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Map the System: Youth Suicide Crisis in India

On 15-17 June 2020, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its Global Final virtually. The team from Amani Institute competed against 30 other finalists from institutions around the world. Team members Bhairavi Prakash, Maya Narayan, Anshul Agrawal, Neeraja Kulkarni and Tushara Ravindranath tell us how they mapped the system for addressing youth suicide crisis in India.

In February this year, when India had still not experienced the gravity of the COVID19 pandemic, five of us got together and decided to participate in the Map the System 2020 challenge. Although we come from diverse backgrounds, Bhairavi (Psychology), Anshul and Maya (Systems Thinking), Neeraja (Design Thinking) and Tushara (Academic Research), the common thread which connects us together is that we are all young professionals who have spent at least two decades of our lives, being a part of the Indian education system, and have been witness to some of the challenges it exposes students to. The situation has only gotten from bad to worse in the past decade, where roughly one Indian student dies by suicide every hour. Given the alarming rate of deaths by suicide among Indian youth, we chose to explore the various factors that contribute to this crisis.

Secondary Research

We undertook extensive literature review and realised that death by suicide is a complex biopsychosocial phenomenon, requiring a multi-sectoral approach for tackling. We particularly looked at Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) as spaces, where psychosocial determinants play out in myriad ways.

Primary Research

We created an online survey (436 student participants) across different HEIs in India to understand this issue. The survey had questions on factors that impacted student wellbeing, and on coping mechanisms that they used to deal with emotional distress. In addition to the survey, we also conducted 10 in-depth interviews of experts working in the fields of education, mental health policy and practice, funding ecosystem, etc.

Following were the findings from our research:

  1. Complex bio-psycho-social factors can contribute to emotional distress, which can lead to death by suicide.
  2. Young people are open about their struggles with mental health, however, usage of services is low.
  3. Deaths by suicide are found across the spectrum of HEIs in India, not just engineering and medical institutions.
  4. There are barriers to both seeking and providing help, which widens the treatment gap among young people.

Problem Landscape

We used system mapping tools to further analyse the data collected. We identified four major systems that interact to have an impact on one’s mental wellbeing. Interconnections between these systems, further exacerbate the challenges faced by youth, affecting their mental wellbeing.

We also classified the existing solutions in three categories: Knowledge and Awareness, Services and Skills.

Shifting the Burden Archetype

Analysing the current solutions landscape, we found an overwhelming focus on short-term remedial solutions that are easier to formulate and less expensive. This consequently, acts as a barrier to implementing restorative solutions that address the root causes and could have a long-term impact on reducing emotional distress.

Gaps & Levers

We observed multiple political, social, cultural, and economic factors, possibly acting as tipping points that contribute to suicidal ideation amongst young people. Based on these factors, we identified four overarching gaps in the system and 22 levers for systemic change.

Key Learnings from Systems Mapping

  1. Deaths by suicide are symptomatic of larger structural and systemic challenges and completely preventable.
  2. Preventive interventions for youth suicide need to be prioritised in schools, colleges, families, communities, and society at large.
  3. Contextualisation and scalability are important factors for proper understanding of the problem space, and require adequate human and financial capital.
  4. Visualisation of the system by diverse stakeholders can help build a comprehensive narrative that is key to determine the success of interventions.

Way Forward

Being one among the top 31 global finalists at Map the System 2020, was a wonderful opportunity to connect with systems thinkers across the globe, and learn about the complex problems they are working upon.

To further our study and alleviate this challenge, we have applied for a Think Tank Grant. Our goal is to organise an immersive conference and introduce contemplative practices (traditional forms including yoga and meditation, and expressive forms including art, theatre, and movement therapy) for building resilience and emotional regulation in young people.

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Skoll Centre launches Impact Lab programme

The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship this year launches the “Impact Lab”, a one year co-curricular programme designed to enable Oxford MBA students to take a leading role in tackling the complex and pressing social and environmental challenges of our world.

