Rangan Srikhanta is a 2019-20 Skoll Scholar and MBA. He is dedicated to equal and fair education for all as a catalyst for future progression and access to opportunities for the world’s most marginalised communities. Rangan shares the story of how this came to be his passion and how he ended up at the University of Oxford doing his MBA.
My journey to Oxford isn’t a typical one,
but then again – as I soon found out, no one’s is!
Born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, my family and I
fled a civil war that would change the lives of millions of people. Arriving in
Australia, it took me many years to realise that social disadvantage transcends
nations and disproportionately affects minorities.
Many government policies when combined with
externalities, in whatever their form, first manifest as minor differences in
education and health in early childhood, but snowball into much wider social divides
later in life (lower life expectancy, lower employment opportunities and so on).
Layer in the rapidly changing landscape, thanks to technology – a fast forming
digital divide, would also become synonymous with an opportunity divide.
As fate would have it, in 2005, I found an opportunity to do something to contribute to improving access to educational opportunities for thousands of children by closing the digital divide. One laptop per Child (OLPC), was a partnership among businesses, NGOs, and governments to produce the world’s least expensive laptop and to distribute that device to children all around the world. I was intrigued by OLPC’s vision of bringing those sectors together to solve social problems. I was equally impressed by the low-cost laptop that OLPC proposed to create.
The device, which came to be called the XO,
would cost just $100 a piece to manufacture, had free and open software,
ultra-low power usage, a sunlight-readable screen and be field repairable.
Inspired on so many levels, I chose action
over theory, opting to make numerous late-night phone calls to MIT to figure
out what we could do to bring the project to Australia. Armed with what would
be my greatest asset, my child like naivety on how these projects came in to
being, I set upon a journey that would not only improve educational
opportunities for thousands of primary school children but also change my
entire trajectory in life.
Whilst our early days were focused on
advocacy, it wasn’t until after our volunteer group formalised into One Laptop
per Child Australia that I realised that the OLPC initiative needed a re-think
to some of its core principles.
After delivering computers to many remote
communities, it was clear that flying in, dropping off computers for free and
then leaving was not sustainable and would undermine our ability to improve
access and usage.
A major challenge facing remote schools in
Australia is the tenure of teachers. On average teachers last 8 months. Any
model that required face-to-face training was not scalable, would only serve to
build a dependency relationship on our organisation, and do little to build
local capacity to overcome teacher turnover.
In fact, we found there were many
dependencies on suppliers (by design) that resulted in schools being forced to
come back for repairs, support etc. This was a market failure that increased
the cost of technology and reduced access to those that needed it most.
After evolving our programme over 10 years,
raising just under $30 million to train over 2,000 teachers and deliver over
70,000 computers, it became clear that I needed time and space to reflect on my
journey into the future.
Truth be told, after the management
rollercoaster I’d been through over the past decade, I wasn’t convinced I
needed an MBA. But to classify Oxford’s MBA with its deep connection to the
Skoll Centre as ‘just another MBA’ is a career limiting move for anyone who wants
to lead an organisation deep into the 21st Century. It forms the
reason why I wanted to come here – this MBA, is a place to consider how
externalities need to be core business for all executives.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was how the power of such a resilient institution like Oxford could be a catalyst for my own change. In my short time on campus, not onlyhave I been able to reflect on why I came here, but have also started to reflect on where I will be going.
Dr. Diana Esther Wangari is a current 2019-20 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA. She is the co-founder of last mile health venture, Checkups Medical Centre in Kenya where she dedicates her work to treating those who need it most. Read more about what led her to Oxford.
does a young Kenyan doctor, who through her earlier years dreamt of being a
neurosurgeon, end up at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford?
The answer to this – oddly enough – is a question. And this question is, “Do you want your life to count for something – or not?”
Here’s my story.
In my fourth year of medical school, I stood in the middle of a pediatric ward, having failed to resuscitate a young boy of four years and I knew he did not have to die.
