adam Storck

Skoll Venture Award Winners – 2015 MBA Students, Matt Rehrig and Adam Storck of Tuliva.

These two initiatives, the Oxford Global Challenge and the Skoll Venture Awards, are exciting not only because of the inspiring ideas that were pitched last night, but more because of the shift in thinking they demonstrate. Too often we fetishise the big exciting ideas, before testing whether or not their premises and assumptions hold. These initiatives show that the school and the Skoll Centre are serious about giving students an opportunity to “apprentice with the problem” they care about, rather than jumping straight to the solution-stage. I am excited to see how each of the ideas showcased develop in the coming years.


Air Quality Monitoring with the UN in Kenya


Author: Priyanka deSouza

At the 2014 inaugural UN Environmental Assembly (UNEA), sickness air pollution, sildenafil responsible for 7 million deaths annually according to estimates by the World Health Organization (WHO), was identified to be a top priority to be addressed by the international community. The United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) was mandated to help governments set standards and policies across multiple sectors to reduce emissions, and manage the negative impacts of air pollution on health, the economy and sustainable development.


It is clear that in order to set air quality standards and policies accurate, reliable data on air quality is required. This is because data on air pollution in a region can enable the identification of pollution hot spots and local source apportionment of air pollution. In turn, this will then allow appropriate, data driven legislation to be put in place to tackle the root causes of bad air quality.

However, there are few credible air quality monitoring stations around the world. Historically, this has been because of two key reasons:

  1. Cost: Current high precision air quality monitoring stations are prohibitively expensive, costing between $150,000 to $200,000;
  2. The current state of sensor technology: The calibration of current sensors in highly polluted environments has not been undertaken. This means that data from such sensors in regions such as New Delhi or Beijing are not credible.


The Division of Early Warning Assessment (DEWA) of UNEP thus contracted the development of an affordable, mobile air quality monitoring unit, costing < $1500 that can function well in highly polluted climates, as a first step in helping countries, especially in the developing world, to collect reliable air quality data. A network of 50 of the new monitoring units that DEWA envisages will cost $75,000 — much less than the cost of the single high quality monitoring station currently available on the market. Data from such a network can be used to generate a map of air quality in a region.

Finally, the units can be programmed to ‘talk’ to each other, and calibrate each other, when aligned in the same microenvironment, thus improving the accuracy of the data.


I moved to Kenya on July 7th, 2015 to work as an intern at the United Nations Environmental Program headquarters in Nairobi on the development and deployment of this system. My internship was unpaid. The Skoll Apprenticing with a Problem grant covered my living expenses during this time and enabled me to work on this project. I am deeply grateful for the support I received as I would not have been able to do my internship otherwise.

The contractors for this project had examined previous air quality measurement studies and had chosen the best available sensors on the market for the development of the monitoring unit. I aided them in developing a visualization app using the software: ArcGIS, as well as in the testing of the unit in Nairobi.

The monitoring system was officially launched on August 31st in Nairobi. The Executive Director of UNEP as well as Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of the Environment were present at the launch. Following the official ribbon cutting we set the unit on the top of a bus, and drove around in the bus with journalists so that they could see the real time data the box was producing.


Post the launch we were inundated by requests from citizens and national environmental agencies from 29 different countries for our unit. We are currently working on creating a documentation page with full information on the components of out system, as well as instructions on how to assemble the same. We will make these blueprints freely available as a global public good in order to allow countries/citizens to manufacture/buy/assemble our units as they see fit. UNEP will license the box for quality assurance under the Creative Commons. We will be releasing this package on our platform to the world in the next few weeks.

I am now working on writing up project proposals for the deployment of a network of our units in different cities around the world. For more information on our unit- please see the attached leaflet.


From Accenture to Rwanda and Back

Author: Marina Nuri

Four years ago – while working at Accenture – I began my first project with the Accenture Development Partnerships in Tanzania. My role was to build personnel capacity for the Ministry of Health’s supply chain arm, and to develop public-private partnership between The Coca Cola Company, Global Fund and the Gates Foundation. Since then, my passion for the role of business in development has grown and I managed a few other social impact consulting projects with Accenture Development Partnerships. After these experiences, I decided to do my MBA at Saïd Business School, Oxford and to use the year to think of how I could apply my business experience to international development in a more integrated way.


Thinking about the various challenges faced in international development, I realised that often people’s behaviours present the biggest challenge to development, especially in terms of their acceptance of the tools and practices that are easily available and have the biggest impact on changing lives. For example, changing people’s hand washing behaviour does not require expensive inputs, but it has the potential to prevent various infectious diseases that currently kill millions of people. It became clear that behavioural change, more specifically the ability to influence behavioural change, represented a huge opportunity.


Changing behaviours is often a hard, timely, and costly process. However, an intervention that could be very effective and at the same time cheap given its potential impact, is the use of mass media for behaviour change. Most people in developing countries have access to at least one type of mass media — mostly radio, with mobile phones catching up. Through the use of mass media, it is possible to deliver important messages that foster development in an entertaining and engaging manner. The effects of this can be both in terms of people’s perceptions and on a subconscious level (as opposed to pure educational, instructive, or logic-based messages).

In the pursuit of wanting to learn more about the role mass media can play in changing people’s behaviours, I was able to use the Apprenticing with the Problem grant from the Skoll Centre to spend two months working with Development Media International (DMI). DMI is a London-based non-profit that runs a fascinating range of projects using mass media campaigns to affect behavioural change around the world.


There are quite a few organisations that specialise in using mass media for behaviour change. Many of them target behaviours around health, family planning, education, etc., and often work as part of larger development programs sponsored by the donors like the World Bank, DFIF, USAID, Gates Foundation, etc., that have a behaviour change component.

