One year at Oxford

Julie Greene is a 2018-19 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA, and co-founder of The Women’s Bakery in Rwanda. She recounts her time and whirlwind journey on the MBA programme this year.

This year was, frankly, much harder than I expected. I didn’t think that getting back into the swing of school would be such an adjustment, I had forgotten how short and dark the days are in northern hemisphere winters, and I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of changes I would need to navigate with my company and my own personal direction during the year.

Transitioning back into school was not hard so much in the academic sense (although trust me, the workload was challenging!) as it was in the day to day motivational sense. I was so used to fast paced, hands on start-up life. Where every day brought new problems to solve, visible successes or new challenges, and constant connection with the women our company was working with. By comparison, sitting in class lectures day after day felt impersonal and theoretical. I could certainly connect classroom ideas to potential application in The Women’s Bakery, but I missed the action, the constant feedback, and the personal connection to my work.

Image of Julie Greene

As the days grew shorter, and the business finance exam loomed larger, I sometimes questioned what I was even doing here. Why had I taken time away from my passion, to sit in lectures all day and learn about corporate finance? What does a small-scale social entrepreneur need to know about corporate finance anyways? (It turns out, a lot.) At the same time, having stepped away from the day to day of my company, I had to face another reality: I was drained. I took the incredibly difficult decision in January to leave my company, which was something I had not considered before coming to the MBA.

With all of these changes, the first half of the year felt like a pretty long road for me. I often felt like I should be joining a case competition, or should be more social and end more of my nights at the ever popular bar Hank’s. But, with the support of a lot a great colleagues, classmates, and mentors I gave myself what I really needed – permission. Permission to take time and process, permission to be more introverted than extroverted in a program of over 300 incredible people, and permission to grieve and deeply reflect on one ending before throwing myself into any of the million new possibilities in front of me.

Image of the team at London Bridge

And eventually, the days did get longer again. The sun started to shine a bit more frequently, and stressing about corporate finance turned into choosing thought provoking electives. The spring filled up as I planned and led a student trek to Rwanda to explore the social enterprise and impact ecosystem, and worked with a team to develop a business plan for an impact focused craft brewery in Rwanda. I even found myself at Hank’s a few times. Before I knew it, the year was winding down.

As I was nearing the end of the final term, researching and writing thousands of words for what felt like endless papers, something clicked. I was reading an article and it struck me – what I had just read, full of terminology and references to all kinds of financing options, would have been nearly gibberish to me a year prior. Yes, I would have had a general sense of what was going on, but I wouldn’t have grasped any of the specifics. And then I had the same experience listening to a podcast. And then listening in to a conversation next to me in a café. Like an image coming into focus, the year came together for me. Despite all the challenges and grey days and distance from the work I am passionate about, I had in fact amassed a lot of knowledge. I had gained a new understanding of the world around me, from sustainable supply chains to impact investing, from trust in technology to raising capital. Of course, you go to school expecting to learn. But there is still something truly amazing about the moments when things click.

Image of Julie Greene beside a Castle Mount

I walked into this year thinking I knew where I was headed when I walked out. The specific destination has changed for me it is now completely unknown. But I am walking out confident that I have grown and learned, that I have been challenged, and that I have an incredible community that will support me as I find my next direction.

Julie Greene, 2018-19 Skoll Scholar.


From Farms to Forests: Land Rights as an Impact Multiplier

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

In a social enterprise space dominated by philanthropic or investment dollars that are often chasing the latest innovation, it is easy to overlook a time-tested conservation strategy that costs close to zero – supporting indigenous land rights.

Panellist José de los Santos Sauna Limaco is a tribal leader and governor of the Kogui Arhuaco indigenous reserve in Colombia. He could hardly have appeared more different from your typical social entrepreneur, but his community and others like it are on the front lines of conserving some of the world’s most biodiverse ecosystems.

José de los Santos Sauna Limaco

As other panellists pointed out, indigenous reserves often produce better results than national parks, drastically reducing deforestation while costing governments and the international community virtually nothing.

Kogui Arhuaco Indigenous Reserve in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia

As the spread of technology and consumerism accelerate and rainforests disappear, the traditional livelihoods of tribal communities may seem like a thing of the past. However, this largely depends on indigenous people’s land titles and tenancy laws, even if these laws do not fully reflect the cultural and spiritual importance of the land. Gaia Amazonas CEO Francisco von Hildebrand has worked for 30 years to protect an indigenous reserve the size of Greece in the rainforests of Colombia, ensuring that nations such as the Kogui Arhuaco will have a future. Hildebrand remembers that “Indigenous leaders didn’t understand how a piece of paper could mean ownership of the land if it belongs to birds, trees, and flowers.”

