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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.



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Leapfrogging Development: How New Technologies will Accelerate Change

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

MBA student and Rotary International Foundation Scholar, Mariko Nakayama gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Leapfrogging Development: How New Technologies will Accelerate Change’.

Solving the problems that matter – this session was definitely one of the most inspiring and full of “Wow!” and “Ah-ha!” moments for many of the audience, at least for me! The session really showcased the new technology and applications that had the potential to better reach underserved populations, navigate market gaps, and allow developing countries to leapfrog outdated models in ways that I never could imagined.

The session kicked off by Obi Felten, director of Google X introducing the new technology such as Google Glass, a self-driving car and Project Loon – the Internet-blasting balloon initiative. The wow moments continued with the five presentation that followed – namely; a remote sensing technology presented by Jim Taylor, the chief executive of Proximity Designs, a self-powered mobile WiFi presented by Juliana Rotich, the executive director of BRACK.org, a drone delivery and logistic system presented by Andreas Raptopoulos, CEO and Co-founder of Matternet, Inc. a 3D-mapping of oceans presented by Sly Lee, founder and president of The Hydrous, and  digital currencies presented by Sarah Martin, the vice president of Digital Currency Council.

At the beginning of the session, Obi Felthen addressed three critical tips in order to accelerate the change we hope to see through new technology and its application. The first tip; start with the problem, not the technology. The second; think from a customer’s perspective so that one can ensure that he or she was able to solve the problem that matters to the users. And finally the third tip; partner with the experts in order to introduce the product to the market.

Personally, the story behind the development of the self-driving car gave me the “ah-ha” moment with regard to the first tip that Obi Felthen mentioned. It illustrated an example of thinking through the root cause of the problem. The thought process behind the innovation was not how Artificial Intelligence can be applied in day to day life (which I initially thought it would be the case) but it rather started with the thinking of the problem; how car accidents could be reduced. As a result, the emerged radical idea was to remove people, who were identified as the major cause of the car accidents!

In addition, it was interesting to hear that public organizations are part of this journey. The usage of drones in order to deliver medical equipment in collaboration with World Health Organization and the 3D mapping of oceans in order to support Maldives, the lowest-lying country in the world built on the planet’s most endangered ecosystem, coral reefs, illustrated how the problems would meet the new potential solution with a partnership with the public sector.

Having worked in the international development agency, I really enjoyed the session and I was inspired by how the new technology and its applications have already or were going to solve the problems that I had not imagined before.

One audience member asked whether any of the presenters had an idea of an effective way to connect the radical technology with people who were tackling the problems on the ground. The answer to this question was yet to be discovered, but after having such “wow” moments, I was left with an optimistic thinking that someone will be able to answer this question at the next year’s Skoll World Forum, or if not then, in a few year time…!


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Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change

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

MBA Student Frank Fredericks gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change’.

“Our biggest struggle isn’t of action, sildenafil but in action,” Father Czerny thoughtfully shared.  Among the rooms of social change agents, we gathered in the session “Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change” to explore how what we can achieve together.  Father Czerny captured the challenge…inaction is hurting us as much as the terrible acts of few.

I’ve been to countless panels on faith, spirituality, and interfaith dialogue.  Honestly, many of left me hungry for more, after a series of exclusively male religious leaders calling for peace, harmony, dialogue, understanding, tolerance, and other interfaith buzzwords.

That is why I found this conversation so rewarding.  Our gender-balanced panel included clergy and liety, activists and media minds.  But most importantly, it was illuminated by stories of engaging faith, from institutions to narratives, to making real, measurable change, tackling issues from public health to education.

For instance, Sakena Yacobi is a Afghan activist who has not only fought for women’s education and rights.  She has advocated for this change from an Islamic point of view.  Even when faced with threats of violence, dissenters become advocates once they hear her case for women’s literacy based on the Quran.

Molly Melching spoke of her work with Imam Muhammad Hussaini Bagnya in engaging community leaders, especially faith leaders, to begin deconstructing culture and religious traditions in the context of health practices.  The effect was profound.  Whole communities would, by their own motivation, commit to abandoning the practice of female genital cutting all across Senegal.  The reverberations of these transformational efforts are still continuing to ripple across the country and beyond.