John died from a case of complicated pneumonia. We could treat pneumonia. He could have been treated from his own village; he didn’t have to travel over 300 kilometers to seek care. That time taken led to complications. He did not need to be in my ward.
On that day in the middle of the pediatric ward, I asked myself one question, “Who am I? What am I doing here?”
I was in the biggest referral hospital, but majority of our patients, consisted of those who didn’t need to be there. They had preventable and very treatable conditions that could have been handled in a facility in their towns or villages. And by the time they got to us, the case had often complicated.
But childhood dreams are not easily abandoned.
And thus, it was not until my fourth year in medical school that I was able to accept a stark fact of the health sector in a developing country like Kenya – that no matter how hard I worked, treating the patients that came to me, would not be enough. My clinical practice would not be enough. And, specifically, if I specialized in neurosurgery, I would cut myself off from the millions of Kenyans who would never in their lives encounter a neurosurgeon.
The kind of people whom I met every day as a fourth-year medical student – people whose courage in the face of adversity and extreme neglect sometimes moved me to tears – would no longer feature in my working day.
I suppose I should also be grateful that I was not only a medical student. Beginning from my second year, I had become, out of necessity, a fulltime journalist duly accredited by the Media Council of Kenya, having worked with Radio Netherlands and Reuters Foundation.
But between what I was learning from my colleagues in the newsroom and the unforgettable exposure to what ordinary Kenyans go through in their efforts to get treatment at a public hospital, a strange change came over me.
I began to feel that I would have to regard myself as a failure in life, if, as and when, my time was up, I had not made a tangible contribution to improving the quality of healthcare available to ordinary Kenyans.
Naïve as it will sound; I want my life to count for something. Naïve as it will sound; I believe I can have an impact, which will touch on not tens of thousands, but millions of lives. And naïve as it will sound; I believe that this is an ambition that is within my reach.
Newton said, “If I have
seen further than others, it is
by standing upon the shoulders of
I knew that Oxford University has historically been the abode of giants; and that it is a place where I too, can hope to stand on the shoulders of giants, and expand my vision of what I can do for my country and my continent.
“Who am I? What am I doing here?”
I am the future of the Kenyan healthcare establishment. I feel like that who have come before me, have done their best but there is a lot more that still needs to be done.
So “Who am I? And what I am doing at the Oxford University’s Saïd Business School?”
I am Dr. Diana Wangari, a doctor, a journalist and a healthcare entrepreneur. As co-founder of Checkups Medical Centre, a health tech startup that operates a network of rapid outpatient clinics to drive last mile distribution of drugs and healthcare services. This is not just a Kenyan issue; we operate in four African countries and plan to scale across Africa through partnerships and investments.
From what I have seen this far of the Skoll Network, the Saïd Business School and Oxford University Community, I am in the right place.
Tsechu Dolma is a current 2019-20 Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA. She is the founder of the Mountain Resiliency Project to help build resilient refugee communities through women’s agribusinesses. She reflects on her lived experience and how it led her to an impact career and an MBA at Oxford.
There are 25.4 million refugees in the world; children make up half of them; 3.5 million school-age refugee children do not go to school, and only one percent of refugees enroll in higher education. I was born into these statistics. I grew up in a Tibetan refugee camp and spent the first half of my life as a stateless person. Fleeing the civil war in Nepal, my family sought political asylum in the United States.
After becoming a new American, receiving my education there, then going back, I realized that my refugee community back home was stuck in a culture of waiting that international agencies had perpetuated and we had enhanced upon. Our community has been plagued with development barriers such as heavy youth outmigration, low student retention, poor water access and ethnic marginalization. But we were not working on solving our problems; instead, we waited for outsiders to bring in poorly designed, implemented and costly projects that would only last for a year or two. Inside the past decade, climate change and globalization has made living in the high-Himalayas increasingly more difficult and we cannot afford to wait. I made a risky leap so that we can reverse this development trend, and instead take a grassroots approach to foster local ownership, inclusion and capacity.