Protected Lands have grown in Colombia from 2009 – 2019

Chris Jochnick, CEO of Landesa, pointed out that most of the poorest people in the world are rural, depend on the land for their livelihoods, and don’t have secure rights to the land. For first world audiences, it can be hard to understand the full damage done to indigenous people whose land is routinely damaged or taken away by governments and business interests such as mining and oil. “Would you put a new roof on your house if it might be taken away? Once you give the land a title, it changes the incentive structure. It changes the whole cycle of development outcomes.” said Jochnick.

However, truly recognizing indigenous voices can sometimes mean questioning the paradigm of development itself. Ralph Regenvanu, who has served as a member of Parlament and Minister of Lands of the pacific island Republic of Vanuatu, helped restore the customary rights of indigenous people in his country. He has also been involved in efforts to decolonize development indicators in order to better reflect the quality of life in a non-cash traditional economy. Although international organizations can use their own metrics, Vanuatu demands that they also include 3 measures in their analysis: Free access to land and resources, traditional knowledge and practice, and vitality of communities. Vanuatu is also studying Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Index.

Even as the world faces critical new threats to rainforests and indigenous lands, persistence and certain victories by indigenous organizers are still a reason for hope. Panellist Jennifer Corpuz described the struggle of her community of Kankana-ey Igorot people in the Philippines against a dam funded by the World Bank in the 1970s – 1980s. The project was successfully blocked by years of activism, but new Chinese investment has reignited the struggle to protect Karinga lands and homes. Jennifer said that this project is arrogant because “The land will outlive us. We are just borrowing it from future generations.”

Jennifer Corpuz

The clash of cultures was on full display when José de Los Santos was asked how he measures the wellbeing of his people. He replied that although he is aware that scientific tests demonstrate that his community has clean water and pure air, for his community these tests are not necessary because they have their own ways of knowing the territory that is their spiritual home. He said “The very water itself will speak to us. The earth will speak to us.” 

About the Author

Alexander Wankel

As founder of Kai Pacha Foods, Alex launched the first plant-base milk made with native quinoa and tarwi – two climate-smart miracle crops scalably produced by smallholder farmers in Peru using regenerative agriculture practices. As a current Skoll Scholar, Alex hopes to use his MBA to support a more biodiverse food system while supporting local land rights in Andean communities.


Accelerating Global Health Delivery

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

This session conducted by the leadership team of Partners in Health was scheduled for 7 am on the 10th of April. Hence by design it self-selected for individuals who were extremely motivated to learn from the experience of Partners in Health in Global Health Delivery.

Partners in Health (PIH) is a Boston-based nonprofit health care organization founded in 1987 by Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Thomas J. White, Todd McCormack, and Jim Yong Kim.

The organization’s goals are “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.” It provides healthcare in the poorest areas of developing countries. It builds hospitals and other medical facilities, hires and trains local staff, and delivers a range of healthcare, from in-home consultations to cancer treatments.

The session was led by Dr. Joia Mukherjee, and was facilitated by her colleagues Dr. Gary GottliebDr. Abera Lotha

The session delved into a nuance in global health delivery which are often ignored. Dr. Mukherjee asserted that the successful delivery of healthcare ought to be reviewed through three lenses.

  1. A justice framework
  2. Human rights framework
  3. Social determinants of health framework

The first two are not given their due share of discussion since perhaps as healthcare professionals we feel this is beyond our scope of work however, they are essential to an equitable delivery of good health for all.

The justice framework requires retrospective reflection. Many of the inequities we observe as global health delivery agents are not just because people who we aim to benefit do not know better or that there is lack of will to correct the structural problems that exist. Instead, the source of these issues come from a history of colonization, practices of slavery and exploitation of certain regions by others. The damage from these unfortunate parts of our collective history is immense. While these chapters of history cannot be undone, it would not be prudent to completely forget about these issues as important causative factors towards why certain regions struggle to this day with diseases that the developed world has long overcome. Hence, keeping them in our purview as we think about global health would ensure such injustices are never repeated.

