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Mindful Action, Intelligent Fearlessness: Creating Movements that 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, recipe Maria Springer gives 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.


Follow Maria: @mariaspringer

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Healthcare as an Engine for Social Transformation

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

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, discount Ritesh Singhania gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Healthcare as an Engine for Social Transformation’.

Ritiesh - Healthcare

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.

Follow Ritesh: @riteshs01

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A whole new world…

Deborah Owhin is an MBA Skoll Scholar of 2015-16, sale she has dedicated over 10 years towards achieving gender equality. After attending UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 57) in 2013, healing she realised the urgent need for men and women to learn and work together to prevent gender inequality. Deborah therefore started ‘Made Equal’ – a non-profit social initiative that engages, symptoms educates and empowers men and women to eradicate gender inequality. She describes here her experience of life and study at Oxford Saïd so far.


Having left formal education over 5 years ago the idea of becoming a full-time student again was exciting but also slightly daunting. How was I going to ensure that I could balance my ‘perfectionist’ traits with interacting with over 340 course mates, faculty, staff, career options, adoption of the SDG’s, my personal commitments to women and working across sub-Saharan Africa, keeping in touch with family and friends, and traveling.


Being a student again has pushed me outside of my comfort zone and has increased my ‘work streams’ by almost double. I thought I was busy prior to my matriculation at Oxford, however the masses of opportunities available to you as an Oxford student are unimaginable. From Oxford Union debates on ‘Does Feminism Need Rebranding’ and panels, to distinguished speaker lecture series such as the ‘Devaki Jain Lecture with Graça Machel’, to formal dinners where I got to introduce my friends from home to my new Oxford friends, conferences such as PowerShift hosted by Professor Linda Scott, workshops run by the Skoll Centre on negotiation skills, to seminars by Josh Levy on ‘Dads at work’ the list is endless.


The thing that I had not anticipated or put much thought into would be the quality of my lecturers inside and outside of the classroom. I was assigned an academic advisor at Oxford Saïd and one at my College both of which are perfect for my interest, background and growth areas. Coming from a small liberal arts university, Spelman College, I was accustomed to a small network of students which meant faculty and staff knew students by name. I never expected to find that at Oxford and due to the nature and demands of my course it added to my disbelief. However my interactions with faculty has been inspiring to share my past and work areas with them and to hear about their passions for different fields, research areas, and their own families which has truly helped to keep this whole ‘MBA’ experience real.


I have had the opportunity to meet with a number of faculty members some who are my current lecturers and some who are not. Each one has taken the time and made themselves available in the common areas or during office hours and have not only advised me on careers but on interpersonal relationships, their own personal bicycle mishaps, the importance of ‘pause’ and reflection, while encouraging me always to share my non private sector experiences and realities with my classmates.


So many ideas often need sounding boards; in my first month Professor Marc Ventresca advised me to try new things, things that I would not do or had not done before coming to Oxford. What great advice that is so simple…do something you have never done before. This was affirmed by a number of other faculty and staff who I engaged in conversations about electives. So I signed up to take a French course, something that I have always wanted to learn and granted I many not become fluent in the next year but it is a step in the right direction.


Starting this journey has been a whirlwind with great days and tougher days, but the new friendships and networks make it worth waking up and getting to class for 8.30am every day.

If given the chance would I still choose and MBA? Would I still choose Oxford? Would I still choose this year, a resounding YES. Why? Because I feel more excited about this journey months into the program than when I began this new world which poses endless possibilities for which I am truly humbled.

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Freedom of my spirit

Sumit Joshi is a Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA for 2015-16. He is the founder of APAART Education, malady an organisation that aims to bridge the gap between academia and industry.

“There I was, wearing ill-fitting shoes, loose pajamas, a plain T-shirt, and a tired smile. That morning I had woken up to scales tilting further East. I had become chubbier in the last three years – something I wasn’t proud of. And now, while I waited with my friends outside Trinity College, it dawned on me that in these three years I had completely forgotten something crucial: I had forgotten how passionate I was about climbing. I took a deep breath as images of The Himalayas flitted across my mind. I really missed home.

Just when I was about to turn around and make my way back to my student accommodation at Rewley Abbey, I heard Melissa shout, ‘There he is!’ I saw a young man on a bicycle approaching us. He had climbing gear tightly fastened onto the back of the bike, and I thought I spotted a climbing rope too. Instinctively, I stopped.

