Social ventures in and around Oxford you should know about

On 15-17 October 2020, Social Enterprise UK are running a ‘Buy Social’ campaign, showcasing the incredible social ventures that are set up with the sole intention to support communities.

In the spirit of the campaign, Skoll Centre Programme Manager for Social Ventures, Chris Blues, shares ten brilliant organisations local to Oxford. We hope this list will serve useful to our community, and welcome you to share your own suggestions with us on Twitter using #BuySocial!

Tap Social Movement 

Tap Social Movement was founded in an attempt to stop this vicious cycle by providing opportunities which set people up for long-term fulfilling employment. 

Check them out and grab a beer along the way. 

Yellow Submarine Café

Yellow Submarine believes that people with learning disabilities and autism deserve to live life to the full. They also do one of the best flat white coffees in town. 

Broken Spoke Bike Coop

Broken Spoke was started by people who are really passionate about cycling, they provide open workshop support, mechanics courses, cycle training, women’s and transgender people only mechanics sessions, and a hub of information for people who cycle (or really want to). 

Oxford Wood Recycling

Oxford Wood Recycling is reclaiming and offering for sale wood from commercially run waste collections. It has proved itself, and the social enterprise, now an award winning charity, has exciting plans to develop its mission further in order to maximise the benefits to the local community. 

Raw Workshop 

Raw work with an incredible workforce that have fought, and won, against the odds. They also make incredible high-quality furniture. Check them out.

Common Ground Café 

Common Ground Café and Shared Workspace is a social enterprise pop-up in the Oxford University owned building in Little Clarendon Street, which was formerly Barclays Bank. They are a calm space that connects the community, and they have morphed into a social space where people can come and do their own thing. 

Objects of Use

Objects of Use is a modern-day hardware store, home to a unique selection of everyday household tools, conscientiously sourced from around the globe. Their collection brings together centuries of tradition, passed through the hands and minds of generations, made with practiced skill, using low-impact methods and materials. 

OxWash

OxWash believe laundry and dry cleaning shouldn’t cost the Earth. They are re-engineering the laundry process from the ground up; their aim is for clinically-clean, net zero carbon emissions for the whole process, from collection, through washing and back to delivery. 

Café From Crisis

Although it is currently closed due to Covid-19. Since 2011 they have worked to end homelessness through practical hospitality and catering training whist serving fresh and socially conscious food and coffee in a bustling café. 

Cycle.land

Cycle.land are a community of bike sharers, connecting people who are passionate about cycling, sharing, and travelling. Cycle.land is a peer-to-peer social marketplace, providing a global platform for people to share and borrow bikes. 

An invitation: University of Oxford’s response to COVID-19

Written by Mark Mann, Social Enterprise Lead & Innovation Lead for Humanities & Social Sciences at Oxford University Innovation and Chris Blues, Programme Manager for Social Ventures at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

The University of Oxford’s response to COVID-19 has been quite simply, remarkable. New ventures have been created, established and new ventures are pivoting, and new initiatives have been set up.

The Oxford Vaccine Group is leading the search for a vaccine. New ventures such as, OxSed and OxVent, are working across testing, diagnostics and ventilation. The Liber Project, CDL recovery, Oxford Foundry, OUI’s EMBA Mentorship Scheme and Oxford Together are supporting start-ups, scale-ups and projects to address the numerous challenges brought on by COVID-19.

Organisations have also pivoted. This includes OxLOD which enables the linking of open data to determine patterns and inform the most appropriate response, COVID-19 was the perfect opportunity to expand their technology for the healthcare sector. Another venture, OpenClinical, has pivoted by using their technology to get best practice to the medical front line as quickly as possible.

These responses and the behaviours of the University of Oxford to COVID-19 have revealed the latent structures, processes, and mental models we all use. COVID-19 showcased to the world our incredible and continuing ability to respond to such a crisis. But it has also highlighted a momentary peak in willingness to be malleable, adaptable, and entrepreneurial. An invigorating psychological willingness has emerged in Oxford which has expressed itself as a bias towards action, a sense of urgency when working towards a common goal, and an openness to challenge current structures, processes, and possibilities.

Frustratingly, many of these responses cannot scale soon enough to significantly reduce the short-term negative impacts of our current crisis. It can take a long time to create, build and scale many ventures. But we can also see the potential power of the ideas generated across our ecosystem to accelerate positive impact across the world; we must equip ourselves with the ability to do more, faster. We now have the opportunity to unpack these latent behaviours and collectively ask a question:

What structural changes can we make today to improve our nature of response to future challenges?

