Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.
MBA student and Skoll Scholar, recipeMaria Springergives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Mindful Action, Intelligent Fearlessness: Creating Movements that Inform, Inspire, and Change the World’.
Panel moderator Ron Schultz, Co-Founder of Waterman Aylsworth, opened the early morning session with a request for the audience: “Please root your feet on the floor, place your hands on your knees, sit up straight, gently lower your gaze, and feel your heart. Then let your heart radiate out.”
Within sixty seconds, the hearts of 75 delegates were radiating. If we believe that individuals are connected to the universe and by default other individuals, building movements that inform, inspire and change the world require mindfulness and fearlessness. Radiating hearts are just the beginning. Three key insights on mindful action and intelligent fearlessness emerged from the session.
(1) Fear is workable. What if we see fear as workable? After all, even the fearless fear. Insight Meditation Society co-founder, Sharon Salzberg, suggests that if we “loosen the grip on fixed thinking and expectations, new options emerge.” Fears that are acknowledged can be turned around. By creating space and an internal practice for managing fear, we can accept the world as it is, not how we think it ought to be, savings us time, frustration and energy. Founder and CEO of International Bridges to Justice, Karen Tse, summed up the point with a quote from Khalil Gibran, “your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”
(2) Compassion is a practice. Practicing compassion enables social entrepreneurs to align intention with heartfelt, powerful action. APOPO Founder, Bart Weetjens, suggests that social entrepreneurs are often successful because they demonstrate compassion for themselves and for those they serve. Social entrepreneurs who love themselves authentically connect with those they serve.
(3) Boldness and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Fierce compassion does not make one weak or foolish, and the notion of being compassionate towards oneself is not to be confused with laziness, a lack of rigor or an inability to pursue excellence. On the contrary, “being compassionate can increase the audacity and intensity of action,” advises Salzberg. By practicing fierce compassion, social entrepreneurs create the space to avoid superficial reactions, and can instead respond intelligently and strategically.
Mindful action, fierce compassion and intelligent fearlessness require practice and commitment. By valuing mindfulness, compassion and fearlessness, social entrepreneurs can inform, inspire and change the world.
Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.
MBA student and Skoll Scholar, discountRitesh Singhania gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Healthcare as an Engine for Social Transformation’.
Is healthcare about disease management or delivering health?
While it is so important to provide quality affordable healthcare to communities at the bottom of the pyramid, can healthcare alone improve the lives of the people?
This is how we began the session with Gary Cohen, co-founder Healthcare Without Harm; Tyler Norris, VP Total Health, and Rebecca Onie, Co-founder Health Leads. It was very thought provoking to start the session broad, with questions that make us challenge our own thinking about the fundamental role that healthcare can play in the lives of local communities.
It is difficult to set up a medical clinic in the middle of a village community in rural India and expect the community to grow. Illness treatment or disease management in segregation can only have a limited impact in the lives of the people. To give an example – most of the women in rural India still use firewood for their cooking energy needs, leading to massive amounts of smoke within the four walls. This smoke is inhaled by just not the women of the family, but also by their children. As Annie Griffiths, from Ripple Effect Images highlighted during her fantastic opening plenary at the Skoll World Forum, that more children (under the age of five) die due to breathing problems, than diarrhoea, dengue and pneumonia together. Thus, while setting up a medical clinic in a remote village definitely has value addition for the community, it is important to understand the needs of the community and set up a cross-sectoral relationships with other areas of development for a healthier life-style of people.
I would like to share a small example from my days back in India, where we used to set up small scale power plants in the Indian Himalayas to generate clean electricity and cooking charcoal (by-product) from flammable pine needles. We would employ local women in the villages to collect pine needles and remunerate them both in the form of cash and cooking charcoal. Women in the villages are normally responsible to meet the energy needs of the family and spend the entire day gathering firewood. By employing them to collect pine needles, for the first time we were not only empowering them with money, but also offering a cleaner source of cooking fuel so that they do not have to go but down trees, in the fragile Himalayan eco-system. Thus, trying to create an impact at every step in the value chain by not only offering cleaner electricity to people, but also a cleaner cooking fuel and employment.
Similarly, healthcare offerings in the local communities have to be integrated with the needs of the community so that we can actually see a difference in the lives of the people – better, healthier people for a brighter future.