Giles (as he later introduced himself) parked his bike by the pole. Within a few minutes of our introduction, we found ourselves discussing things we were really passionate about – sports, culture, food and more. We walked down from Trinity to Oxford Brookes, acquainting one another with our lives outside of work and academic study. The rapport was natural. No well-rehearsed networking pitch or futuristic thoughts on how the economic growth of developing nations would affect the world. We were out there, simply talking about what we loved. It felt good to be ‘normal normal’ again.

By the time we reached Brookes, I felt an adrenaline rush in my body. With my steps turning into a sprint I entered the building with Giles right by my side. When I spotted the towering 30 feet climbing wall, I knew I was going to make my Oxford debut that day.

With a silly smile plastered all over my face I looked around. People were adjusting their gear; some were trying to climb a higher grade; there were a couple with crampons and slips while others were cheering on the ones making a climb.

When I moved closer to the wall I could hear my heart pounding. I would love to call it ‘pure thrill’, however I must admit, I was a bit nervous! It had been three years. I was out of practice and this was a new place with new people. I had to quickly build my confidence and get going.

As I prepared for the climb, I could hear people clapping and cheering. I took my first shot at a medium grade. I was cautious, reconfirming my strength at every step, my skill in handling the ropes, and my ability to remember the manoeuvres as I negotiated my way up. I kept reminding myself of the techniques and I soon realised I was doing fine. When I climbed back down, Giles was beaming. He encouraged me to take on the next challenge – this time it was grade 5+. I climbed that without a moment’s thought. And then the next, and the next – higher and tougher each time. After my 4th climb I decided to call it a day. Giles seemed impressed with my performance. And many people came up to me congratulating me for the effort. It felt great, after a long time.

That day I must’ve met 20 sports enthusiasts. Each one of us belonged to a different country, spoke a different language, and had lived a different life before coming to Oxford. But right there, at that moment none of it seemed important. There were smiles for jobs well done, genuine encouragement for failures, and support that promised we’d outdo ourselves the next time. We were simply absorbing the thrill of a sport, a common thread that bound us together.

The following day at the School was different. The once tired routine had become spirited; there was a spring in my step. And guess what? The next day I went gliding!”


Looking inward: Business school’s most important class is not-for-credit

Skoll Scholar and MBA student Songqiao Yao is a researcher, prostate activist and entrepreneur working on global environmental sustainability issues such as food, diagnosis water, and climate change. 

It seems only yesterday when I walked into an ocean of over 300 new MBAs, all in formal dark suits, eager to meet each other. Six weeks in, everyone is buried shoulder deep in coursework readings, group projects, rowing outings, countless social events and multiple recruiter presentations every day. Said Business School and the wider Oxford seems to be an overwhelming intellectual machine and we all jumped onto the fastest ride, seeking to maximise our time and take in all the amazing opportunities.

As I look at my completely booked-out schedule with different colour blocks overlapping with each other, I realised that I have been lazy in another form of learning, the one about tending to your inner voice. Especially among a big group of over-achievers, it is too easy to fall into the trap of imposter syndrome, or feel like whatever we have achieved previously is not enough. We are all compensating by signing up for another personal development workshop, careers event, or master class. Business school provides a wonderful opportunity to hear and learn from all kinds of industries, people and organizations. It is easy to focus all our attentions externally, simply because there are so many amazing speakers, workshops, debates and opportunities to acquire one more skillset or toolkit for success. On the last day of Launch, the orientation program for new students, the biggest worries and fears for all the new class as a collective are Careers and FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out).

Naming and facing this fear and insecurity is hard, and takes courage. While the wonderful courses at SBS teach us useful tactics to equip ourselves, the personal reflective practice requires a disciplined personal practice. The space for authentic, whole self, grounded in our personal values and presence, is what Otto Scharmer calls the “blindspot of leadership”. This inner space is where all of us need to start from and come back to, when we are faced with too many external options or extreme challenges. Dominic Barton, when giving the final keynote speech for MBA launch, mentioned that truly transformative leadership is rooted in character. Behaviours and tactics, which are more commonly associated with good leadership practices, are built on the foundation of character. In other words, who we are is more important than what we do and how we do it.

I truly agree with many of our professors that we live at a great moment in human history, with unprecedented challenges and enormous opportunities. As we have learned in our Global Opportunities and Threat class, the risky, uncertain and unpredictable future is already here. What we do now will directly affect our future, and who we are as individuals directly affects society as a whole. Taking advantage of the vast Oxford network, I find myself in a seminar on systems-thinking in the Geography department. Businesses traditionally have solved many “tame”, or structured, targeted problems. However, the future presents more “wicked problems” or even “super-wicked” problems. These complex issues are intractable, and we have incomplete knowledge both of the solutions and of the unexpected consequences. We all know too well from the international development space that those that try to solve the problem may even be contributing to exacerbating the problem. As Saïd Business School seeks to tackle world-scale problems as a world-class business school embedded in a world-class university, I feel the urgency to bring attention to our inner space.