If a similar challenge appears in 2030, what can we do in the next 10 years to nurture different mental models and approaches to solving world problems, reconfigure relationships and build a smorgasbord of assets and tools to respond better and faster? Under duress, an individual, organisation and ecosystem often reaches for assets and tools that are readily available. Oxford’s response to COVID-19 follows this pattern.  It is very hard to build new things when under pressure to respond to an immediate challenge.

Looking towards 2030, COVID-19 has emphasized the interdependence of actors in our Oxford impact system. We believe there are a couple of transitions that need to occur by 2030. First is to move away from siloes and towards mobilising and capturing the value of our interdependence. Secondly, we need to create the appropriate structures, processes, mental models, and funding structures to incentivise collaboration, not competition. When Oxford is under pressure to respond to another crisis we need to have built new tools to overcome transactional partnerships. This is a long, but worthwhile, process. Three simple questions might get us started:

1) Who cares?

Which actors in Oxford are going to commit to the aim of doing better next time? What underlying assumptions, values and principles are unnecessarily holding us back?

2) How do we organise and fund?

What infrastructure and assets do we need to build or leverage? What data are missing to understand the underlying system structure?

3) What should we prioritise?

What does success look like in 2030? What is the roadmap towards achieving structural changes in Oxford by 2030?

Societal and environmental problems are not going away. Oxford’s knowledge and research is a stable foundation that we can leverage. For example, innovations developed through social sciences research have been particularly useful when building social ventures. The understanding of people and their behaviours is so important to bringing people out of poverty, upskilling them and working to improve social and environmental outcome.

Nevertheless, it is important not just to put efforts into developing the knowledge. Let us build up our capability to rapidly deploy these findings through new technologies, new ventures and new scaling pathways.

We do not seek to create yet another governance or oversight committee. We are seeking coordination without control, to create a platform for actors in Oxford that wish to embrace interdependence, long termism, to continuously improve and to maximise the positive impact the ideas and knowledge generated in Oxford can have on the world. The only questions remaining are – who cares? Do you?

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Rethinking Social Impact Competitions

Written by Julian Cottee (Social Innovation and Sustainability Expert) and Chris Blues (Programme Manager for Social Ventures).

Competitions, accelerators and prizes are now well-established fixtures in the social entrepreneurship world.

The Chivas Venture, The Earthshot Prize, Nesta Challenges, The Audacious Project, European Social Innovation Competition, Food System Vision Prize and Tata Social Enterprise Challenge to name only a few.

The ‘Gardeners’

Outside of award schemes that recognise retrospective excellence and best practice (like the UK Social Enterprise Awards for example), competitions come in a number of flavours. On the one hand there are the ‘gardeners’, who delve through the undergrowth looking for the green shoots of promising innovation to nurture. These are prizes like our own Skoll Venture Awards, which aims to spot potential and deploy small but targeted doses of no-strings capital to encourage growth. Other variants of the gardener paradigm are more involved, seeking to actively engage in and boost the evolution of new businesses.

In addition to publicity and funding, accelerator programmes offer a range of other services including learning and development opportunities, networking and access to investment, sometimes taking a stake in the business in return. 

The ‘Architects’

Elsewhere in the innovation support ecosystem are the ‘architects’ – challenge prizes that carefully identify problems that they or their funders are particularly keen on solving, and design tailored competitions to promote innovation in the sector. This is an idea with a long history. Famously, the British government in 1714 offered an award equivalent to several million pounds in today’s money for anyone who could come up with an innovation to precisely determine a ship’s longitude at sea. Today the X Prize Foundation offers similar amounts, and more, to those who can offer advances in diagnosis for medical conditions, or remove CO2 from the atmosphere. 

Both the gardeners and the architects of the social entrepreneurship world have in common the ambition of supporting innovation that our societies need, but for which there is not yet (or might never be) the market demand to unlock capital from traditional investors. They support young ventures with innovative ideas and high social impact potential, but with business plans that are still unproven. In between this high-risk grant capital and the world of traditional growth finance, is the world of social investment, which plays off the calculus of return on investment against the chance of societal benefit.