Needless to say, there is unfortunately no ‘one-size-fits-all’ model when it comes to the management of data. What did begin to emerge from the discussion in the context of the responsibilities of social enterprises or non-profits is a need to design and implement an explicit end-to-end data management strategy and policies with enhanced built-in levels of accountability. Juliana Rotich fleshed this point out particularly well, as she expressed how accountability is not just about response but also about setting built-in mandates of accountability from the outset. This translates for example to strategies and policies to encrypt data as it is being collected, to building accountability into the impact design; Rotich provided an example of a municipality in Dublin, Ireland which adopted an open source platform called fixmystreet.com which enabled residents to report any issues with council services such as the bins not being emptied or pot holes in the road. Whilst other councils have also adopted the platform, what made the municipality in Dublin different was that they established a mandate for the city council to respond to any issues reported within 48 hours. This step built into the design of the platform a level of accountability through feedback loops which enabled trust in the platform to be developed.
Conversely, it was discussed that a strategy for what happens to the data once the project is completed should be established and made explicit. This, as counterintuitive as is may seem, means planning for the destruction of the data which you plan collect before you’ve even started collecting. This could be a simple as deciding to store the data for one or two years once it has been collected before it is destroyed. Designing an end-to-end strategy for the data builds necessary levels of accountability into the architectural design of the work. Furthermore, ensuring these safeguards are in place is of course also the responsibility of actors who themselves do not collect data but work with organisations which do.
Overall, the speakers and moderator certainly touched all the bases of the overarching complexities of the issues around data and accountability from the moral considerations to the practical. However, just as the discussion was reaching the juicier nitty gritty the session ended and I feel perhaps the take away could have been richer if the discussion time or the session time itself was extended.
Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Oxford University Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.
Ellen K gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Neuroscience of Fierce Compassion’.
Some suggest that compassion is the thing that makes us human and thrive as a species. Melina Uncapher Assistant Professor of Neurology, cialis University of California at San Francisco; CEO and Co-Founder, Institute for Applied Neuroscience, served as our travel guide in a trip through the compassion in the brain. We actually looked inside Physician Dr. Larry Brilliant’s amazing brain via fMRI technology and visualization. In fact, through this spectacular technology, those being studied are able to look into their own minds as well! We talked about various systems and circuits and networks that support our human ability to express compassion and empathy.
We then met two additional researchers: Jamil Zaki Assistant Professor of Psychology, Stanford University, who provided his definitions of empathy in terms of experience sharing, perspective taking, and motivation. He discussed “feeling” someone else’s pain and seeing activation in various parts of the brain. He also talked about how people with autism also show emotional empathy. He walked us through the way that researchers use fMRI technology to study how emotional empathy is studied. He asked the question: How do we allocate or take control of our empathy? In his research he found that people who believe they can grow their empathy, are more willing to learn how to empathize better and he questioned whether limits on empathy have to be there.
We also were introduced to Dr. Adam Waytz Associate Professor of Management and Organizations, Kellogg School of Management spoke on the limits on empathy and perspective taking. He believes that compassion is the answer, but he suggests our capacity for cognitive empathy or perspective taking may be limited by our ability to put ourselves in another person’s shoes and our ability to remember. He says that the more empathy that we spend on one person, the less that we can spend on another. We can also have limits of empathy or what amounts to compassion fatigue. In other words, social entrepreneurs, care givers, etc. can be fatigued after a day of attending to the needs of others, and can be physically fatigued or feel emotional depletion. In the question and answer section, he also talked about the importance of hearing the human voice in activating our emotions and that sometimes technology communications without the voice can strip this out. And, he talked about the difficulty of getting into the mind of another person and the difficulty of being able to perceive things as another person does as a challenge that we often face.
Taddy Blecher CEO, Community and Individual Development Association, is a social entrepreneur who is working with youth in South Africa to take children out of poverty and to help children build their self-esteem, self-development, and to show them that they are loved. He demonstrates through the educational programmes that he provides to children — that compassion, love, caring, and feelings and the self are so vital to the education system. And, he underlined that we must develop our brain not just along one line, but to develop our thinking about the whole person. He also believes that compassion, caring, love and feelings are central to bringing forth the potential in every human being.
This interview series was spectacular! Truly we learned from a new wave of researchers and social entrepreneurs using the methods of social psychology and cognitive neuroscience to challenge our views on empathy and compassion.