The programme cultivates the knowledge, tools and personal leadership qualities needed to drive ambitious and systemic change across sectoral and organisational boundaries. Weekly workshop sessions and in-depth bootcamps with leading practitioners and thought leaders cover topics such as systems thinking, human centred design, impact measurement and impact investing. In tandem with this, through action learning and access to executive coaches, Impact Lab participants are supported in deepening their self-awareness, developing character, and understanding their own impact leadership journeys. The programme concludes with an opportunity for Lab members to create and deliver a personal talk on their own journey, how they have changed and the impact they wish to have on the world.

Building on our successful pilot “Skoll Academy” in 2017, the Impact Lab launched on October 6 this year with an inaugural cohort of 38 fantastic MBA students selected through an application process. Lab participants include students from a range of backgrounds, including:

  • Julie Greene, a social entrepreneur who ran bakeries across East Africa providing vocational training, employment and wellness services to women;
  • Sergio Navarro, a former VP at Goldman Sachs, doctor and founder of a health-tech company using augmented reality to deliver rehabilitation therapy;
  • Kudzai Chigiji director of a Pan-African advisory and infrastructure development company, currently operating in education and healthcare across East, West and Southern Africa;
  • Mridhula Sridharan, an investment strategist who has advised high net worth individuals, corporates and foundations across India and enabled investments to be directed into development initiatives.

The ethos of the Lab cultivates peer-led and peer-to-peer activities, and students are actively engaged in shaping the evolution of the Lab across the Oxford year.

In light of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the ambitious targets in the Paris Climate Agreement and the multiple social and environmental challenges facing our world, now more than ever, we need leaders who can understand these interconnected and complex issues, design and execute effective interventions, and lead teams, organisations and movements.

For more information or if you would like to collaborate, feel free to contact us. Many of the Impact Lab presenters are also running public sessions as part of the Skoll Centre Speaker Series. More information can be found on the Saïd Business School events listing.

By Shruthi Vijaykumar, Skoll Centre Associate

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News that Serves

Closing the Gap – a series of Oxford University postgraduate student insights to the Skoll World Forum 2018

Kevin Warner, Skoll Scholar and 2017-18 MBA, at Saïd Business School, covers the Skoll World Forum session ‘News That Serves’.

There are many unknowns in the future of news media.

Who will do the reporting? Who is going to pay for it? How will consumers engage?

What we do know: Media reporting will be decentralized. It will be lean. And it will be interactive.

Wednesday’s Skoll World Forum panel discussion, News that Serves, painted a bleak picture in the broad landscape of international media, highlighting the Orwellian monospeak scandal of Sinclair Media, the “fake news and hate speech fuelling a genocide in Burma”, and the startling statistic that only 13% of people have unfettered access to a fair and open news. With the decline of democracy, warned moderator Pam Mitchell, “the first thing that goes is a free media”.

While decidedly grim, the visiting panel presented promising solutions for an industry that has struggled to evolve in the digital age.

Mainstream media was slow to adopt social media, but the new medium has increasingly afforded unprecedented news access to underserved peoples and given reporting opportunities to populations without the pedigree of elite western journalism schools.

Where some international news conglomerates have lost their reputation for integrity, independent media organizations have flourished through a focus on authenticity. According to Cristi Hegranes, Founder and Executive Director of Global Press Institute, the purpose of “journalism at its core, is to serve the truth”, and the diversification of global reporting is bringing authenticity back to the news.

For NPR executive editor, Edith Chapin, “public media doesn’t have enough resources to squander”. Efficiency will be achieved through better coordination of regional member stations to reduce redundancy of reporting and avoid the “six-year-olds at the soccer game” style of every reporter chasing the same story.

Laura Flanders’ experience as an independent journalist is that, “media at the margins exists today” and is uniquely situated to serve the public interest. Minority networks are working efficiently and independently through proximity to their customers. This proximity allows for news coverage that engages with community and delivers independent media that consumers trust.

While there is cause for concern in this era of fake news and the decline of mainstream investigative journalism, the panel showed an undoubted optimism for what the future holds for news media. It is clear that through innovation and evolution, news will continue to find ways to best serve the public good.

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Media Matters: The Future of News

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Andrew Ng, Oxford MBA at the Saïd Business School, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Media Matters: The Future of News”.

