Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017 MBA candidate 2017, Ahmed Abu Bakr gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session ‘A Work Landscape in Flux for Young People’
We all know that the world is changing at an unprecedented rate, but I regularly feel that we forget, often far too easily, that these changes aren’t entirely new. Marina Gorbis, executive director at the Institute for the future, reminds us that the technological disruptions we are witnessing today, aren’t really as rapid as we make them out to be.
The internet, the proliferation of mobile technology and sensors, and the big data revolution are a result of over thirty years of consistent investment and prioritisation in the space of communication technologies. She refers to the outcome of these technologies as greater “digital coordination”; and through this, she provides a broader definition for technology. If the internet and big data allow for coordination, then institutions and organised systems (for business, government, and otherwise) are also technologies in their own right- technologies for the coordination and allocation of resources.
‘A Work Landscape in Flux for Young People’ panel.
And it is important to keep in mind that organised systems that are being disrupted today- financial markets, healthcare systems, the transportation sector, etc.- were actually major innovations in their own time that disrupted the status quo back in their day.
There is no doubt that the nature of work is being radically transformed by what Marina calls “digital coordination” technologies. But is it really a source of disruption for the nature of work?
The remaining panellists attested that young people in Egypt and Africa were choosing to delve into entrepreneurship and the growing start up culture because of two primary reasons. Firstly, there is an undoubted frustration within the youth populations where they are dissatisfied with the available economic opportunities. Fhazhil Wamalwa, managing director at Disa Energy Management, recalled how he was led to believe that a good education would result in a decent job, and how his inability to get on after his master’s degrees was a painful but necessary disillusionment.
The second factor is a deliberate and concerted effort by many to promote entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial activities as a response to the failure of the existing systems. Dina El Mofty(Injaz Egypt), and Marwa Moaz (Bamyan Media) both talked about their sustained efforts within Egypt to inspire and develop an entrepreneurial mind set.
With this context, it becomes evident that the changing nature of work, the rise of gig jobs, and the proliferation of self-employment and entrepreneurship is a response to the failure of the existing econo-political system where digital technology is less of a cause and more of an enabler.
One thing remains uncontested- the old institutions have to be reformed, and in some cases completely revised. For me personally, the key question is around the evolution of these new systems. The topic of the day seems to be around growing wealth inequality. But wealth inequality is a result of inequalities in the distribution of power- social and politcal. What’s even more troubling is the feedback effect on power from the accumulation of wealth. The 21st century has seen tremendous concentration of wealth because of a tremendous concentration in power. What can we learn from history to design new social and political institutions that distribute power rather than concentrate it?
Ahmed Abu Bakr is an MBA 2016-17, Skoll Scholar at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, and Co-founder ofJeeon
Alexander Betts gave a guest lecture at the Saïd Business School entitled “Transforming a Broken Refugee System”. Audience member and Oxford MBA 2016-17 candidate, Sagar Doshi, shares the key takeaways from the talk.
When Professor Alexander Betts takes the stage at the grand Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre at the Saïd Business School, he doesn’t waste time. He just smiles at the audience and lays out his argument. His first point is a shot across the bow to the mostly European audience before him.
“Europe is not the centre of the refugee crisis today,” he asserts.
What? Really? A casual consumer of recent news might find this suspect. But Betts backs up his statement. Yes, Europe has significant problems of migration, he says, but these are primarily political and social problems. The actual challenge of dealing with refugees in Europe, while difficult, is nowhere near as acute as elsewhere.
Imagine you’re a Syrian refugee, fleeing Homs or Damascus or some other place of conflict in the civil war. Generally speaking, you have three choices:
First, you could bring your family to a refugee camp, expecting stigma and stagnation.
Second, since you are likely an urbanite yourself, you could move to another city, facing limited rights to work and a potential life of destitution.
Third, you could commit to a dangerous journey over Turkey or across the Aegean Sea into Europe.
For years, many refugees—especially from Syria—opted for the third choice. Unfortunately, this occurred just as Europe’s political situation became increasingly delicate. As nationalism and xenophobia increased among European populations, refugee policies followed suit.
