Deborah Owhin is an MBA Skoll Scholar of 2015-16, sale she has dedicated over 10 years towards achieving gender equality. After attending UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 57) in 2013, healing she realised the urgent need for men and women to learn and work together to prevent gender inequality. Deborah therefore started ‘Made Equal’ – a non-profit social initiative that engages, symptoms educates and empowers men and women to eradicate gender inequality. She describes here her experience of life and study at Oxford Saïd so far.
Having left formal education over 5 years ago the idea of becoming a full-time student again was exciting but also slightly daunting. How was I going to ensure that I could balance my ‘perfectionist’ traits with interacting with over 340 course mates, faculty, staff, career options, adoption of the SDG’s, my personal commitments to women and working across sub-Saharan Africa, keeping in touch with family and friends, and traveling.
Being a student again has pushed me outside of my comfort zone and has increased my ‘work streams’ by almost double. I thought I was busy prior to my matriculation at Oxford, however the masses of opportunities available to you as an Oxford student are unimaginable. From Oxford Union debates on ‘Does Feminism Need Rebranding’ and panels, to distinguished speaker lecture series such as the ‘Devaki Jain Lecture with Graça Machel’, to formal dinners where I got to introduce my friends from home to my new Oxford friends, conferences such as PowerShift hosted by Professor Linda Scott, workshops run by the Skoll Centre on negotiation skills, to seminars by Josh Levy on ‘Dads at work’ the list is endless.
The thing that I had not anticipated or put much thought into would be the quality of my lecturers inside and outside of the classroom. I was assigned an academic advisor at Oxford Saïd and one at my College both of which are perfect for my interest, background and growth areas. Coming from a small liberal arts university, Spelman College, I was accustomed to a small network of students which meant faculty and staff knew students by name. I never expected to find that at Oxford and due to the nature and demands of my course it added to my disbelief. However my interactions with faculty has been inspiring to share my past and work areas with them and to hear about their passions for different fields, research areas, and their own families which has truly helped to keep this whole ‘MBA’ experience real.
I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of faculty members some who are my current lecturers and some who are not. Each one has taken the time and made themselves available in the common areas or during office hours and have not only advised me on careers but on interpersonal relationships, their own personal bicycle mishaps, the importance of ‘pause’ and reflection, while encouraging me always to share my non private sector experiences and realities with my classmates.
So many ideas often need sounding boards; in my first month Professor Marc Ventresca advised me to try new things, things that I would not do or had not done before coming to Oxford. What great advice that is so simple…do something you have never done before. This was affirmed by a number of other faculty and staff who I engaged in conversations about electives. So I signed up to take a French course, something that I have always wanted to learn and granted I many not become fluent in the next year but it is a step in the right direction.
Starting this journey has been a whirlwind with great days and tougher days, but the new friendships and networks make it worth waking up and getting to class for 8.30am every day.
If given the chance would I still choose and MBA? Would I still choose Oxford? Would I still choose this year, a resounding YES. Why? Because I feel more excited about this journey months into the program than when I began this new world which poses endless possibilities for which I am truly humbled.
Sumit Joshi is a Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA for 2015-16. He is the founder of APAART Education, malady an organisation that aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry.
“There I was, wearing ill-fitting shoes, loose pajamas, a plain T-shirt, and a tired smile. That morning I had woken up to scales tilting further East. I had become chubbier in the last three years – something I wasn’t proud of. And now, while I waited with my friends outside Trinity College, it dawned on me that in these three years I had completely forgotten something crucial: I had forgotten how passionate I was about climbing. I took a deep breath as images of The Himalayas flitted across my mind. I really missed home.
Just when I was about to turn around and make my way back to my student accommodation at Rewley Abbey, I heard Melissa shout, ‘There he is!’ I saw a young man on a bicycle approaching us. He had climbing gear tightly fastened onto the back of the bike, and I thought I spotted a climbing rope too. Instinctively, I stopped.