On the opening morning of the Skoll World Forum, a panel luminaries from the world of social innovation assembled under the banner of “Fierce Compassion” to discuss how the hundreds of global changemakers gathered here at the University of Oxford’s Said School of Business might leverage their influence to more rapidly scale solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
As a current Oxford MBA student and the founder of a non-profit that helps young social innovators to grow as leaders and advance their work across the United States, it is amazing to see the best of Oxford’s academic community converging with so many iconic world leaders and social innovation practitioners.
There can be no doubt that connections made here over the next few days will propel the field for years to come.
If there is such a thing as currency in the world of social entrepreneurship, one imagines that the names and faces of this morning’s panelists (as well as more than a few audience members) would be among those featured on its bank notes.
Representing some of the most influential organizations in this field were Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation; Alexis Bonnell, Chief Applied Innovation & Acceleration, USAID Global Development Lab; Marcela Manubens, Global Vice President Social Impact, Unilever; and legendary Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter.
To the extent that each panelist was candidly self-critical of their respective organizations and explicit about the need to address chronic shortcomings sector at large, they were greatly aided by fellow panelist Astrid Scholz, a former economist turned tech entrepreneur from Portland, OR who serves as Chief Everything Officer of Sphaera, a cloud-based solutions sharing platform that is working to disrupt the status quo organizations so impressively convened here at Oxford.
Astrid characterized the philanthropic-aid industry as being characterized by rent-seeking behavior and noted that no other industry exhibiting these features has ever avoided disruption, which she sees as imminent – thanks in no small part to the work of organizations like her own.
“Can a broken industry fix itself?”
That was the question aptly put to the panel by audience member and Oxford MBA alumna Aunnie Patton, now with the University of Cape Town’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Alexis Bonnell of USAID said that major funders can adapt to changing realities, and that the biggest trend in social innovation funding was that it was becoming less elitist, beginning to look at beneficiaries as customers, and leveraging technology to democratize and improve the allocation and assessment of aid initiatives.
Professor Michael Porter, who at Harvard leads the Social Progress Index, a framework for benchmarking success of efforts to catalyze greater human wellbeing, urged that improving accuracy of measurement was essential to establishing a better understanding of what actually constitutes effective social innovation.
“Right now,” he said, “we have a very inchoate field, and no standard classifications.”
Achieving consensus on how to benchmark the many initiatives in this field, Porter urged, would enable comparison, facilitate learning, and pave the way for increased effectiveness.
While acknowledging the importance of improved measurement, President Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation, itself a funder of the Social Progress Index, garnered applause from the audience for stressing the outsized importance of how cultural narratives can both catalyze and inhibit social change.
“We have exalted the individual entrepreneur and have disadvantaged the importance and primacy of institutions,” he said, noting that a major focus of the Ford Foundation was supporting initiatives that help to overcome cultural drivers of inequality.
For all the talk of institutional reform vs. disruption, the question of the non-profit sector’s relevance was a matter of equal concern.
Overcoming the glare of stage lights, panel moderator Michael Green, Director of the Social Progress Initiative, called on audience member Bill Ackman of the Pershing Square Foundation, who exercised his famous instincts as activist investor by calling out the proverbial “Elephant in the Room.”
“Non-profit solutions to problems are inherently problematic,” he said, noting that for-profit entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have demonstrated that business, as opposed to philanthropy, is best suited to addressing social and environmental needs.
But what about when the market fails to address the needs of society?
That, said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, is why forward-thinking philanthropy remains essential, especially so in an era of accelerated change and persistent inequality.
Evidently, there is an as-yet unresolved tension between the sort of experimental, corrective, and exploratory ideas that philanthropy tends to support and the investment opportunities that make sense to traditional investors.
This was well-illustrated by a successful private equity man turned clean energy investor I met here yesterday who told me that certain young folks at the conference reminded him of the show Portlandia, which jokingly chronicles the sort of zany, neo-utopian businesses that reliably flourish in famously creative Portland, OR.
Fortunately, the many dreamers at this conference have not come here to retire. Rather, they have traveled great distances to explore possibilities and exchange ideas with world leaders, visionary upstarts, and established institutions that have the power to accelerate large-scale change.
