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Going beyond dialogue

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Journeys of Adversity Diversity, University Necessity!

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, Deborah Owhin gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Leading Through Adversity’.

Adversity is defined as a difficult situation or condition: associated with misfortune or tragedy!

In this all-female panel, the discussion moved from the journeys of personal leadership challenges to family upbringing to what is ahead. The panellist spoke openly and candidly on their hopes and beliefs on women’s leadership roles in public life. In the imminent future panellist such as Mary Robinson is involved in the campaign to seeing the next Secretary-General of the United Nations while Halla Tomasdottir is currently in the Presidential race to be the next President of Iceland!

After the session I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with each of the panel and asked them all 2 questions

Being a student I’m often intrigued by a range of academic studies and so I asked the panel if they had the chance to go back to school today, what subject would they study and why?

The second question was I posed was; in hindsight of the journey that you have experienced thus far in life, if you had the opportunity to meet and speak to your 12-year-old self what would you tell her to keep her going and achieve the potential….

Their responses are as followed….

Mary Robinson

  1. “I would find it necessary to focus on human rights development and climate justice. These are existential threat to all of us and I am truly focused on these issues. I would have liked to have become involved in work on this at an earlier age. So a degree would give me a broader perspective”
  1. “My 12-year-old self was VERY shy, I would say get a hold of yourself….I used to block…I would force myself 12 year old self to debate, to help me get over the shyness. I overcame my shyness at University where I still attempted to block but found ways to get out of the shell.”

Halla Tomasdottir

  1. “I would go back to study social entrepreneurship. The only way we can solve the many pressing issues we have in the world today is through building mission driven businesses. I believe in the power of that model. The idea of triple bottom line sits well with my values and I did not learn that during my time as an MBA student which was international.”
  1. “I have a 12-year-old daughter, and when I was 12 years old we had our first female President in Iceland. So talking to my 12-year-old self is very meaningful. I would say to her… be you… never let anyone ever tell you that you are not enough… that you are not okay exactly as you are… that you have been created in that perfect way to be you. Halla, lots of people will tell you that you should be that or this but always have the courage to listen to what is inside of you and trust that intuition. You may cheat on your intuition but your intuition will never cheat on you not even when you are 12.”

Reverend Mpho Tutu

  1. “When I was in school I really went through as scenic route through my academic career. So I started off studying fine arts then engineering and then theology. I have explored a number of fields. So if I go back to school now I would go for something that I have not studied yet like dance. To be able to integrate my creativity with my academics. It would be a modern type of dance or ballet.”
  1. “I would tell my 12-year-old self that she is going to be a phenomenal woman. That’s all.”

Pat Mitchell

  1. “I would love to study international relations because I have spent the majority of the last 20 year of my life travelling the world and promoting global sisterhood. I would have love to have started that earlier in my life and reflecting on it going deeper into the subject area would have been beneficial.”
  1. “To my 12-year-old self I would say; stay curious. Keep knocking on doors and asking questions. It is important to foster a spirit of curiosity as a child as so one is not limited in their view of the world.”

Alaa Murabit

  1. “My first thought is that I would NOT go back to school at 25 I feel like I am ALL schooled out! I have studied medicine and then got an Executive Masters in International Strategy and Diplomacy at LSE. But if I really had to go back to school I would study Life Ethics, and develop my life skills in this course where you get exposed to your civil rights, how to balance your books etcetera, but I am good at Karaoke!”
  1. “My 12-year-old self wanted so much better for me. I had the opportunity to open a time capsule that I did in grade 8 when I was 12 when I was 22 which was 3 years ago. My time capsule said that I would have a yellow VW Beetle, I would be married with a child and 3 cats and I would be the President of the Hospital. I watched the TV show E.R. a lot and always wanted the role of the chief of surgery but just didn’t know what it was called back then.