Giles (as he later introduced himself) parked his bike by the pole. Within a few minutes of our introduction, we found ourselves discussing things we were really passionate about – sports, culture, food and more. We walked down from Trinity to Oxford Brookes, acquainting one another with our lives outside of work and academic study. The rapport was natural. No well-rehearsed networking pitch or futuristic thoughts on how the economic growth of developing nations would affect the world. We were out there, simply talking about what we loved. It felt good to be ‘normal normal’ again.
By the time we reached Brookes, I felt an adrenaline rush in my body. With my steps turning into a sprint I entered the building with Giles right by my side. When I spotted the towering 30 feet climbing wall, I knew I was going to make my Oxford debut that day.
With a silly smile plastered all over my face I looked around. People were adjusting their gear; some were trying to climb a higher grade; there were a couple with crampons and slips while others were cheering on the ones making a climb.
When I moved closer to the wall I could hear my heart pounding. I would love to call it ‘pure thrill’, however I must admit, I was a bit nervous! It had been three years. I was out of practice and this was a new place with new people. I had to quickly build my confidence and get going.
As I prepared for the climb, I could hear people clapping and cheering. I took my first shot at a medium grade. I was cautious, reconfirming my strength at every step, my skill in handling the ropes, and my ability to remember the manoeuvres as I negotiated my way up. I kept reminding myself of the techniques and I soon realised I was doing fine. When I climbed back down, Giles was beaming. He encouraged me to take on the next challenge – this time it was grade 5+. I climbed that without a moment’s thought. And then the next, and the next – higher and tougher each time. After my 4th climb I decided to call it a day. Giles seemed impressed with my performance. And many people came up to me congratulating me for the effort. It felt great, after a long time.
That day I must’ve met 20 sports enthusiasts. Each one of us belonged to a different country, spoke a different language, and had lived a different life before coming to Oxford. But right there, at that moment none of it seemed important. There were smiles for jobs well done, genuine encouragement for failures, and support that promised we’d outdo ourselves the next time. We were simply absorbing the thrill of a sport, a common thread that bound us together.
The following day at the School was different. The once tired routine had become spirited; there was a spring in my step. And guess what? The next day I went gliding!”
Lara Barbier is a writer/producer for Be Inspired Films, an award winning video production company aiming to bring great ideas to life and tell stories that matter through the creation of broadcast quality video and animation.
So, you’ve got that kick-ass idea, and you’re ready to harness the power of crowd funding! That’s great. Crowdfunding is potentially a really powerful way for the average person or small organization to launch their music, game, film or product without the traditional finance and commercial backing that multi-nationals and corporations have. It can also be a great way to get people to support a cause.
However launching a successful campaign isn’t always straightforward, in fact, according to Crowdfunding Academy , around 60% of projects fail.A successful campaign requires lots of planning, a well thought through timeline, some very important social media sharing triggers, a little bit of luck and – a killer video!
As Kickstarter succinctly puts, projects with a video are 50% more likely to succeed than those without, while John Vaskis an Indiegogo ‘Games Guru’ says that campaigns with videos raise, on average, 114 per cent more than those without.
The video is the elevator pitch – it’s going to tell your story and should entertain, but also make people care and want to be involved in the process – preferably by a pledge and/or by sharing your project with their friends.
It doesn’t matter if you’re recording on an iPhone or on a top-range DSLR – take time to plan your video before going anywhere near that shiny recording device.Watch lots of other crowd funding videos, both successful and not, and think about why they did or did not work.
Once you’ve done your research you’ll want to write out a script and shot list, and practice what you’re going to say, so it sounds engaging and sincere. Reel SEO offers these five points as the backbone for the structure of your crowd-funding video:
Your Project’s Story
We would probably add a couple of things to that. It can also be very powerful to clearly define the problem you are seeking to solve through what you are doing and then offer your solution, this can get people on board if they can identify with the problem. While it’s great to include possible rewards – don’t list them all! Pick your top two to three.
This leads to the next point – keep your video short and sweet.You need to be respectful of your viewer’s time – and grab their imagination up front. As Entrepreneur.com points out, you have the rest of the project page to expand on the details, don’t try and cram it all into the video!