At its core, the conversation was richly focused on faith’s role in progress, and not of conflict.  About how faith can inform work for positive social change.

Follow Frank: @frankiefreds

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Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies

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

MBA student, find Karen Ng gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies’.

Past participants of the Skoll World Forum often praised the event as a safe space for leaders and practitioners of social change to be honest, viagra buy reflective and challenging of their own experiences and each other’s ideas. This session – ambitiously named “Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies” – was a perfect exhibit of that openness and vulnerability.

Root Causes

The session opened with a video produced by White Helmets, a group of volunteer rescue workers who risk their lives to in war-torn areas in Syria. It showed the volunteers’ effort to pull out a 2-month old “miracle baby” who survived barrel bombs and was trapped among rubbles of collapsed buildings.

It set the stage for Farouk Habib, Program Director of Mayday Rescue (an international non-profit organization that trains and supports White Helmets and many other emergency response groups), to share his thoughts on the root causes of the crisis.

“Refugees did not escape due to hunger, but due to security”, he said. The crisis was resulted from the dictatorship’s oppression that lasted for over 40 years. To deal with the root cause, “we need real political transition to a democratically elected government”.

Running out of solutions

Without an end to the conflict in sight, what are the short-term remedies? Joanne Liu, International President at Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), described the dire situation as observed on the frontlines. MSF provides medical support, and carries out search and rescue operations in conflict areas. Out of MSF’s 153 medical facilities, 63 were attacked by aerial bombs and 2 were completely destroyed. The recent closure of borders made their work even more difficult, as refugees are effectively in detention with no idea of when and where their trips will end. MSF readily adopts tele-medicine, however access to bedside support is still extremely crucial but lacking especially in siege areas.

“This is the biggest failure seen in international community”, she said. MSF has been on the fields for over 40 years and yet, “I am out of solutions, I have never been so desperate for a situation”. She called for the international community to step up, “States should live up to their responsibilities according to the Refugees Convention and give back humanity to people who are fleeing war zones”.

Unreasonable Optimism

With a room full of changemakers and innovators, they do not take “no” for an answer. Audience shared their thoughts on different ideas to harness technology and media to empower refugees and humanitarian workers. Corinne Gray, Innovation Engagement Officer at UNHCR, also shared their optimism. She emphasised the importance of bottom-up solutions, and provided examples of UNHCR’s recent projects to empower refugees through user-led innovation process (a step beyond user-centric design process). She also highlighted the power of engaging with private sector to utilise the businesses’ resources and capacity beyond philanthropic donations, such as distributive capacities of delivery companies and mobile networks of telecoms.

Changing the Narrative

The one thing that all panellists agreed on is the need to change the current narrative, especially on the refugees. As Liu explained, by changing the narrative from refugees to migration, we “take away the right to asylum and protection”. She calls for a stop in thinking about refugees as “good” or “bad” refugees, but accepting our collective responsibility to give back humanity to people fleeing war zones. “When motivated by fear, we will get the wrong answer. The trigger should be life – safeguarding lives – as all lives count”.

The civil society, especially the media, should recognise that these refugees are fleeing for their lives and not merely driven by better economic opportunities. As Habib stated, “all of them dream of going back home”. To enable the bottom-up solutions described earlier, Gray advocated the need to view refugees as “people with capacities, skill sets and had jobs” who, given the appropriate resources, access, training and mentorship, can be leaders of change themselves. Liu echoed the view, and said that “Remember they are looking for a future. No one is more innovative than people looking for a future”.




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Post-Paris Global Sustainability: how do we get there?

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

MBA student Neil Yeoh gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Post-Paris: A New Era in Global Sustainability?’.

It has been just over five months since 195 nations signed the UN Paris Climate Change Treaty – a pivotal step towards global sustainability. However, doctor as every month passes and the champagne stops flowing, people scratch their heads as they consider “the real issue – how do we get there?” – framed by Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres.