Aligning our values with what we do can have tremendous benefits for our work and life. Kurt April during his one-day workshop focusing on values showed us that our stress level actually goes down and our body goes into restorative mode, when we are engaged in work that we truly care about. However, getting to that space takes many attempts, constant examination, and realignment with our everyday engagement in the world with our inner values. This cannot be achieved by a two-day personal branding workshop, or a one-day leadership development course, but will be ongoing theme in the days ahead of us.

Although I sometimes find myself frustrated at the external-focused mentality that could be infectious at business school, and feeling impatient at traditional ways of teaching and learning in basic business courses, I do realize that what is happening at Oxford Saïd is representative of the bigger society. However, like seeds that may blossom in the future, I am loving finding out and actively participate in shaping business school to be a more conscious, nurturing space that allows all of us to get in touch with our whole, authentic selves. The lovely garden as a perfect space for meditation, the inspiration of those who work at the Skoll centre, the reflective exercises during Launch, leadership fundamentals, the student-organized mindfulness training and yoga classes, and the many beautiful vulnerable moments of seemingly polished and well-spoken MBA cohorts continue to inspire me and keep me working hard in my personal goals, to pay attention to our blindspots: Our inner selves.


Gathering strength and skills from a year in the ‘Oxford bubble’

Pip Wheaton is a Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA for 2015-16, viagra 60mg and is also the founder of enke:Make Your Mark, sales  a youth development organisation that inspires and supports young South Africans who are taking action on the most urgent social issues.

A couple of weeks ago, I left the bubble of Oxford to spend the weekend in South Africa. It was the annual strategy retreat for the organisation I started six-and-a-bit years ago, enke: Make Your Mark. It was also the crescendo of the national student movement that was protesting against the proposed fee increase for universities. I arrived on the Friday morning, coincidentally just in time to be able to show solidarity and join the protest at the Union Buildings in Pretoria where President Jacob Zuma was deliberating the demands.

We arrived on the dusty, smoky scene just as police fired stun grenades into what looked like a peaceful group, with helicopters circling overhead and barbed wire being rolled out along the road. Despite the palpable sense that violence was only a misstep away, the mood was optimistic. The results left most of us torn: they showed the power of youth-led, non-political, peaceful protests (the president agreed to a 0% fee increase for 2016), but they were also a cop-out by government, because neither the underlying issues nor the long-term challenges inherent in the education system were addressed.

I got back to Oxford on the Tuesday morning (after three days locked in the enke offices working on strategy). I was exhausted. The need for change has rarely felt simultaneously so urgent and so possible as it did that weekend and all I wanted to do was stay on the frontline to do whatever I could. Returning to the Oxford felt like I was running away.

Oxford is a bubble. The academic requirements of the year are only limited by how much time you choose to put in; there is a never-ending stream of fascinating talks and events so you don’t need to go elswhere for entertainment; thousands of people have uprooted themselves from their normal lives to create a temporary new world together. It feels like real life is suspended here. Returning to this, after a weekend of slap-you-in-the-face reality in South Africa, it felt like I was evading responsibility.

But when I arrived back to school, I remembered why taking a year out to do an MBA is so precious. From when we started enke in 2009 through to the last months of handover six years later, I was so absorbed in the day-to-day of the work – in designing and delivering programs, in fundraising, in management, in strategy, in impact measurement – that I didn’t make space to develop myself. And I was definitely not delivering my best work as a result.

This opportunity is so much more than the raw skills we learn in class. It’s the time out to think. It’s the weird and wonderful extra activities. It’s the people we get to engage with. It’s a year to invest in yourself, whatever that looks like for you.

I chose to come to Saïd Business School for the focus on social impact. So did a lot of other people here. That means that the conversations we have in the hallways between classes or over beer and pizza after school are just as valuable as any case study analysis or financial modeling we do. In the week since coming back from South Africa I’ve had the opportunity to brainstorm a friend’s business idea for increasing accessibility to ultrasounds in Kenya; I’ve discussed free will (or the absence thereof) over too much wine; I’ve have my assumptions about global financial systems challenged. While none of those things have immediate, tangible impact, in a years time, when all of this is over, everyone in this class should be better placed to do the work we choose. So while I’m not going to shake the conflict I feel from being in this bubble and not actively creating change this year, I hope that I’ll be more effective when I next get my hands dirty.