In today’s fast paced world, there is high demand for quick news on the go to suit our busy lifestyles. The way we consume news has changed dramatically, at breakneck speed. Just two decades ago, radio, TV and print news dominated this arena. The proliferation of social media platforms has resulted in a democratisation of news; however, this new reach has also brought with it some new and complex challenges.

On Friday, 7 May, the Skoll World Forum 2017 brought together a panel of leading voices in the media industry to discuss the key opportunities and challenges ahead.

Pat Mitchell (Founder & President, Pat Mitchell Media) opened with a sobering reminder of the significance of this conversation: it is not about job preservation; rather, it is about whether we as a global population continue to have open and free access to critical information.

Traditional business models are being disrupted, with leading social media platforms now claiming the lion’s share of revenue from viewership. While quality journalism continues to be a labour-intensive, time-consuming activity, key revenue streams are drying up, creating increased reliance on grants and fundraising. Trust in the media is at an all-time low. The proliferation of “fake news” at an unprecedented pace and scale has led to implications for not just the media industry, but democracy itself. Big data and analytics have been used for nefarious purposes in targeting the voting public, while many media companies are left wondering how to keep up with the pace of technological advancement amidst shrinking resources.

Andrew Jack (Reporter, Financial Times) contrasted the implications of digital and social. Digital has been beneficial, slashing costs and making it easier to engage with readers. Meanwhile, the social side has been more challenged, due to disintermediation. Katharine Viner (Editor-in-Chief, Guardian News & Media, The Guardian) shared how the forces of social media have been tremendously beneficial for readership, but financially detrimental.

The implications and appropriate response for each media provider are different, and majorly dependent on the organisation’s ownership structure and business model. The Guardian has responded by seeking to grow its revenue through the membership scheme and contributions, both of which have found success. With providers like National Public Radio (NPR), the model brings the business community and government together with philanthropy. As Edith Chapin of NPR put it, “in some ways, public media in US is a piñata at the moment”; the audience has a big say. She emphasised the need for keeping financial health by maintaining multiple revenue streams, whether from advertising, corporate or philanthropic sources, and the need for quality content and programming. For example, All Things Considered (ATC), the flagship news program on NPR that premiered in 1971, has offered viewers more than what they get through evening news. Quality journalism calls for investment of time and effort to dig deep into communities and feed insights into strong regional or national approaches.

On issue of financial sustainability, Kinsey Wilson (EVP Product & Tech; Editor, Innovation/Strategy, The New York Times) pointed out how “serious news of quality has always been cross-subsidised.” For example, with newspapers, this was achieved through classified advertising. The future of quality news is likely to involve continued cross-subsidisation, if not re-bundling.

In closing, Edith challenged fellow media providers to “make the best content and fight by showing value in what we are creating… This is the challenge of our lifetime. Let’s take that hill.” Indeed, it is this spirit that fills me with hope for the future of news.

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We the People: Populism and progress

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Skoll Scholar and MBA Candidate 2016-17, John Kakungulu Walugembe, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “We the People: Populism and progress“.

We the People: Populism and progess panel

We the People: Populism and progess panel

When President Donald J. Trump announced his intention to seek the Republican party nomination, under the slogan, “Make America Great Again”; many considered this to be one of the many publicity stunts, he had become famous for: The Daily News compared him to a clown, the Trentonian’s headline was: “I am rich”. On the contrary, the Boston Herald cautiously predicted that Trump’s running, would be impactful. Well, in the end, they were right. Contrary to mainstream predictions; he went on to clinch not only the Republican party nomination, but also the Presidency of the sole superpower – the United States of America. How could an individual with no political experience get himself elected using xenophobic and misogynistic tactics? My view is that we should have seen this coming. The rise of populist leaders like Donald Trump, Nigel Farage in the United Kingdom, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Marine Le Pen in France in the recent past is well documented. These leaders seek to discredit the establishment by labelling it “corrupt and dishonest” as compared to “regular, hard-working and honest” people. They also tend to appeal to nationalistic sentiments by attributing the challenges faced by “ordinary folks” to “immigrants from other countries” or what they consider to be unfair dealings, by other countries or institutions.