At the Skoll Forum, we find ourselves at the intersection of global capital and social impact, amidst a watershed of imaginative new possibilities that – if matched with resources – will change our world for the better.
From Oxfordshire: here’s to a week of rigorous self-reflection, dialogue, and world-changing connections.
In October, find Oxford MBA student Karen Ng attended the Critical Mass Conference in London. This key conference brings together prominent speakers from major organisations in the social entrepreneurship and impact investing fields to discuss major developments and trends. Here, pilule Karen gives us her key impressions and takeaways from the event.
“In one month this year President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and the Pope all talked about impact investing…Not only in rhetoric but also on the ground. Impact investing is making a difference to people’s lives,” said Antony Bugg-Levine in his opening speech at the Critical Mass Conference.
Source: Pioneers Post
You can imagine my excitement about meeting Bugg-Levine for the first time. He is the current Chair of Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and CEO of Nonprofit Finance Fund, and is one of the individuals who coined the term “impact investing”. Along with 400 delegates from across the world, we spent two days in London to discuss the key actions required to achieve critical mass for impact investing. Some of my key takeaways:
Building trust and empathy
To achieve critical mass, it is crucial to build a community where all stakeholders, including social enterprises, businesses, governments and civil society can trust each other and work together. Kevin Lynch, the former President and CEO of Social Enterprise Alliance, admitted that “it’s really easy for the do-gooders on one side to look at big business and systems and say “you’re wrecking the world” and we here in the impact space are here to correct that”.
The importance of trust and empathy is also stressed by Bugg-Levine, who urged us to “step back and acknowledge regulations and bureaucracy in government for example, as well as the key barriers facing investors”. Michael Green, the Executive Director of Social Progress Imperative, also echoed the sentiment. Given it is hard for the government to go against popular opinion, “the civil society needs to create a conversation and reframe the agenda” on how we define progress of a society.
Communicating impact to a wider audience
PWC TIMM Source: PWC UK website
There are now numerous tools and frameworks to help us collect data and measure impact. However, it is still challenging for businesses to communicate their impact in a simple way to facilitate decision-making. The “big-four” firms have all developed their own tools to take on this challenge – such as PwC’s Total Impact Measurement and Management (TIMM) framework. TIMM places a value (positive or negative) on 20 impact areas under 4 quadrants: society, environment, tax and economics. The combined result is presented in a wheel to help businesses and investors to make decisions and track progress.
In addition to improving the way we communicate impact, it is also important to increase access to such information. One successful example is, Diana Verde Nieto, who founded the website Positive Luxury based on the belief that consumers desire to be connected with brands with aligned mission and values. The website now works with over 200 brands to assess their social, environmental and philanthropic performances.
Embracing technology to deliver scalable social solutions
The last panel I joined was entitled “The real innovators: using science and technology for social progress” – a great way to end the conference by looking into the future. Technology is an increasingly powerful tool to improve access and reduce the cost of achieving social impact, as well as reducing the time to achieve scale.
Chaired by Paul Miller, a partner at Bethnal Green Ventures, the panel featured 5 impressive startups that leverage technology to achieve social impact, including
• Ecosia: a search engine that donates 80% of its revenue to plant trees
• Gravity Light: a light powered solely by gravity
• Desolenator: a solar powered desolenator for household use
• Do Nation: an online platform to help individuals commit to behaviour change
• Walacea: a crowdfunding platform for scientific research
And if you think you are too old or too technologically challenged to embrace technology, I have met the Founder of If Everyone Cares. She’s a self-proclaimed “Grandma in Tech” who is building a location based online directory for all social services in the UK!
Managing hype and stay grounded
In the words of Bugg-Levine, the world of impact investing has “the highest ratio of words spoken in comparison to deals done”. Amidst of all the positive progress made, he warned practitioners to be wary of the 5 dangers, including “futility, expediency, timidity, comfort and self righteousness”. Rodney Irwin, the managing director of World Business Council for Sustainable Development, advised fellow practitioners to “stay humble and keep it real based on metrics”.
Perhaps one of the best ways to stay grounded is to remind ourselves of the real motivation behind all these trends and actions – they are based on real needs and urgent issues. Vimlendu Jha, the founder of Swechha in India, called upon the audience to stay close to the ground: “All these discussions are driven by men, but the most deprived and affected are often women and youth” – a note for all of us.