DMI’s differentiator is that they use a very rigorous approach to impact measurement and evidence collection. The organisation is trying to answer the same question I had been asking myself: how effective is mass media in changing certain types of human behaviour? To answer this question, DMI conducted a thorough assessment of each of its programmes, and is currently conducting a large multi-year randomized controlled trial (RCT) in Burkina Faso, focusing on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH). The midline results published earlier this year have shown significant changes in some health-related behaviours as the result of the campaign.


The format that DMI found the most effective is the use of 1-minute drama spots broadcasted multiple times per day, and a longer-format evening talk show with a call-in component. The methodology DMI uses is called Saturation+, and it has three pillars – Saturation, Science and Stories. Saturation means broadcasting spots multiple times a day (10 times via radio, 3 times via TV), in local languages and using the most popular stations/channels – to cover the largest audience. Science means using comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research tools to predict, maximize, and measure the impact of the campaigns; and to plan the campaigns in the most impactful way possible. Stories means convincing people to change through developing locally relevant content and highly entertaining stories that resonate with people.


I was smoothly integrated into DMI’s small London-based team, and was kept busy throughout the whole two months working on various initiatives. My time at DMI enabled me to get exposure to the various aspects of running a small company in the international development sector and also continue to explore my passion for the work.

It was a hugely valuable time for me where I was able to use my existing skills as well as learn a lot of new ones. I used my strategy consulting experience to help DMI’s management to review the organization’s strategy and positioning. I helped to design an approach to several of DMI’s new programme areas, including: early child education, tuberculosis and road safety, as well as doing business development to scale up DMI’s existing programmes. The highlight was being asked to conduct a feasibility study for a new potential DMI’s campaign on agriculture where I spent a week in Rwanda doing field research and exploring opportunities with potential partners and donors.

P2P Lending in the Balkans

Authors: Misa Zivic, Dushan Neshovski,  Shinez Chalabi

Good ideas tend to cross borders quite easily. This is especially the case with technology. We can easily observe the convergence of new technologies across borders in almost any part of the world. And the reason is simple – the convergence of technologies is empowered by technology itself. Furthermore, technological breakthroughs increase productivity while lowering costs and this quality makes them easily adoptable by new geographies. One such technological breakthrough is FinTech – which is simply to say technologically empowered financial services. Just to give you an idea, technology today can do most of what banks or other financial service institutions do. A basic example is balancing your check book online instead of waiting in line in a bank.

The Power of FinTech

The idea of technology powered financial services has the main quality of a technological breakthrough – it increases productivity while lowering costs. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. FinTech is literally revolutionizing finance – from new scoring models, to giving opportunity to regular people to take part in what only Investment Banks were allowed to partake. As such it has been spreading geographically on exponential basis. Every day a new FinTech product becomes available that changes the way we interact with finance. Everyone, from the general public to investors are hooked on this new industry. However, if you look the map of Europe, there is one region that has had zero activity in the FinTech space. This is the Western Balkans, or more precisely, Ex-Yugoslavia countries. Two members of our team being born and living in the Western Balkans their entire lives found it curious why this phenomenon, that is positively influencing the rest of the world, has overlooked this geography. With the help of the Skoll Centre of Social Entrepreneurship and the Said Business School, the team spent six months in Serbia, conducting in-depth analysis of the Serbian financial market and its readiness to accept FinTech innovations, specifically P2P lending.

P2P Lending (blog image)Our Research

The research focused on the P2P Lending industry as a global phenomenon, the history and the current state of the financial industry in the Balkans, the ways P2P Lending can be introduced in the region, the barriers that have kept it out, and the benefits that these countries can have from it. During the six months the team did hands on research, engaged with some key stakeholders in the Serbian finance sector (such as banking professionals, government officials, high net-worth individuals, etc.), and took part in the LendIt Conference in London, the largest P2P conference in the world where it had chance to meet industry experts from all around the world. The key findings will be outlined bellow, accompanied with an infographic for the more visual readers.

Global P2P Lending Findings

P2P lending is a global phenomenon that has experienced enormous growth over the past five years. It can be established as one of several operating models all of which have a more cost efficient structure than traditional banking. The regulation for P2P lending varies across different countries. Finally, P2P lending offers many benefits including: no inherited systematic risk, access to finance, and it Is a new asset class.

Analysis of the financial sector in the Balkans

The financial sector in the Balkans remains to be hugely underdeveloped and it lags behind the financial sectors in developed countries. Commercial banking is the only developed sector in the financial industry in the Balkans. The key challenges to the development of the financial industry in the Balkans are:

  • Low level of saving
  • Conservative lending by commercial banks
  • High borrowing costs and low deposit returns
  • The legislation in the financial sector in the Balkans is set up to protect the banking industry

P2P Lending in Serbia

Given the local landscape and the key factors to P2P lending two operational models can be set up in Serbia

  • Partnership with a bank
  • Fee based model

The revenue model for P2P Lending in Serbia should not be much different than that in the US or the UK. The borrowers market can be split in consumer and business, while the consumer market consists of all the household loans issued by commercial banks, in addition to all the loans not issued due to conservative banking. The business market should focus on working capital financing – invoice trading. The research has shown that the following are the essential areas of activity that must be performed well if P2P lending is to be introduced in Serbia:

  • Credit risk modelling
  • The matter of trust
  • Education
  • Strategic partners

Overall, our view of the market is a positive one and our assessment is that there is space for the FinTech industry. We expect that some form of alternative finance will emerge in the Western Balkans in the near future, and in expectation of this we will continue our work on bringing P2P lending in the region.