My entrepreneurial spirit brought me back to the refugee camps I left behind to start a social enterprise. I founded Mountain Resiliency Project six years ago while I was an undergraduate student. We have a proven track record of improving food security, women’s economic empowerment and leveling patchy development for 15,000 displaced farmers in Nepal. Our average families have increased their annual incomes by 200 percent. Most importantly, 80 percent of our family’s earned income is spent on their children’s continued education and the remaining is reinvested in their trade. I realize the value of hard work and grit in achieving our true potential. Our work has received international awards and recognition for making strides. Today, we have 15 full-time staff leading our work in Nepal. I am rethinking the underpinnings of development in my community that has continued to perpetrate marginalization and dispossession. My vision is to scale Mountain Resiliency’s work worldwide. We want to grow out of South Asia to become the first-ever global network of refugee communities producing and selling goods to the mainstream market. Being a Skoll Scholar has supported my growth as a social entrepreneur and broadened my scope of advocating for and strengthening displaced communities.
The Skoll Scholarship aligns with my lifelong values of growing into an effective leader with
the grit, vision and communication skills to be a steward to my community and
me, it is the tool to address inequities, development gaps and improve
livelihoods. From my work at Mountain Resiliency, I have firsthand experience
of how effective social enterprises that are deeply rooted in empathy and
relationship building can transform lives. Social entrepreneurship is the best
amalgamation of my passion and skills for how I want to influence the world. My
experience with displaced communities has taught me that when the system is
broken and continues to perpetrate disenfranchisement to the most vulnerable,
the solutions must come from the unconventional. On my journey through
different landscapes, I seek connections with the human and natural world to
find my place and understand economic development. The literature on human, nature
and policy has allowed me to use ideas from development discourse, like
‘participation’ and ‘sustainability’ in a way that is both effective and
critical. Displaced communities worldwide have little to no political leverage
and only extractive industries and projects are in their region; resulting in
inconsistent, patchy development. I intend to change this.
Anjali Sarker is a current 2019-20 Skoll Scholar on the Oxford MBA. She is passionate about empowering women’s rights through economic opportunity. She reflects on her impact journey so far and what led her to Oxford.
It was a hot summer afternoon in 2014. A group of middle-aged women were sitting under a tree, giving me and my colleague a very skeptical look as we were trying to explain how mobile payments could possibly make their lives easier. They did not seem to be convinced at all, for good reasons; at least for reasons that were valid to them.
“We, women, don’t understand those things… too complicated for us.”
“My husband handles all financial matters. Those are men’s responsibilities.”
“My marriage will be in trouble if I use mobile money. My in-laws will assume that I’m secretly sending money to my parents.”
I wondered if it was at all possible to challenge the age-old traditions and gender norms that made women believe that managing money is men’s business, and they should ‘stay out of it’. As a deep believer in gender equality, and being a woman myself, I wanted to challenge the status quo.
At that point, the mobile money revolution in Bangladesh was just building momentum. However, as with all new opportunities, it was mostly men who were able to utilise mobile money. In particular, rural and poor women lagged behind. By 2017, the number of mobile money account holders in Bangladesh shot to over 24 million, the highest in the world. Shockingly, at the same time, the gender gap in financial inclusion increased 20 percentage points within only 3 years, leaving 38 million women unbanked. BRAC, one of the largest NGOs in the world where I worked at the time, had been active in the microfinance industry since the early 1970s, providing rural women access to small loans. We saw mobile money as an opportunity to expand the coverage of financial services to every corner of the country. However, the challenge was how to take it to the poorest women who need it the most.
The next few years became a roller coaster ride for my team, pulling off a massive nationwide project, funded by the Gates Foundation, to get digital financial services to the fingertips of one million women (literally). Leading the project taught me more than I could have ever imagined – taking me to the remotest corners of the country and exposing my eyes to the harshest forms of poverty. On one hand, it was incredibly inspiring to see how our clients’ eyes lit up when they made their first digital transactions and sent money to their loved ones. On the other hand, I felt numb when I heard many stories of husbands’ abusing their wives for being “too independent”. I realised that beyond providing necessary services and ‘doing good’, development interventions should also take responsibility for the consequences, both intended and unintended, that come later.