Famously, Germany, took a different path. But the environment, even for Germany, was caustic. By the time Angela Merkel gave her “Wir Schaffen Das” speech, she had to make her bold stand in a very muted way: “Germany will manage,” she announced to her people and to the world. She hoped, of course, that other countries would follow suit.
They didn’t. “There was collective action failure,” notes Betts. The UK, Denmark, Austria, and Europe as a whole took pains to limit refugees, so much so that by 2016, Merkel had to make an about face. Betts reminds us that although the door to Europe hasn’t completely closed today, “it’s very difficult to cross Turkey without the right documentation.”
So far, Betts is sharing a known story. It’s a sad and unfortunate story, but it is known.
But then Betts reaches the predicate to his lecture: “We need moral clarity about who we protect and how” he says. In other words, we need to understand what refugees really, actually need and provide that.
“I would argue that there is no moral right to migrate,” says Betts. “What’s needed isn’t migration per se, but rather a safe haven, where they can get access to their most fundamental rights.”
So what provides that safe haven, and what do refugees need? For Betts, those needs come in three categories:
Rescue – safe havens in host states, basic assistance
A route out of limbo – reimagined resettlement policies, updated visa systems, spontaneous arrival as last resort
Consider where refugees get to live. Today, many refugee aid regimes conceive of refugees as living in camps. Camps can provide rescue—though those on the Turkish side of the Syrian border might contest even that point—but they typically do not offer refugees autonomy or a route out of limbo. It’s not surprising that today’s refugees often opt to avoid encampment.
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees —the international organisation meant to focus directly on this population—is struggling to adapt to this new paradigm. UNHCR is not present in urban areas, even though that’s where many refugees are . Take Turkey, which is host to more refugees than any other country in the world. UNHCR supports only about 10% of refugees in Turkey. Why? Simply because UNHCR is set up to support camps, whereas most refugees in Turkey are in what Betts calls “urban or peri-urban areas.”
So what are we to do? What can governments and aid organisations change to make these situations better? For one thing, all our assumptions should be checked. For instance, many refugees aren’t necessarily looking for permanent resettlement. A large number of Syrian refugees, for example, have tried to return to areas of conflict when their home regions appeared to quiet down. Indeed, when Canand’s Justin Trudeau offered a hand of welcome to refugees in the Gulf, his government targeted those in Lebanon and Jordan. Refugees were contacted by phone and SMS to ask if they wanted to resettle to Canada. 70% of those contacted declined. They preferred to stay close to their region of origin.
The refugees of today’s conflicts are distinct from those of the past. There’s a political implication here. Today, most countries have complex and differing notions of what separates a refugee from a voluntary migrant. The 1951 Refugee Convention that gave UNHCR its mandate doesn’t provide all the answers to today’s challenges. This could be updated to reflect more modern realities of the refugee experience.
And clarifying that refugee experience is critical. Sitting with many of these refugees, Betts found that a very small number are unemployed. Many, in fact, are self-employed. They have built their own forms of autonomy and have contributed to their host country’s economy at the same time. Even governments who are wary of allowing rights to work for refugees en masse might see the benefit of taking advantage of a skilled, available population of idle workers.
Could host country governments “help refugees help themselves”? By making the refugee environment as human as possible, governments can think of refugees as a resource, rather than as a burden. If host country governments are going to organise camps for refugees, and if many refugees do live in those camps, then at least governments should provide some physical connection to the rest of society. Some properly human, interactive environment for a micro-economy to thrive. That means offering rights to work when possible, even if only on a limited basis.
This is a complex problem, and Betts doesn’t claim to offer any simple solutions. Nor is he blind to the lessons of modern geopolitics that underscore the fact that the refugee crisis and the west’s new nationalism are intertwined. But that doesn’t mean that progress isn’t possible. The 65 million forcibly displaced people—and our own consciences—demand it.
Find out more about Alexander Betts’ research and other publications.
Film and TV Producer Leslie Lee was a delegate to this year’s Emerge conference. She shares her insight into one of Emerge 2016’s most popular workshops, ‘Changing Our Broken Food System’.
Like many children, I was told not to waste food and to “think of the starving children in China”. It was China because we were Chinese-Americans and so I grew up thinking about every last morsel on my plate. Would it really be enough to feed a starving Chinese child? My mother assured me that it would.
