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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.


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


Challenging Global Wealth Inequality

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

D.Phil. of Sociology student, ampoule Jun Han gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Challenging Global Wealth Inequality’.

“As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality exist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” —-Nelson Mandela

Global wealth inequality is growing fast. In 2014, OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) released a report, indicating that “in OECD countries, the richest 10% of the population earn 9.6 times the income of the poorest 10%. In the 1980s, this ratio stood at 7:1 rising to 8:1 in the 1990s and 9:1 in the 2000s”. In 2015, a report from Oxfam also warned that the combined wealth of the richest 1% of world’s population will overtake that of the other 99% of people by 2016, unless the rising inequality is checked. So, what is the driver of the global wealth inequality, and how to relieve the growing trend? What can social enterprises do?

Jun Hun

The 13th Skoll World Forum organised a panel “Challenging Global Wealth Inequality” on 15 April 2016 at University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School to shed lights on this critical issue. This panel was moderated by Emily Kasriel, Head of Editorial Partnerships and Special Projects at BBC World Service Group. The five panelists, who are pioneers fighting against inequality, as shown in the photo from left to right, are: (1) Degan Ali, the executive director of Adeso (African Development solutions), an African development and humanitarian organization, (2) Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation, (3) Yves Moury, the Founder, President and CEO of Fundación Capital, and the 2014 recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship as well, (4) Nick Hanauer, the founder of Civic Ventures, and (5) Ngaire Woods, the founding and inaugural Dean of Oxford University’s Blavatnik School of Government.

The panel discussion kicked off with the request from the moderator to use 20 seconds by each panelist to paint the picture of inequality in terms of their personal or work experience. Degan Ali said in 2003 she saw the startling situations of hungry children in Somalia. Darren Walker described the desperation and dreams of young African Americans. Yves Moury witnessed the life of a group of mothers in slums. Nick Hanauer offered statistics of the income shift in US. Ngaire Woods highlighted the role of the government in relieving inequality by taking improving literacy as an example.

The second question for the panelists is what the drivers of inequality are. Degan Ali said, the drivers of inequality are invisible, for example, some policies from the government. Yves Moury agreed with the invisibility argument, and further discussed the relations between inequality and mobility. His words, “high inequality and high mobility is the American dream”, triggered the laughter of the audience. Nick Hanauer pointed out the wealth did not dribbled down, and the wage of middle class declined as well. Darren Walker talked about the cultural norms, not technical issues, that drive the inequality, and encouraged a more say on the economic development and tax policy.

The final question for the panelists is what social enterprises can do while other actors cannot. Yves Moury believed that all business in the future will be social enterprises, and meanwhile acknowledged the role of social enterprises should not be exaggerated. He said, in China many people’s livelihoods were improved probably not because of social enterprises. Darren Walker, the president of the Ford Foundation, emphasised the role of rights. He said: “we believe that people, when given their rights, have the power and agency to transform their lives”. Emily Kasriel further asked how to use social enterprises when the state is weak in tackling inequality. Degan Ali claimed that civil society including social enterprises can play a key part to get the government work and change.

All of these are of course very interesting and important points. Yet, in the panel discussion, one aspect of social enterprises (SEs) is not sufficiently discussed. That is the way how SEs use profits in addressing the global wealth inequality. Social enterprises are drawing upon business techniques to address social issues and promote sustainable social change. What distinguishes social enterprises from for-profits enterprises is the way how they use profits. Social enterprises (SEs) devote a significant proportion (usually 35% or half) of their profits to pursue social and environmental causes, rather than merely transfer the profits to the people, organisations or countries located at the top of the pyramid. SEs share a significant proportion of profits with their stakeholders (including the disadvantaged people, local communities, etc.) rather than primarily among their shareholders. This approach, I think, can address the issue of global wealth inequality at its root.

Social enterprises not only can relieve the income inequality, but also are able to change government policies on some economic and social issues. My Ph.D. research has shown that, when social organisations or NGOs has transformed into social enterprises, their likelihoods of achieving positive policy change from the government become doubled, when other organisational and institutional factors are equal (this chapter was recently accepted by the journal Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly). I further use two case studies to demonstrate how two social enterprises have successfully promoted five policy changes in China to tackle the economic and social inequality (this chapter is forthcoming in July 2016 on the journal China Review).

In sum, social enterprises can play a critical role in “challenging global wealth inequality”.


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Water: Tenacious, Collaborative Responses to a Global Crisis

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

MBA student, malady Sean Peters gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Water: Tenacious, sales Collaborative Responses to a Global Crisis’.

Access to water has never been more critical. The 2016 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report Water lists water as among the top 3 risks for negative global impact, and is ranked as the highest perceived risk over the next ten years. The newly minted Sustainable Development Goals list goal number 6 as to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.  But how do we get from where we are today to a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation? And what can we learn from the last twenty years of work by development organizations, foundations, and social entrepreneurs?