The second framework is the human rights framework. Today we live in a world where almost everything we do, any service we receive or any item we own has input from many different regions. This is especially more applicable to the socioeconomic strata attending this forum or can read this narrative that I write today. When we live in a globalized world of commerce then a question that arises is why our human rights are different depending on national borders. What would be considered exploitation in one country would be considered fair trading practices in another. The world is much more comfortable with utilitarian notions of healthcare service delivery for the poor but not the same yardstick is applied to the wealthy. These are deep-seated, class-based biases that ought to be brought out in the fore and the repercussions of these biases need to be corrected or else the inequities we wish to overcome will always plague us in some way or form. This philosophy of healthcare delivery is reflected in the work of Partners in Health throughout the world. They believe all that they interact within their ecosystems are owed a similar chance towards healthcare services.

Finally, the social determinants of health were also discussed. This is an area quite often discussed and debated on in Global Health conversations. The impact of where you are born, your gender, your education and such all impact health outcomes. This has been researched and well documented. Dr. Mukherjee added a nuance to this conversation though. She proposed that instead of calling it social determinants of health we should label this effect the social forces of health since these socioeconomic markers are not just a correlation but have vector component to them as well hence the relabeling to a “force” would more accurately depict the relationship.

One of the key takeaways from this session was that healthcare is clearly a political and a social issue. And in our respective communities, to enable meaningful healthcare change we must interact deeply with the social and political forces. Meaningful change requires mobilization and that’s only possible once we put our skin in the game by operating beyond our healthcare facilities and embed ourselves intimately with the wider community.

About the Author

Mohsin Mustafa

Mohsin Mustafa is an Oxford MBA candidate, a Skoll Scholar and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Scholar. He is also an entrepreneur who is passionate about the provision of quality primary healthcare. He sees the provision of quality healthcare as a way of enabling social justice and that’s what fuels his passion for work. Mohsin is the co-founder and managing director of Clinic5, an affordable healthcare delivery service for communities in Pakistan. He is currently a Skoll Scholar, Weidenfeld-Hoffman Scholar and MBA candidate at the Saïd Business School.


Shifting The Power Dynamics of Philanthropy

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

Philanthropy in and of itself is neither the solution nor the problem in international development. Rather, it is how we currently understand, utilize and govern philanthropy that contributes significantly to its successes and failures.

Panelist and author of Decolonizing Wealth, Edgar Villanueva, suggests that philanthropy is in a moment of reckoning. I hope he is right. The history of colonization and power dynamics inherent in today’s philanthropic system need to be recognized, grappled with and frankly, overturned.

Most of us are now familiar with stories of failed aid, and critiques of the Western philanthropic system in which wealthy or otherwise privileged people in one place make decisions about funding, development, and projects for people or organizations in a completely different place, of which they know little. The gap is in having no substantial understanding or experience with the context. “Failed aid” isn’t only applicable to the relationship between developed and developing countries – the disconnect could be continents away, or mere minutes away. Rodney Foxworth, Executive Director of BALLE, referenced the median net worth of a black American household in Boston, which is $8, compared to $247,500 for a white household. Read that again. $8. Compared to a quarter of a million dollars.

Foxworth proposes that we need to shift capital to “advance the economic interests of communities who have been excluded from, extracted from, and marginalized for centuries.”

There is a growing recognition that this kind of extreme disparity and inequality is neither logical nor just, and that it drastically fails the communities and people on the negative side of the power and wealth balance. But how can those with power begin to shift it?

Some tangible actions to rebalance power and capital seem straightforward: creating more diverse boards and teams, putting more decision making into the hands of the people who are living with the problems directly or working on the frontlines, and spending more time listening and co-designing solutions that meet the self-expressed needs of the people themselves. These principles are often at the heart of how social enterprises and non-profits seek to do their work, and yet even with these as stated goals, we often fall short as well. It is easy to skip over the time and effort that true inclusion require; it is convenient to sacrifice deep understanding for perceived efficiency and output.

Achieving a significant shift of capital, or de-colonizing wealth, requires first understanding why and how power dynamics of wealth are where they are to begin with, and admitting the injustice of how the system was built and is still maintained. More difficult, of course, is actually changing, letting go of power, and building new systems on foundations of trust. It seems clear that someone living with or working directly with a problem day in and day out will have better insight and expertise than someone who has never experienced it, and yet we often ignore or overlook this expertise in favor of those who hold money and therefore decision-making power, or even in favor of our own ideas and self-acclaimed expertise.

Trusting in other’s direct expertise, and investing in that expertise, will be key in shifting the power dynamics of philanthropy. Ultimately though, how this plays out will rely heavily on who has a seat at the tables of philanthropic and stakeholder powers. It is the responsibility of everyone in the impact and development space to create a more diverse and representative table.