You don’t have to be the next Michael Bay to make a great video. According to Kickstarter, it doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to be you. That said, you do need your videos to be of a good enough quality to capture and keep the attention of your audience. Poor sound and lighting can be a big turn off, just as much as an unplanned, monotone speech.
But don’t be afraid to try out bold ideas or mix it up. The best place to try out innovative ideas is usually at the start of your video says Crowdsourcing.org, and cites The Bridge as a good example launching straight into the action, before going to the who, how, when, why of the film project. Be creative – but also test it out on people who will tell you straight up if it works for them (your mum does not count)!
Finally, have some fun – and let your enthusiasm and passion shine through – this project means a lot to you and perhaps exists because of the way you or your friends and family live life. A great example of this is Gotham Bicycle Defense, who created a theft resistant bike light after a friend was hit by car after having his light stolen one night.Or “Boombot REX Ultraportable Speaker” campaign on Kickstarter , which, as Crowdsourcing.org point out, sells an out-doors lifestyle just as much as the product.
In this series of Scholar Blogs, our four Skoll Scholars for 2014-15 tell us what shaped their journey toward doing an MBA, and give their first impressions of how it feels to be starting their MBA course at Saïd Business School.
Nikhil Nair comes to oxford with over 6 years of experience in the solar industry. He spent three years working at the social enterprise SELCO Solar, and he holds a degree in Business Management from Christ University, India.
Thomas Lawrence asked the class: “Do you think everyone is special?”
Almost all of us put up our hands and said yes. Then he made a simple but powerful statement: “Although everyone may be special, not everyone is valuable”.
In the past few weeks since my arrival in this city, I have established that there are several truly special people at Oxford. Let me share an incidence of meeting one such person.
One evening, the MBA class gathered for wine at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, where I struck up a conversation with Joel and Caryn. Joel was telling me that he planned to try his hand at rowing. Caryn also said she intended to row, not just for her college, but also for the University team. Since rowing is big at Oxford, making it to the University team is extremely competitive. So I stopped and said to Caryn, “Rowing for the University can be extremely competitive I hear. Have you rowed before, and do you have any experience in competitive rowing?” That’s when she said that she has been part of the US Olympic rowing team for the last three times, at London, Bejing and Athens! My jaw dropped. I was bursting with questions: what was it like to be at the Olympics? How does it feel to represent the country? Did you win? And why in this world would you need an MBA?
Unfortunately I was unable to pick up my dropped-jaw and ask her these questions at the time, but I hope to do so in the course of the year. I at least found an answer to one of the questions through her Wikipedia page: yes she won – a gold at London and Beijing, and a silver at Athens. Caryn to me is a special person. And although my other classmates may not be Olympians, I have realized if you listen, each of them are special through their stories and life experiences.
But do I only want such special people and special experiences? Thomas’ theory in class is helping me differentiate between being special and being valuable. To make the most of this year, I will also need to engage with people and events that are not just special, but extremely valuable to my personal and professional life.
How do I find out what is valuable to me? If I had Aladdin’s magic lamp, I would ask the genie to create for me a list of all the valuable people and events that I could ever experience. But when I think again, perhaps it’s better that this genie doesn’t exist, as the experience of engaging and deciding whether things are special or valuable or both, is the true joy of this one year at Oxford.
Interesting events are happening all the time, such as: a talk by Eric Schmidt from Google, an event by the Smith school on GDP & Businesses, Harry Potter enthusiasts playing Quidditch (yes, this is an actual sport at Oxford), or the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Gillani speaking about leadership in his country.
While juggling between readings for Strategy class, OBN meetings and late-night BOP parties, I continue to look for events/people that are special and valuable. So that when people ask me about my experience at SBS, I will be able to use the same phrase I have heard from several alumni: “It was the best year of my life!”
All eyes in the crowd widened in awe as Professor Coussios introduced the two companies he founded during his time in Oxford. The fist of the two, OrganOx Ltd, founded in 2008, has developed a novel normothermic perfusion device for improved liver preservation prior to transplantation through to first-in-man trials and first sales. Following this success, In 2014, Coussios co-founded OxSonics Ltd, which is developing a new generation of ultrasound-based medical devices for drug delivery and minimally invasive surgery.