It seemed strange to me there was no correlation between the cost of growing a potato and what it cost to buy one in the shops
As an adult, those early lessons on food waste left a lasting impression on me. I moved to London, became a television producer and started cooking with a food waste project called The People’s Kitchen in Dalston. Every Sunday, I would help its charismatic young founder/chef Steve Wilson and his hard-working volunteers collect surplus fruit and vegetables donated by local shopkeepers. As if by magic, the dancefloor of a local nightclub would become a makeshift kitchen and the surplus produce became tasty, healthy dishes we would enjoy with members of the local community. Through Steve and The People’s Kitchen, I learned a lot about food waste and the food distribution system. It seemed strange to me there was no correlation between the cost of growing a potato and what it cost to buy one in the shops.
So one of the big highlights at Emerge 2016 for me was the Changing Our Broken Food System workshop, led by Fokko Wientjes, VP Sustainability & Public Private Partnerships at DSM. He explained how he welcomed our input as part of his research for the new EAT – Lancet Commission on diet, human health and its impact on our planet. We sat around large round tables in groups, talking about what we thought were the most important aspects of the food system conversation. More importantly, we discussed what we thought was missing from it.
Fokko Wientjes. Photo by fisherstudios.co.uk
Rather than talking about food in the abstract, we shared personal stories at my table. I was especially struck by Robert Boer, an Emerge 2016 speaker and director of UBS and Society, who told us how he became a vegan after his mother’s death from cancer. The connection between food and health is so very important, but yet we Western consumers suffer from ‘food information overload’. These contradictory food studies make it difficult for consumers to maintain healthy diets when even coffee can be both good – and bad – for you.
Of greater concern has been the global shift towards Western eating habits – more meat, dairy and processed foods – which place an enormous burden on the environment. Participants at another table pointed out that in poorer countries, consumers cannot afford to make the same food choices as Westerners can and decide to become vegan, for example. Also, different cultures and customs around the world (Chinese, rice) pose a challenge to transforming the global food system.
Still others wondered if there was a responsibility for retailers to educate consumers. And if so, how?
Workshop: Changing Our Broken Food System. Photo by fisherstudios.co.uk
With food waste in the news, there was also a discussion about the need for a food industry in developing countries, to help preserve food and prevent waste. Despite growing awareness in the West, Fokko warned, “there’s no understanding [among consumers] of what food costs to produce.” Political incentives like farming subsidies also remain a contributing factor in creating food waste.
The conversation could have lasted for days, but the hour had flown by. Fokko invited our further participation, so we can help the Commission develop a plan towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
Change won’t come from food producers or policy makers, it must come from consumers.
Afterwards, I continued my conversation with Mr. Boer, asking him what food entrepreneurs can do to help. He thought that the subject of obesity needed to be addressed in greater depth. “Change won’t come from food producers or policy makers, it must come from consumers. But entrepreneurs need to influence customer demands.”
The best way for entrepreneurs to do this is through storytelling. “Here in Switzerland, we are asking journalists to give feedback on stories from entrepreneurs. If they like them, then you know you have a story that resonates with the media.” Supporting 34 social enterprises this year in their UBS Social Innovators programme, UBS and Society emphasizes the importance of developing an understanding of storytelling, as well as the basics of impact measurement, business models and scalability.
“I firmly believe that connection and collaboration can make a big change in the food systems. We need to bring all these companies together to collaborate and streamline their efforts for greater impact.”
“There was a potential for this [workshop] to actually move this conversation on food systems forward. There are a lot of different stories, cultures and perspectives. Everyone cares.”
About the Author
Leslie Lee is a London-based film/TV producer who works in documentaries and fact-based drama. As a former print journalist, she joined BBC1’s The One Show in 2007 and her credits include a wide variety of documentary series for Discovery, Channel Four, Syfy, A&E and Animal Planet.
The Skoll Centre held its eighth annual Emerge Conference from 12-13 November – a highlight in our annual social impact calendar. Almost 500 attendees were present, including 65 speakers, and over 20 sessions were held ranging from workshops, to conversations, to speaker hosted lunches, and even an Oxford style debate. Emerge 2016 highlighted critical social and environmental issues, as well as cutting edge solutions. Its aim was simple – to inspire delegates and develop their understanding of global challenges.