Starting off Day 2 of the Skoll World Forum, J. Carl Ganter (Managing Director and Co-Founder, Circle of Blue) opened our discussion with three accomplished panelists:

  • Eleanor Allen (CEO of Water For People), journalist and photographer, reports on global freshwater issues (competition between water, food and energy
  • Neil Jeffery (CEO, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor), WSUP
  • Gary White (CEO and Co-Founder, Water.org).

Water - Sean

The discussion opened with an overview of the differences that have emerged over the past twenty years in trying to manage water globally. The first major difference is that there are many more organizations paying attention.  Gary White, who started this work in the 90’s, noted the incredible proliferation of water-focused organizations in recent years. “When we started, we were one of the only ones,” White said. ‘Today, there are hundreds.”

The tone has changed as well. Twenty years ago funders didn’t understand the problem. “We used to spend 90% of our funder meetings simply explaining the problem to them, and in the end funders just wanted magic bullets in the form of new, catchy technologies” noted Jeffery. “Today, this is no longer a technical issue. The problem now isn’t that we don’t have the technology – we do. The next hurdle is trying to stimulate the demand side.”

So how do we stimulate demand? Part of the problem is access to financing. Currently low income people around the world pay a premium for water or sanitation services, but don’t have access to financing that could make these costs lower for higher quality access. By opening up financing and providing access to high-quality technology (water pumps, toilets, etc) at affordable prices, the short run benefit is healthier communities that are spending less of their time and money on getting access to water and sanitation. The hope is that over the long run these kinds of models will “pull” future financing and greater impact. “At this point we know what works and what doesn’t on the technology side”, said Allen. “We need to build these markets so that access can persist beyond the engagement with NGOs.“

While much progress has been made, there’s a long way to go. The session concluded with a universal message that is important for all of us to remember:  The importance of collaboration between people, between organizations, and between institutions. “At Skoll, we build relationships,” White said. “We’re all in this together. It is critical that we work together to solve these problems.”

Follow Sean: @sean_robert

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Empathetic Storytelling and the Moral Imagination

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

MBA student Yasmin Kumi gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Empathetic Storytelling and the Moral Imagination’.

“There is emergency and pain everywhere – but there also is the consistent possibility of solution”, says Gary Gottlieb, Chief Executive Officer of Partners in Health. Each year the Skoll World Forum brings together an array of social change makers from around the world who have a compelling vision to make it a better, more equal and more moral place. But how can we make sure that every single citizen on the planet has the same ambition?

It is important that we tell our stories and engage the people around us on uncomfortable truths. Artists such as Cori Shepherd Stern (Producer, Bend the Arc) do wonderful work to achieve just that – her touching piece about Partners in Health tells the story of a young Peruvian who nearly dies because of year-long treatment with the wrong medication. Even in the 2min-truncated version of the film shown during the session, many of us in the audience had tears in our eyes.

Moral imagination, in a way, means that we constantly need to find our own avenue back to our moral selves and open up to our own emotions. Even more importantly, we need to ensure that we help others to do so by telling “stories that have the power to shift people’s thinking”, as Lynette Wallworth of Sundance/Stories of Change puts it. What becomes clear from listening to her and the other panelists is that we probably all do great work in our own organizations, manage to change the lives of people who need our support and find self-fulfillment in that. But if we do not become multipliers of the vision behind social change making by telling our stories, how will we touch others outside of our own microcosm?

How do you tell your own story to engage others on social change, the world’s most important endeavor? How do you find a way to make it real? Without doubt, Sonita Alizadeh, who is 19-years old although seeming to have the wisdom of a 90-year old, has found the answer to this. Having escaped to be sold off to child marriage at the age of 16, she became a rapper telling her story in the local language of her country. After the session I watched the video on youtube that eventually helped her to be invited to the US and go to school – and even though I do not understand a word of what she raps about, I immediately felt captured and engaged by just watching it. I wondered how she managed to do that.

Luckily, Sonita was kind enough to share her secrets with us – most importantly, she told us about her dream book. The dream book is “her map on how to achieve her goals” – anything that is captured in this book has to be thought about, believed in, spoken about and worked on. In a way it seems that anything written in that book becomes a commitment. It seems that the dream book is the source of Sonita’s incredible authenticity.

And that, after all, is what counts. There arguably is a wide range of possibilities of how to tell your story to be a multiplier of social change – and we all have to figure out which option is best. But if we really want to capture the people around us, then the source of all that will be to have the authenticity of Sonita. And for that to be possible, we need to learn to be as disciplined as she is with one thing: internalizing our vision and our values again and again. It can be through a dream book that we look at every day, it can be the frequent active memory of an experience that led us to do what we are doing, it can be a place where we find peace and feel closer to our own social vision again.

Whatever you choose, have the trust that regularly revisiting that source of your drive and energy for social change will help you to be authentic; and that will enable you to captivate each and every single person around you when you tell them your story, no matter how you tell it.