Systemic Challenges

But how well is our landscape of capital and other support for social ventures really enabling the potential of the best social entrepreneurs to ideate, prototype, launch and grow new businesses that provide answers to the world’s systemic challenges at the scale we need? Even since the inception of the Skoll Venture Awards in 2012, the number and breadth of organisations (corporates, governments, nonprofits, and academic institutions) building awards that catalyse social ventures has grown exponentially. The ecosystem might seem crowded, but are we filling all the right niches, and are we providing support at all of the crucial pinch points along the social entrepreneur’s journey to allow beautiful, wise and impact-led ventures to grow, and to fill the landscape? 

Social innovation needs gardeners and architects, and like any ecosystem, thrives on diversity and plurality. But by combining the best of these two approaches we might see something else too. Taking the big picture approach of the architect alongside the gardener’s ability to see possibility and provide it with what it needs to grow, we can map the system that enables and shapes social ventures to thrive, and ask how it could be improved. How are competitions feeding into the wider social innovation and investment ecosystem? Are we collectively selecting for and nurturing the most important attributes of truly impactful ventures? Are we duplicating efforts? How might social ventures move from one competition or accelerator to another most beneficially? How might we partner for increased impact? 

Competitions play a key role in celebrating and supporting individuals and teams who have chosen to follow their imagination and to demonstrate leadership and courage through building a venture. To serve them better we can step back and consider how we can work together towards just, equitable and sustainable systems.

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Diversity, Equality and Inclusion in Impact Investment

Tara Sabre Collier, Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and Skoll Scholar alumna joins Chris Blues, Programme Manager for Social Ventures at the Skoll Centre, in examining inequalities within the Impact Investment industry.

Inequality is one of the greatest challenges of our time, hampering growth, spurring strife and instability and impeding human development.

Income inequality has been worsening across countries since the turn of the century and is likely to be tremendously exacerbated by COVID-19. The impact investment sector has been a powerful force for progress towards many SDGs but needs to take a critical look at how, as a sector, it is advancing or exacerbating SDG 10. In most of the world, income and wealth inequality are inextricably tied to race, ethnicity, gender, national/origin migration status but most impact investors have not fully interrogated their roles in fostering equity and inclusion across their organizations and portfolios.

There is no aggregate global diversity and inclusion data for the impact investment industry.

Data from the UK, one of the world’s leading countries for impact investment, show a clear discrepancy in the ecosystem, with people of colour occupying less than 7% and women outnumbered 2:1 in board directorships. While the UK does not necessarily represent the entire impact investment industry, it is an important global hub. Moreover, there are a number of global commonalities in terms of wealth distribution, private capital markets and philanthropy that indicate other Western impact investment markets will similarly fall short. The impact investment industry hybridises investment, philanthropy, and social enterprise traits; talent, staffing and leadership trends will reflect this DNA. A few global highlights from these sectors (across UK and USA) reveal less than admirable diversity and inclusion track record.

Venture Capital

The United States is the world’s leading VC market. White men are 30% of the country’s population yet nearly 80% of VCs and 80-90% of leadership in venture-backed companies. This demographic disparity, is replicated in the European VC ecosystem. Furthermore, research shows that venture capitalists are far more likely to partner with people who share their gender or race, leading to far less funding for women entrepreneurs and founders of colour.

Philanthropy

Women are about 56% of US philanthropic foundations CEOs, but people of colour only occupy 11% of said roles, despite a significant philanthropic emphasis on serving communities of colour in the US. There’s now evidence that this disparity is reflected in philanthropic funding for social entrepreneurs of colour, with a recent Bridgespan study showing Black-led social enterprises have 76% smaller net assets than white-led counterparts, mostly attributed to bias.

Social sector

Just 3% of UK charity CEOs were of non-white backgrounds, despite the fact that a large share of the UK sector’s work likewise addresses communities of colour. On the international front, an older study indicated less than 10% of the largest international NGOs had African board members, despite Africa being the largest market for INGO grant funding and programs.  Likewise, despite women comprising 70% of INGO staff, women are still vastly under-represented (i.e. approximately 30%) as CEOs and leaders of these organizations.

These select examples demonstrate a pattern of diversity paucity which contravenes the vision of impact investing.

Two painted multicoloured hands, holding hands

If the impact investing industry replicates these disparities, there is a risk of reinforcing income inequality, instead of combatting it.