I would tell my 12-year-old self to listen to listen to my parents, not to listen to kids in school if they were mean and to stick to what she believes in and to take risk. There were so many things that I wanted to do at 12 but was told I could which I regret.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

The panellist all share a similar sentiment in that their family upbringing played a vital role in shaping them into the leaders they had each become as adult women working across the world to bring about positive change in the lives of women and girls. When she could not access the ready-made platforms that political leaders used to make decisions that affected her, Alaa saw the need to create her own for Libyan Women. Reverend Mpho Tutu’s environment shaped her and gave her the courage to stand for what she believes which lead other religious leaders to support her.

If you could speak to your 12-year-old self today what would you tell her or him?

I would say to you all take the time your relationships deserve because all you have is today do not waste time, be passion filled and willing to take risk.

There are millions of 12-year-olds out there waiting to hear your story have the courage and boldness to share the journey of who you are and how you have not only faced but overcome adversity.

Remember there are no leaders who have not faced times of adversity, what has shaped them is how they chose to overcome adversity.

Follow Deborah: @DeborahOwhin

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The News We Need

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student Matthew Robertson gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The News We Need’.

Thursday’s panel ‘The News We Need’ opened with a lighthearted nod, initiated by moderator Jess Search of BRITDOC, to Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Ghana’s intrepid undercover reporter who conceals his identity behind a mask. Anas, one of the panelists, has been working diligently to unearth corruption and criminality in Africa. That has to qualify as fierce compassion. For anyone who did not have the time or good fortune to attend the panel, I highly recommend that you learn more about Anas’ work. You should also check out “rage boy” – but more on that later.

Anas, who is the founder of Tiger Eye Media, defined journalism as “pursuing the truth that emanates from the people and leads to progress.” He added that his unorthodox approach is a product of his society and is needed in order to hold those in power to account, like thirty-four Ghanaian judges facing indictments on corruption thanks to Anas’ two-year long investigations. “There’s no point,” he said, “in doing journalism that doesn’t benefit society.”

Zoe Williams, a columnist for The Guardian, tackled the always-hot topic of the ideological tension between progressive and conservative media, commenting that the liberal media isn’t responding well enough to the negative messages being propagated by conservative media. It was clear through the audience comments and questions that political and ideological tension, at the editorial and corporate levels of the media, are top of mind.

Wajahat Ali, Creative Director of Affinis Labs, explored the stereotypical and fear-based narratives propagated today in our news, including those around Muslims and Islam. He drove home the point by highlighting the case of Shakeel Ahmad Bhut, aka rage boy, a Kashmiri activist whose angry image, shown myriad times in the news has become the media face of Islam. Keeping the mood light with a sprinkling of humour, Ali also delved into the subjects of the news coverage of the US presidential election and water sanitation crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Dallas Morning News reporter Dr. Seema Yasmin used the example of American news media treatment of the Ebola outbreak to highlight the ethical failings present in news reporting. Dr. Yasmin pointed out that the mass media in the US did not jump on the story until there were cases in the US and threats to Western Europe, and even then the situation was presented as a threat to the West as opposed to a humanitarian health crisis in Africa. She added that newsrooms today don’t look like society and that increased diversity would doubtlessly enhance the value and depth of news.

On the subject of the need for diversity, an identifiably conservative voice on the panel would have added some useful perspective. After all, diversity goes beyond gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background, it includes viewpoints and ideology as well.

Finally, for social entrepreneurs and their networks, the news helps to frame their passion and directs society’s attention. While fear is all too prominent in today’s headlines, there’s still a vibrant market for hopeful stories. In some cases, it might require some minor investigating of our own, but the reward of inspiration is well worth the effort.

 

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Ready, Set, Go! Launching the Sustainable Development Goals

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student and Skoll Scholar Sumit Joshi gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Ready, abortion Set, view Go! Launching the Sustainable Development Goals’.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in September 2015. The key theme of these goals is world transformation – a development that necessitates tighter integration of efforts among international institutions, national governments, and corporate, social, and philanthropic actors.