A panel made up of the most distinguished climate leaders of today including former president of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – Mary Robinson – discussed this very issue. And amongst the dialogue, five overarching themes emerged:

  1. Changing the conversation – a bigger mindset shift is needed
  2. Pushing for policy change – the world will not self-correct
  3. Enabling access to finance and technology – developing countries cannot do it on their own
  4. Inspiring a larger movement – communities can achieve change
  5. Managing industry change – the transition from dirty to clean will be challenging

Far from the detailed implementation plan everyone was hoping for, the audience may have left dissatisfied still debating how we will get there. However, these feelings and thoughts reveal the true complexity of the challenge that lies ahead to make the treaty a reality. Climate change touches countless nodes of the world’s ecosystem and will need unprecedented global coordination and cooperation to alter course.

But I believe there is hope! If the world’s leaders were able to find common ground on the urgency of global sustainability, the rest of humanity – activists to sceptics – will surely find common ground in the fact that climate change is a real threat to our children and grandchildren. I, as I’m sure many others, can relate to and be compelled to act on that.

After Paris - neil

From left to right: Dipender Saluja – Managing Director, Capricorn Investment Group (Moderator); Mary Robinson – President, Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice; Thom Woodroofe – Climate Policy and Communications Advisor, Independent Diplomat; Mindy Lubber – President, Ceres; and David Blood – Senior Partner, Generation Investment Management.

Follow Neil: @neil_yeoh

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Unavoidable Dilemmas

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

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, viagra order Pip Wheaton gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum sessions themed around morality and empathy.

When you bring together nearly one thousand people whose work focuses on the biggest social, price environmental, sildenafil economic and political issues of our time, it is brave to ask the question, “What moral dilemma are you currently grappling with?” But that is exactly how Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka, opened the session on Moral Stances and Decision Making. The honesty of the responses from the audience was not only humbling but indicative of the fierce compassion with which people in the room treat their work. As Bill put it, we are all wrestling with something, and we all feel responsible for the things we wrestle with. And that’s the most important part.

Some big, meaty questions came out: How do we make trade-offs between breadth and depth? Is it ok to profit from poor people? When do we exit and how do we do that well? How rich is too rich?

Panelist Josh Nesbit, CEO of Medic Mobile, captured the challenge perfectly: “We want to maximise on all fronts – but it’s not possible. When we can’t, we have to make a choice, otherwise the choice will be handed to us.” So how do we make these decisions? Kirk Hansen, Executive Director of the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics presented his guide to “Common Sense Ethics”, a high level overview of five of the most significant strands of moral theory from Aristotle to the present day. His argument is that moral language enables leaders to better think about moral decisions. Safeena Husain, Executive Director of Educate Girls, shared a moral dilemma that she and her team had worked through in Rajasthan while addressing critical gender gap issues, pointing out that all of us grapple with this, “but we don’t have the language [of ethics] built in.”

The last time I was a student, I studied moral philosophy and grappled with the morally and politically required responses to climate change. I thought that if I could just apply the frameworks of the great philosophers, the same ones that Kirk Hansen so clearly presented to the audience, I would be able to work out what we should do and, like magic, the world could think its way out of this global existential threat. I spent a year becoming increasing frustrated as I realised that the different theories give rise to different answers. And increasingly, I found evidence that even when we do know the “right” thing to do, we don’t always do it because of our imperfect, very human rationality. It’s only years later that I realise what I was struggling to articulate then: if we don’t have empathy then we won’t be able to create meaningful, enduring, compassionate change.

Bill Drayton went to the heart of the issue for me: rules-based ethics don’t work anymore. The world is changing so quickly that the rules are outdated or simply do not exist for the types of situations we find ourselves in today. He argued that we need to update our tools for moral decision-making: empathy-based ethics is the answer.

Empathy is a theme that has surfaced often over the past two days: as Roger Martin and IDEO’s Tim Brown discussed innovation in their panel, Design for Action; in a wonderfully honest conversation about education that emerged over dinner between three people from three different continents; from Selena Leem – an 18-year-old from the Marshall Islands who implored us to act on climate change so that her people don’t lose their home.

In the increasingly complex world that we live in, and particularly in the work that we do, we are faced with unavoidable dilemmas. Going back to foundations of morality, particularly a morality based on empathy, allows us to make the best decisions.

Follow Pip: @PipWheaton