The representation gap also points to a possible market failure whereby impact capital is likely not being efficiently distributed to many promising ventures with potential to solve societal challenges because of a disconnect between primarily Western white male funders and under-represented social enterprise founders, especially in the Global South. Furthermore, the lack of representation in impact investment teams and portfolios would likely detract from the sector’s financial performance, given the proven linkages between gender/racial diversity and financial performance. There’s no dearth of evidence for the commercial benefits of representation but nevertheless a handful are mentioned below:

While the corporate sector continues to rise to the occasion on diversity and inclusion efforts, the impact investment industry is yet to get on board with really advancing the inclusion agenda beyond gender. In the face of what we are learning from the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no time like now to decidedly develop diversity and inclusion initiatives that will improve financial/social returns. If impact investors are truly serious about the SDGs, including SDG 10, we must fight the hazards of inequality, starting with our own industry.

Authors:
Chris Blues, Programme Manager for Social Ventures, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

Tara Sabre-Collier, Social Entrepreneur in Residence, Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

A new decade of impact investment: Three tactics to accelerate towards the SDGs

Tara Sabre Collier is not only a 2012-13 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA graduate- in 2019 she joined the Centre as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence. She has extensive experience in the world of social finance and international development, as a social entrepreneur and impact investment advisor.  As we begin a new year and decade, Tara Sabre shines a light on how far we’ve come (and how far we have to go) in achieving the UN SDGs.

This January kicks off an inflection point to consider the realities we have created since 2010 and those we aim to create by 2030. As of 2020, we now have ten years remaining to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which serve as guiding pillars for envisioning a better future for the world.

Twenty years ago, the last time the UN set forth the ambitious Millenium Development Goals, we fell short of accomplishing some of the outcomes we envisaged. 2020 is different and can be a watershed moment for global development. Today, the private sector and public sector have partnered at historically unprecedented levels to tackle the world’s challenges. New allies have emerged, leveraging far greater amounts of philanthropic and commercial capital and every kind of vehicle in between. Impact investing, which was valued over $500 billion in 2018, continue to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2025, 30% of family offices expect to allocate 25% or more of the funds to social impact investments.

Nonetheless, the size of the impact investment required to reach the SDGs appears daunting in some cases. For example, achievement of SDG #7 (universal access to affordable and clean energy) would require $1.3-1.4 trillion per year until 2030. So how do we (the impact investment ecosystem) improve our odds of reaching the SDGs by 2030?

One important tactic that impact investors can take on is to pursue synergies across multiple SDGs. Researchers at Aberdeen University and University of Potsdam have already embarked upon fascinating research to analyze and forecast the synergies and trade-offs across the SDGs. This provides an evidence base for impact investors to accelerate and measure progress investing in multiple-SDG strategies, from gender-smart agribusiness development to climate-friendly infrastructure.

Another tactic is to innovate cross-sector partnerships. When impact investors pour capital into agriculture or education enterprises that impact SDGs, the business enabling environment can make or break the potential financial success and social impact of said ventures.  This is why alignment between impact investors and public sector will continue to be crucial; innovation can play a vital role in amplifying these alignments. Development impact bonds were the last decade’s major step towards innovating cross-sector alliances. The 2020s are an opportunity to bring technology, such as big data, blockchain and AI modalities, to continue innovating these alliances for more effectiveness.

Perhaps the most important tactic to accomplish the SDGs is to counteract “impact washing, i.e. the practice of funds or enterprises claiming impact in bad faith without generating any demonstrable social or environmental benefits. B Lab is one of the oldest sector-agnostic certification initiatives to bring accountability and transparency to the social enterprise ecosystem. And IFC launched their own impact investment standards in 2019. But for intentionally aligning impact investment with reaching the SDGs specifically, the Future Fit Business Benchmark is potentially one of the most powerful new tools for companies to understand and operationalize their impact.

Twenty years ago, there was no impact investment industry, no development impact bonds, no blockchain, no social impact certification agencies and barely any smartphones! And yet, despite the shortcomings, the period of the Millennium Development Goals was marked by biggest drop in global poverty in recorded history. Today, we have a fleet of new technological advancement, more supportive business enabling environments and a thriving new asset class supercharging our progress towards global development. Even with the enormous scope of the Sustainable Development Goals, with continued progress we may be on pace to accomplish them this decade.

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What’s new in the war on food waste?