With all the joy, inspiration, and excitement of Emerge 2016, there was an element of sadness to this year’s conference. We were missing Emerge’s inspirational founder and late Director of the Skoll Centre, Pamela Hartigan, who passed away this summer. She designed much of the programme for 2016, and it was her wish that Emerge continue to highlight key trends within the social impact space.
“go positively, she believed in you, and people like you. Her spirit lives on in this room and beyond”
It was clear by the number of mentions, by both speakers and delegates, and tributes dotted around the conference, that Pamela touched the lives of so many. The opening plenary speaker, co-author, and friend to Pamela, John Elkington, made reference to the current social-climate, “in these tough times what would Pamela say? She would urge us to continue, to get on with it and make it work”. He closed his opening speech “go positively, she believed in you, and people like you. Her spirit lives on in this room and beyond”.
From left to right: Daniela Papi-Thornton, Ola Suliman, Baljeet Sandhu, Alexander Betts. Photo by www.fisherstudios.co.uk
And indeed her spirit did live on throughout the weekend’s sessions. Some highlights of the programme included a session on Using Social Impact Media to Alleviate Conflict, which focused on how social impact media can be used to promote peacebuilding in conflict areas around the world; Using the Impact Gaps Canvas, which explored how this model can be used to understand the challenges and the solutions that have sprung up to address it; and One Year On: Revisiting the Refugee Crisis¸ which examined how the issue of forced migration has developed since Emerge 2015. This panel, in particular, was rich with content and well-received, bringing the perspective of migrants, grassroots activists and policy influencers to the table.
The opposition argued that there are issues which are simply too large and complex for private and social sector organisations to tackle alone
Left to right: Hangwi Muambadzi, Liam Black, Colleen Ebbitt, Kieron Boyle, Dr Shelly Batra, Allegra Day, Julian Coyne Photo by www.fisherstudios.co.uk
This year’s Emerge Debate was held at the Blavatnik School of Government and was aptly titled: “This house believes government involvement constrains social innovation”. Dr Shelly Batra of Operation ASHA brought a touch of wit and charm in her speech for the proposition, jokingly questioning: “apathy, wastefulness and sloth, were these words created keeping govts in mind?” succinctly making her point that “social innovations have been strangled by governments in India”. However, Liam Black of Wavelength, dealt a knock out speech, noting that it’s “fashionable to kick government” and that we seem to take government policies for granted, even those laws that have made our lives safer. The opposition also argued that there are issues (like climate change) which are simply too large and complex for private and social sector organisations to tackle alone, and that policy is a necessity to tackling these effectively. Kieron Boyle, a first-time debater, closed with a strong argument, putting forward that “we need to help government be more socially innovative”. After an audience vote, the motion was rejected – in the eyes of our Emerge delegates; government involvement does not constrain social innovation.
Crisis Cafe – Performance by Oxford Imps Photo by www.fisherstudios.co.uk
To wind down the first day, delegates and speakers alike headed to Crisis Café for dinner, networking, and Emerge Spotlight entertainment. This year’s Emerge Spotlight was super-charged! Post-supper energy from the Oxford Imps, an improv troop, had the crowd roaring with laughter at their spontaneous scenes. The Imps were followed by impromptu performances from Emerge delegates themselves, and Oxford MBA graduate, Denise Hearn, closed the night with an intimate set of rock and country covers.
The sun was finally shining on Sunday morning, and as in years past, the second day of Emerge opened with the Mustard Seed Pitch Competition. Eight social start-ups pitched to win investment from Tribe Impact Capital. There was stiff competition, but ultimately diabetes prevention start-up Our Path came out on top, and were offered a £5000 prize, which is convertible to equity by Tribe Impact Capital if they raise further funding. Our Emerge delegates gave the audience choice award to BubbleNutWash, who produce and sell fairly traded, environmentally friendly soap nuts. Both companies will have the opportunity to meet mentors and investors from Mustard Seed’s network in a greenhouse day in London.