One is compelled to ask several pertinent questions? What explains this surge in populist sentiment across the West? Is this a new phenomenon or history has had precedents? Are there economic explanations for this phenomenon and if so, how should the world respond?  I do not think that there is a single explanation for this rise in “populism”. However, many researchers admit that there is a linkage between the rise of populism and economic inequality, in the west. There is no doubt that globalization, technological advancement and the rise in immigration have led to tangible benefits for humanity, as a whole. However, it appears, they have also led to the disenfranchisement of significant sections of society; who now feel, “ignored and left behind” Rising levels of national prosperity have been accompanied by a growing gap between the “haves and the have-nots”, due to unemployment, redundancy and low wages. The 2008 financial crisis, in particular, led to an explosion of anger among those who felt that the system had been “rigged” to favour Wall Street and the establishment. It is therefore not surprising that populist politicians have tended to exploit and benefit from the economic grievances of the unemployed and working class who have been hit hardest, by the forces of the “market”. Donald Trump has referred to this adverse economic situation, as the “American carnage” in which American factories were shattered, millions of American workers left jobless and “their wealth” redistributed. Anne-Marie Slaughter, the President and CEO of New America cautiously agreed with this position in today’s session, when she talked of the brokenness in America’s infrastructure, campaign financing system and policy framework that may need fixing, if the system is to work for all.

On the other hand, others have attributed this rise in populism to socio-cultural factors. According to this school of thought; the shift in the value system of western societies over the last forty years away from traditional to liberal/secular values, was bound to elicit a backlash. Older citizens in these countries look suspiciously at the left’s liberal agenda, including support for; human rights, immigration, gender equality and LGBT rights. The hosting of refugees, the openness to immigration and the granting of asylum to individuals from volatile and troubled parts of the world, elicited resentment and xenophobia, in this group. Demagogue politicians have therefore exploited these fears to capture power by democratic means; a view shared by Ernesto Zedillo, the Director of the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. For example, Nigel Farage and the Vote Leave campaign in the UK promised to cut net migration to under 50,000 and to reinvest the £350m which they claimed the UK sends to Brussels each week, in the National Health Service (NHS). No wonder, in a 2014 press conference, Nigel expressed his discomfort at hearing only foreign languages being spoken by other passengers, on a London train journey. Unfortunately, such racist remarks simply serve to solidify his support base.

It is interesting that populism is not an entirely new phenomenon. History is full of examples of populists who have appealed to popular discontent and gotten elected: From Lajos Kossuth in Hungary, Hitler in Germany, Benito Mussolini in Italy to the more recent examples in Latin America. Perhaps, Latin America, more than any another continent, has had the largest share of populist leaders such as; Alberto Fujimori in Peru, Alvaro Correa in Ecuador, Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, Fernando Lugo in Paraguay and Morales in Bolivia. What lessons can we draw from these countries in tackling populism? I consider their context to be quite different, from the one in the West.

As I close, I wish to be optimistic; by proposing solutions:  First, it is important that there is a recognition, on both sides of this issue that certain things need to change. It is true globalization has been beneficial to humanity, as a whole. However, some sections of society, feel excluded. As such, there is need for better regulation of markets to ensure inclusion of the most vulnerable. National economic growth must translate into prosperity for everyone. Investments in social services and job creation for low skilled workers, is key. As Emma Mortensen, the co-founder of Crisis Action, mentioned in today’s session; we must create a society that works for everyone.  In my opinion, this is where social entrepreneurship can become a game changer. Second, it is important that we listen to each other. The rise of social media, has had the unintended effect of facilitating siloed debate. People choose with whom to interact, based on common interests; and tend to avoid those with whom they disagree. This deficiency can be addressed by facilitating conversations among groups that may be on opposing sides of issues. Finally, we must learn to listen to each other.  As Emily Kasriel, the Head of Editorial Partnerships and Special Projects at the BBC World Service Group advised in her closing remarks; we should look out for people with whom we do not necessarily agree, on issues and listen to them.

John is a Skoll Centre Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA programme, he is also the founder of Better-Livelihoods Uganda, a community-based organisation working in rural areas of Uganda to improve the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable people. 

Follow John: @JohnWalugembe

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Civil Discourse in the Social Media Age

Forging Common Ground – Series of Oxford Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2017.