“A more effective way of changing the status quo is to build a better system that makes the existing system obsolete.”
Anjali Sarker, 2019-20 Skoll Scholar
The project left my mind full of complex questions, which motivated me to take a two-year study leave. Before coming to Oxford for my MBA, I did an MSc at the London School of Economics, where I studied Inequalities and explored how emerging technologies impact the existing inequalities. Many people raise their eyebrows when I said that I was going to do an MBA, after studying “inequalities”! Aren’t these the two extremes of the world today where the richest 1% are exploiting the whole planet and the activists are protesting on streets to bring them down? Well, I believe the realities are much more complex and nuanced than that. One can choose to fight the system and in extreme cases of injustice, that might as well be the only option. However, in most situations, a more effective way of changing the status quo is to build a better system that makes the existing system obsolete. This hope for change is what inspired me and brought me to Oxford.
While looking into business schools, Oxford’s Saïd Business School clearly stood out because of the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship, the Skoll Scholarship, and the incredible privilege to be immersed within the wider Oxford University community. In fact, my motivation for an MBA was understanding the world of business and investing the knowledge, skills and connections gained in social good, specially to create systems that work for women. Unfortunately, women are still the biggest minority in the world. More often than not, their needs and realities do not get the attention they deserve. To make things worse, if they are poor, illiterate or live in rural areas, they become almost invisible to the systems and decision-makers. My hope is that spending this year in Oxford, and all the incredible opportunities that come with an MBA from Oxford Saïd, will enable me to better serve millions of invisible women in Bangladesh.
Joaquín Víquez is a 2019-20 Oxford MBA and Skoll Scholar. He began his social impact career in his native country, Costa Rica, where his passion for environmental sustainability led him to many projects and ventures. Now Joaquin finds himself among 300+ other global MBA candidates in one of the world’s oldest institutions, the University of Oxford.
It might sound strange, but I truly enjoy the smell of coffee berries. Most coffee drinkers don’t even know what that is because coffee travels around the world as a bean and not the actual berry. The coffee berry is processed the same day it’s harvested, and in just a few days the coffee bean is ready for shipping. I know this because I grew up in a family dedicated to small scale coffee farming and livestock. By the way, I also enjoy the smell of horses and cacao fermentation.
Growing up around agriculture provided me with a sense of what it means to ‘live off the land’ so to speak, the hardships and of course, the rewards. It helped me develop a sense of empathy towards an industry that feeds the world. It also caused me to develop questions, I didn’t realize then, that was going to become an essential part of my career. For example, what happens to the coffee skin/peel after the bean is extracted? What do they do with such “waste”?
Naturally, this upbringing influenced me to undertake a degree in agriculture science, which I did in Costa Rica at EARTH University. During my time at school, I started specializing on biogas technology. Biogas converts, through a biochemical process, organic waste into fertilizer and methane, which can be used as energy. In other words, a farm just like the one I grew up on, could convert the cow dung into energy for cooking.
Back then, if I had to describe my “dream job” stepping right out of college, it would’ve been a 95% match to my actual first job. I ended up leading a team who advised dairy farmers how to properly manage their in-farm waste (mainly cow dung). At that time, regulations were urging the largest dairy cooperative in Costa Rica to align its farmers to produce environmentally friendly. I continue to advocate the use of biogas among these dairy farms. Having learnt there wasn’t an actual product in the market for small scale biogas farmers, I decided to quit this job and start a social venture to make biogas an accessible technology among farmers.
Entrepreneurs always describe how difficult but worthwhile is to run your own business; I can’t but agree! The company (Viogaz) officially operated for six years. We became a renown biogas company with the greatest number of biogas projects in Costa Rica. During this time, we were recognised and awarded for the work we were doing, plus creating tangible impact in the region. Unfortunately, a combined set of unexpected events fell upon the company, which obliged me to shut down the project at the end of 2017.