Pail Lindley, Founder of Ella’s Kitchen Photo by www.fisherstudios.co.uk
The Sunday keynote was delivered by entrepreneur Paul Lindley, founder of Ella’s Kitchen and Paddy’s Bathroom. Paul, proudly wearing his B-Corp UK t-shirt, talked about values and people in business. Ella’s Kitchen currently turns over €100M a year, and he put that success down to four key factors:
Values based business
An awesome team
Actively finding ways to deepen consumer’s trust
Paul is an advocate for business as a force for good, and he believes profit making businesses can change the world. We should also mention that Paul should probably win the award for most endearing and creative PowerPoint; he engaged the audience through his entire 90 slide presentation, and had them laughing at video clips from his playful campaigns. His speech affirmed that we all, as individuals, have the power to make small changes each and every day in the way we choose to consume. #Bethechange!
The final keynote was delivered by founder of MyBnk, Lily Lapenna. MyBnk is a financial education initiative designed to equip young people with the knowledge they need to be in control of their money. Lily took us through her impact journey, and where she is headed next. Her charismatic approach had the audience shouting out their very own tagline after she disclosed her own as “Nigel Farage, Donald Trump, I don’t want to run away from you, I don’t want to move to Canada. I want to coach you!”
Lily Lapenna – Founder and Chair of MyBnk Photo by www.fisherstudios.co.uk
Work for an organisation where there are people who will mentor you and where they take staff learning opportunities seriously.
Find problems to care about. You won’t find your calling by looking for “solutions” – first you need to find a problem you really care about, and as you begin to understand it, you will start to gain the perspective from which solutions can emerge.
Connect and network! Don’t just walk out of here asking for help from someone – instead offer your help TO someone. Connect them with someone you know who might help them get them on their impact journey, share resources, or give other support! (Check out our Collaboration Clothesline for connections)
Gain skills! Ask yourself “What can I learn from those around me, from my bosses, from our organisational systems?” Even if you don’t think your current job is high impact, there are certainly things you can learn!
Join us at Emerge next year!
And with that, it was all over; inspiration, challenge, and rejuvenation to last until Emerge 2017.
The idea that business can play a role in alleviating poverty has long been a subject of real significance for academics and practitioners – in for-profit and non-profit sectors alike. Today, the debate on the role of ‘Business and Society’, ‘Responsible Business’, and a host of other related terms point not just to an emerging trend, but more significantly, to a new normativity in which corporations, NGOs, charities, and indeed a technologically empowered civil society are all co-constructors. This transition from emerging trend to normative value is represented in literatures and conversations that have moved beyond the question of if the private sector has a role to play in addressing poverty (and a host of other social and environmental challenges), to the question of how. This new normativity is neatly summarised in the mantra, ‘doing well by doing good’. In other words, there is a possible synergy between commercial and social value that can be harnessed to tackle serious social and environmental challenges.
In the context of answering the ‘how’ questions, earlier this year, in April, the Skoll Centre and Acumen co-hosted Beyond Dialogue with generous support from Mars Inc, PepsiCo, Levis Strauss Foundation, EY, and Johnson & Johnson. The event was designed to bring together corporations and social enterprises to discuss their warts-and-all experiences of cross-sector partnerships. Through a series of facilitated roundtable discussions, experienced cross-sector partnership managers shared their learning, reflections – whether positive or negative – and made suggestions for improvements and future collaborations. The details of the themes and lessons of Beyond Dialogue are outlined in this report that also includes six case studies of cross-sector partnerships between social enterprises and corporations.
In the on-going pursuit of tackling poverty, corporations and business managers will continue to find that when working in complex, unpredictable, and unfamiliar environments, the creation of new strategic partnerships can offer the best way forward. Social enterprises and entrepreneurs, on the other hand, will continue to find that relating to vast, billion-dollar companies with a myriad of internal stakeholders and managers can be just as challenging as the ‘wicked problem’ they are trying to solve. Ultimately, the challenges of cross-sector partnerships will only be improved over time, when mistakes are made and lessons are learned. This is why convenings such as Beyond Dialogue and the conversations that they spark are important contributions to answering the how questions of ‘doing well by doing good’. Please download the report and continue the dialogue.
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
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.
About how to minimise cognitive biases like ‘group think’ and ‘curse of knowledge’; and
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 – 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.