Daniel Stokey, MBA Candidate 2016-17 at the Saïd Business School, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Civil Discourse in the Social Media Age”.

Panel moderator Manoush Zomorodi, Host and Managing Editor of WNYC Radio, began the session by asking the audience, roughly 100 people in Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre, how many get their news from social media. I turn to see the vast majority of hands shoot up, well over 62%, the 2016 statistic about Americans used in the blurb introducing this session. Below are my takeaways from the lively discussion that followed, introducing the challenges we face in an increasingly polarized world where social media dominates the spread of information.

The Power of Social Media

Eli Pariser, Co-founder of Upworthy, put the issue in perspective, asserting that Facebook, as the world’s largest forum for media distribution, is in fact the biggest media company in our planet’s history. However, Facebook does not claim to be a media company, and is completely opaque to research. This is a problem, as the power and influence that Facebook wields has a profound impact on our society. Eli goes on to explain that Facebook is a system that optimizes for engagement, through algorithms that seek to maximize time spent. However, Facebook’s agnostic approach to how users spend time almost exclusively shows content that confirms what they already believe.

The other challenge with social media is the potential for spread of misinformation. Phil Howard, Professor of Sociology, Information, and International Affairs at the Oxford Internet Institute, shares results from their recent study showing that 50% of websites shared by users in Michigan prior to the US election was “junk news,” a 1-1 ratio of professional journalism to unverified sources. He also shared findings that Bots (automated internet traffic and social media accounts) played a significant role in the US election, making Trump seem more popular than in reality early on, and driving the proliferation of negative content about candidate Hillary Clinton in the weeks leading up to the election.

The Responsibility of Citizens

Matthew Segal, Founder and Editor in Chief at ATTN:, believes that trying to resist social media, like resisting automation, is futile. In addition, he argued strongly throughout the session that the responsibility to stop the spread of fake news ultimately lies with citizens. The burden is on all of us to investigate the credibility of our news sources, and not necessarily on a single entity like Facebook to stop the spread of fake news. Ultimately, he asserted that an undue amount of blame has been placed on Facebook for the Trump victory, and not enough on a genuine change in electorate views. While credible news sources need to adapt their product to social media platforms and do their best to inform the public, much of the burden lies with us to do our own fact checking.

Right vs. Left

A third unavoidable issue that arose during this session was the dichotomy of right vs. left. Eli Pariser shared results from a study conducted through web-browser plugins, which measured how often Americans visit fact checking sites versus sites deemed to be “fake news.” Findings showed that Americans on the right of the political spectrum spent more time consuming fake news. Those on the left are least exposed to fake news, and most likely to visit fact checking sites. This gap in news consumption practices poses a real challenge. However, there is an underlying assumption here that we, all of the people in this session know the facts, and that those on the left of the political spectrum have the truth on their side. The danger here is in minimizing or ridiculing those with differing political views. One disturbing trend in America today was raised by an audience question from Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO of New America. More and more, she argues, we tend to demonize people on the other side of the political spectrum. Not only are they different or wrong, they are evil.

Half of the Conversation

As we sit in perhaps the most concentrated echo chamber on earth, at the University of Oxford among CEOs, celebrities, and academics, it feels somewhat disingenuous to discuss ways to “fix” this problem. A quick glance this morning at the front pages of ATTN: and Upworthy reveals exactly what I would expect – negative stories about Ivanka Trump, positive stories about Michelle Obama, the plight of refugees, and articles on gay rights and interracial harmony. Let me be clear, I am the target market for both media outlets, and agree with literally all of these sentiments. However, it doesn’t strike me as an objective panel discussing this issue. The “civil discourse” that played out on stage took place among three panelists and a moderator that clearly all lean heavily to the left of the political spectrum. Yet as we have learned in the past year, a large percentage of the US and UK population are not onboard with this narrative. What would a laid-off auto worker in a closed GM plant in Morraine, Ohio have to say on this topic?

Near the end of the session, Eli Pariser shared his belief that one of the most powerful ways to break down implicit bias is to spend time in another person’s world, and to genuinely try to understand their perspective. This is the best way to build empathy, yet unfortunately it is so often missing from our lives. This is true not just in the context of social media, but in our education systems, workplaces, and conferences.