An interview with Winnow’s Marc Zornes. 

Image source: World Economic Forum/REUTERS/Ben Nelms

Jeremy Sigmon is currently pursuing his MSc in water science, policy, and management with the School of Geography and the Environment.  He joined Oxford with 15 years of experience in the U.S. green building industry which is when he had his first of many inspiring sustainability conversations with global food waste expert and entrepreneur Marc Zornes, co-founder of Winnow, one of the top 100 fastest growing companies in Europe.

Whether in our homes, at the market, in transport from farms, or at the restaurant, food is so often wasted.  In developed countries, most of the waste occurs in kitchens or is left on the plate, since the food supply chain has been generally optimized so that minimal food is wasted from farm to market.  In less developed countries, the inverse is true: food may spoil at ports, in transport, or at the market due to inefficient supply systems, but the food that is purchased by consumers is usually consumed.

With a fast-growing global population and increasing pressures on global resources exacerbated by climate change, some have begun looking at increasing the end-to-end efficiency of our food system, from farm to fork, as an essential way to ensure we can feed the world today and tomorrow (see also McKinsey’s Resource Revolution, which Zornes coauthored).  What’s more, Marc Zornes has also discovered that fixing the problem is good for the environment and profitable, too.  I sat down with him to learn more about it.

Jeremy Sigmon (JS): Food waste appears to be a much bigger issue than I had previously imagined, and you think a lot about it.  What keeps you up at night?

American-born, London-based, international food waste warrior, Marc Zornes, founder of Winnow.

Marc Zornes (MZ): Food waste is one of the biggest environmental issues we have today.  We now know this because our data on the scale of the problem are getting clearer.  30% of all food that is grown is never eaten.  This is a $1 trillion problem that will grow to $1.5 trillion by 2030.  What keeps me up is how we scale solutions to address this issue.  This is one of the clearest win-win opportunities in environment and business.  We save money by throwing away less food, it is better for the environment, and it’s morally the right thing to do.  Fortunately, there are a growing number of solutions out there that can be scaled to address this issue.

JS: How is circular economy thinking finding its way into the food industry?

MZ: The Ellen MacArthur Foundation just released a major report that explores this topic: ‘Cities and Circular Economy for Food’.  For starters, nature’s food system is circular.  The question is how to reorient the industrial food system we’ve built.  Fundamentally, this begins with redesigning systems that radically minimize waste.  We then need robust systems for nutrient recovery rather than disposal.  Landfills release lots of methane gas and – for safety reasons – are actually not designed for decomposition.  We’ve found nutrient-rich cabbage in a landfill still trying to decompose decades later.  We need a coherent, systems approach to ensure we neither waste food nor lose its nutrients.

JS: I understand you’re focused on commercial kitchens.  What’s your approach?

MZ: We focus in on commercial kitchens because they have a big economic opportunity in food waste prevention.  Kitchens throw away about 15% of the food they buy, and the majority of the waste happens before it even gets to a plate.  By providing analytics on the waste generated and supporting the production planning process of the kitchen, we ultimately help cut the value of food waste in half or more.  This leads to big cost savings for the kitchen – from 3% to 8% of what they spend on food.  Of course, this is also a very attractive investment.  We deliver a 200% to 1,000% ROI to our clients in the first year.

Winnow Vision, released in March, is the newest weapon in the war on food waste, and powered by artificial intelligence.

JS: I just read about a new Winnow technology that could be a game-changer.  Tell us more!

MZ: The original ambition of Winnow was to use artificial intelligence (AI) to measure and analyse food waste in kitchens.  In order for food waste monitoring and measurement to be seamlessly integrated into a very busy commercial kitchen, you really need a fully automated system. When I founded Winnow in 2013, this automation wasn’t possible, so we built a system that asked staff to identify the food wasted on a touchscreen tablet.  Winnow Vision, our latest product, is the realisation of that original ambition.  Winnow Vision is a camera-based system that looks into the bin and uses computer vision to identify all food being wasted.  It really is a game-changer for our business and a great, practical example of AI for good.

JS: What parting words of wisdom do you have for students of the circular economy and social enterprise?

MZ: There’s a massive opportunity in helping the world transition to a low-carbon, more circular economy.  My biggest advice: if you have something you believe in that needs building, build it.  We don’t have a lot of time and we need more solutions to scale.  It’s hard work for sure.  That said, it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.