Sumit

At the onset of panel discussion on SDGs in the Skoll World Forum 2016, Ray Suarez, Journalist and Author and the moderator of the discussion raised the question about the master agenda of SGDs. Elizabeth Cousens, Deputy CEO, UN Foundation and one of the panelists clarified that SDGs embrace a comprehensive approach to sustainable development issues and carry on the momentum generated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  While MDGs expired in 2015, there was “unfinished business”, she proclaimed. There has been a lot of debate around the adequate number of SDGs, and so a balance between focus and breadth of these goals is critical. The 17 SDGs span a wide array of issues such as eradicating poverty, improving health and education, and ensuring equality, but these objectives require a balance among environment, economics, and society and also their nexus.

Panelist Michael Green, Executive Director, Social Progress Imperative stressed upon the fundamental difference between MDGs and SDGs. While MDGs were targeted at improving the social and living conditions of people in poor or developing countries, SGDs are more ambitious. Although SGDs relied upon the traction that MDGs had achieved, they reap the benefit of the period of economic growth. Furthermore, SDGs are globally more collaborative than MDGs in that MDGs were largely determined by OECD countries and other donor agencies while SDGs are holistic and also measurable.

The other panelists Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary General, CIVICUS and Jane Griffiths, Company Group Chairman Janssen EMEA, Janssen-Cilag Ltd. corroborated Green’s view that SGDs have broader audience. Sriskandarajah criticised MDGs for being too technocratic and having narrow scope of development. He further emphasised, “one of the most important things that will be critical to the success of SDGs is to popularise the goals and make sure that everyone everywhere does recognise that this is a framework that belongs to them.” According to Griffiths, MDGs did not engage the entire population of the world. SDGs are more inclusive and just and also engage the private sector and general citizens far more than MDGs did.

The year 2015 provided policy makers and citizens with a great opportunity of formulating the next global development agenda. MNCs and private players will have a major role to play to make these goals more inclusive. The new goals are based on sustainability. Therefore, the key consideration for the policy makers is not to update the MDGs but rather draft new sustainable agenda. The commonality of interest for all countries and people is critical to setting up a package of comprehensive goals rather than individual and immeasurable ones. What needs to be verified in 2030 is whether SDGs are able to serve as an accountability framework from the government that encourages participation of private sector and civil society.

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Let’s be boring. Using Digital Innovations Unlock Partnerships to Scale Impact

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

1+1 MBA student and Skoll Scholar, pills Ashley Thomas gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar sessions focused on design and innovation.

As I assume is the norm for Skoll World Forum, I found myself struggling to decide between two parallel sessions. In my case they were, “Can Digital Innovation Unlock Partnerships to Scale Impact” and “Design for Action: Innovation Interventions.” The metaphor was not lost on me- in one room we have the designers talking about how to use design thinking to create solutions for complex problems and in the other room we have implementers using innovative systems to scale operations.

As a mechanical engineer, I entered international development with the perspective of design- looking for solutions to be engineered and silver-bullet products to be made. It took the experience of working on the ground, trying to scale those products to realize the clear need for context, and for an integrated systems approach, where a product is a single player in the overall design. This systems approach cannot happen if we have the implementers and the designers in different room.

While hopping between sessions, I heard the same conversation in both rooms. We need to have a systems approach to designing innovations and using those innovations to scale. How do we do that? We need to be boring and we need to be intentional.

We need to be boring. There’s a long history of social enterprises focusing on the cool app or in-vogue cause, but impact comes from unlocking how to do the boring things well. It is about creating systems, about driving institutions, and building supply chains. How it is about excellence in routine, and striving for ensuring operational effectiveness. It is through tackling the nitty-gritty details that once can design those systems for scale.

We need to be intentional.  Tim Brown said that “Design is being intentional about how you want to shape the world.” It is this long-term vision about shaping your piece of the world that’s critical. Tim’s vision doesn’t focus on the innovation, but the ecosystem around that innovation that allows practitioners like Andrew Youn from One Acre Fund to bring their projects to scale.

To truly unlock the partnerships that enable digital innovation to scale, we need to ensure we are thinking at an ecosystem level. WE need to get the designers and the practitioners in the same room, and have the system-level discussions together, intentionally, rather than in parallel. Much of this is not sexy- there is no shiny prototype, no cool digital platform. However, it is through achieving excellence in the mundane and tackling problems at a systems level that we can achieve impact at scale.

Follow Ashley: @aethomas