I learned that doing business while having an environmental priority is possible and highly gratifying. So, just as I decided to do an MSc to strengthen my technical knowledge, I started considering doing an MBA to strengthen my business knowledge. Coincidentally, I received a newsletter announcing the Skoll Scholarship to study at Saïd Business School on a renown MBA program with a strong focus on responsible and social business, at the University of Oxford. This scholarship sought to support entrepreneurs doing good through business. I thought to myself: “that’s what I have been doing for all my career” … I decided to apply.
Fast forward, 12 months later, I find myself at a 400-year-old
pub in the heart of Oxford writing this blog. I couldn’t be more excited,
thrilled, and inspired to be here. I am very much looking forward to the future.
And although my future is not set in stone, I plan to continue to explore new
business ideas in areas of waste-to-resource and climate change, as well open
to also join an organization tackling these problems.
…And by the way, going back to my child questions, coffee peel/skin is still disposed of inadequately, causing tremendous environmental impact, meaning there is still lots of work to do.
Daniela Gheorghe is one of our 2018-19 Skoll Scholars on the Oxford MBA. Natively from Romania, Daniela has lived and worked in India for the last seven years where she has helped numerous families gain access to affordable health and education. Here she describes her journey to Oxford.
It was 2008. I was on a plane to Germany. I just received an Erasmus scholarship to study at a German university for six months. I spent 30 minutes writing my application for the scholarship three months before. That’s how much it took me to accomplish this on my own: my first time flying, my first time out of Romania. There, while looking at the clouds, I understood that I could achieve anything I intend to achieve. If I set my mind on the goal, I can do anything (and fly anywhere)!
Above the clouds, in that minute, I understood my potential for the first time! I was 22.
what if all children understand and realize their potential early? Imagine what
that world would look like.
For the last four years, I have been serving poor parents’ aspiration. Families with a household income of less than $300 per month spend 13% of this income on education. What is their return on investment? Their return on primary education investment is very low as children spend five years in schools without being able to calculate, read or express themselves in the language of their books.
When aspirations meet willingness to pay, demand is
defined and so, a market.
In 2014, I co-founded vChalk. At vChalk, we sell fun English learning activities on a mobile app to schools and parents for students to transition from learning English as a second language to being confident and expressive using it. Four years have passed; bootstrapping, improving the model, winning national and international competitions (we raised about $35,000 from different awards). We supported more than 80 teachers and 2500 students to catch up on foundation skills for learning. We tested a pricing model of less than $10 per year/child. We crossed a sales revenue of$12,000 in 2017. However, the business model was not ready for large scale.
Before my time at vChalk, I worked in political marketing and the non-profit sector in Romania. When I came to India in 2011 for an internship through AIESEC I thought it was just for a few months.
did I know I would spend more than seven years in India.
This is the place I discovered social entrepreneurship. I knew it was for me. But seven years later, I still feel I don’t know how to solve the world’s most challenging problems.
I am honored to be in Oxford. Honored and privileged. Just four months ago I couldn’t imagine that I would be here. It is so incredible how life turns around.
why am I here?
Firstly, I’m here to take a step back. I’m here to try to understand what I can do better to positively impact more children. I’m here to learn about systems thinking and I understand that I can do so much more than being a start-up founder. I’m here to discover where I can place myself in my next role to see my work have long-term positive impact on low-income families.
On a personal level, I seek to be happy with my work every day. I want to be a doer and dedicate my hard work to something meaningful that empowers people. I need to grow myself as a person, to learn to pace my efforts, to become more diplomatic and wiser so that I learn from failures. This MBA will help me grow. It will hone my financial and business skills too.
Finally, Oxford adds weight to my voice. It gives me a chance to be heard in important decision-making forums for change at large scale. It gives me a chance to join some of the greatest minds out there to tackle the world’s most difficult problems.
I am here to reach my full potential. To build connections, gain learning and gather insights that will last a life-time.