Following this fascinating summary of his entrepreneurial success in the field of biomedical science, Professor Coussios moved on quickly and took a universal approach to the advice he offered. He engaged directly and effectively with the diverse audience by breaking down what he believed were some of the tools necessary to build any type of business.
COUSSIOS TOP 5’s FOR ENTREPRENEURS
Professor Coussios’ explained 5 key questions that everyone thinking of embarking on an entrepreneurial business venture should ask themselves:
Do I have a great idea?
Am I passionate about translating this idea?
Can I handle uncertainty?
Am I investable ?
Can I assemble a great team?
Professor Coussios concluded this lecture on an inspiring note. Quoting Jeff Bezos on the essence of the entrepreneurial character, he said: “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying.”
To hear all of Professor Coussios’s top tips, watch his full lecture here.
Building a Business is a nine-week lecture series designed to teach the fundamentals of developing a business. To watch past lectures or find out what’s up next, click here.
Next in our series of blogs from this year’s Skoll Scholars is a post from Austin Harris. Austin is the founder of Inkomoko, a Rwanda-based business accelerator for high-potential SMEs.
“I began my career working in finance, working first with a startup M&A and then a major bank. I appreciated the skills I gained, yet rarely felt a strong connection with the impact of my work. Throughout my career I have taken time to travel and volunteer in the developing world, witnessing hardships of many and the positive transformations that can be yielded by socially minded businesses.
In the beginning of 2010, I transitioned from traditional finance into microfinance, hoping to apply my work experience to financial services in areas of need. I worked in Bangladesh and then Rwanda, witnessing first-hand the transformational effect of lending and the notable growth in borrowers’ lives. In contrast to my former jobs, I felt proud of my contribution to a product that provided beneficial change.
Over my life, a variety of entrepreneurial projects have captivated and inspired me, continually building a desire to create a socially beneficial and sustainable business. In January 2012, I started Inkomoko, an accelerator firm in Rwanda that has been providing the necessary consulting, capacity building, and financing services for SMEs that are creating innovative products and services. The companies we are supporting are helping to expand and strengthen the Rwandan economy, and will serve as a model for others who are planning their own entrepreneurial ventures.
I am inspired most by providing growth to the developing world through the private sector in a way that can be both viable in business and impactful to the public. I believe supporting innovation through business will broaden industries as well as supply new career opportunities. I trust that original goods and services can benefit the people of a country as well as address many of the developing world’s pressing issues. My hope is to deliver the means for entrepreneurs to build constructive businesses. I also hope to be a conduit for investment in SMEs to help grow these businesses and broaden the areas they serve. This often overlooked sector is large in scale and has the ability to benefit all socioeconomic levels. With support and guidance, these SMEs can be a driving force in self-driven development.
A hurdle I strive to help overcome in the investment of SMEs is reducing the unknowns and strengthening the connection of the business to the outside world. By consulting for these companies, providing mentors who can report on company progress, and establishing a track record through our own financing, we develop a wealth of information and establish a history with SMEs. The intimate level of due diligence reduces the unknown factors in financing companies of this size and at this stage in development. It also opens up alternate forms of financing to reduce necessary collateral and provide affordable support with flexibility. Through our accelerator track, we can provide greater reassurance on the strength of the SME’s business and present a more comprehensive picture, giving investors greater understanding of viable SMEs and their prospects in the developing world.
My experience at Saïd will provide me greater understanding of financial services and business operations so I can expand the benefits of supporting and actively guiding SMEs. Saïd will deepen my knowledge and strengthen my ability to both improve my own business and advance other socially-minded businesses. In addition, the Skoll Foundation connects me to a wealth of knowledge and a supportive community. The Foundation will offer exposure to the successes and difficulties of others in similarly-minded tracks, and a learning opportunity that can be applied to my own venture. The combination of Saïd and Skoll will provide the support and guidance for me that I strive to extend to the businesses in Africa. “