To top it off, we should probably all read Villaneuva’s Decolonizing Wealth – I’ve already ordered mine!

About the Author

Julie Greene

Julie Greene is passionate about tackling issues of social injustice, with a focus on educational and economic inclusion for women. Julie has come to believe that business is one of the best tools for achieving social impact and sustainable change, and is co-founder of The Women’s Bakery, a social enterprise that trains and employs women in East Africa. 

Photo source: Skoll Foundation


Aligning Inner Wellbeing with External Impact

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

In 2014, I and my Indian co-founder started an ed-tech company in Bangalore to use technology and help teachers close early learning gaps and serve the 200 million low-income families who aspire for a better future for their children. After 3 years of struggle and one pivot we were under a lot of pressure to show potential investors we are worth it.

And then my partner’s mental health deteriorated. We burnt-out.

How many young entrepreneurs out there burn-out while trying to achieve their vision? A survey by The Wellbeing Project, a global initiative co-created with Ashoka, Esalen, Impact Hub, Porticus, the Skoll Foundation and Synergos, shows that 80% of Ashoka fellows and social entrepreneurs across the world self-identify as suffering from burnout. More than half of them are between the age of 25 and 34.

Daniela's Tattoo on her arm.
My arm tattoo reminder: “We are all human”

System change is about people and people can only work effectively when they are balanced, grounded and connected. It’s been almost one year since I stopped working in India and now, I am aware of my self-care. This session at the Skoll World Forum for Social Entrepreneurship 2019 was a great reminder of how important self-care is for everyone, but especially for change-makers.

Cheryl Fraenzl, Director of Programs and Terry Gilbey, General Manager for Esalen Institute, an alternative educational center in California, ran an incredibly powerful workshop, called: Aligning inner wellbeing with external impact, around wellbeing, connection and the practices that allow us to reach our human potential.

“Wellbeing does not mean happy-happy, it is about the inner alignment with what we do, the sense of presence and connection, it means being aware of how we do, it is a state where inner purpose matches outer purpose”, says Cheryl.

Lesson 1: Bring a discipline of wellbeing practices in your life

As participants, we were first invited to score our life domains (from 1 to 10) to see how aligned we feel in areas such as: growth and learning, love, career, money and sense of community. You can use the Wheel of Life to see the distance between where you want to be and where you are in your life.

The next step is to explore what works for us to achieve what the facilitators called a “life balance”. Meditation is one such “wellbeing practice”. “Meditation improves our ability to function particularly in stressful situations” says Terry who reminded us further about the benefits of meditation, such as slow aging and lower blood pressure. Other practices might involve yoga, breathing exercises or mindful walks in nature.

The Wellbeing Project works with change leaders around the world and takes them through an 18-month “inner development program”. So far, around 60 social entrepreneurs from 45 countries found and nurtured a deeper sense of wellbeing, through discovering what practice contributes to their “inner work”.

Lesson 2: Cultivate a deeper focus on relationships

According to a survey on loneliness and social isolation conducted by Kaiser Foundation and The Economist, 2 out of 10 adults in the USA and the UK report being “almost always, if not always, lonely”. Further, a study that follows different people across their life for the last 75 years, shows that, ultimately, happiness depends upon the quality of our relationships. Check out more insights from this study directly from psychiatrist Robert Waldinger:

TED Talk: what makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger

Happiness is not about success or financial wealth. What’s crucial is to foster and maintain relationships. If we dedicate time to people in our life, we will feel supported and happy.

Evaluation programs of The Wellbeing Project show that every single change leader who goes through the inner development cycle reports as feeling more centered, more present, more aware of right now. Cheryl stated: “Their narrative changes from <<I am the sole solution>> to <<Change takes a momentum, a majority of us to create multiple solutions>>”.

Wellbeing of those working in the social impact space is about a celebration of the small steps, a state of being rather than doing, a presence in the moment and finally, about trust and collaboration. I argue this is one of the most important lessons at the Skoll World Forum this year.

About the Author

Daniela Gheorge

Daniela Gheorge is a social entrepreneur in education. Born in Romania, Daniela spent eight years working in India in business development, marketing and operations across four states with impact businesses. She started vChalk, a for-profit ed-tech company, in Bangalore in 2014. She is currently a Skoll Scholar and MBA candidate at the Saïd Business School.

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My journey from an impact business in India to a world-class MBA

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.

But 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.

This is a classroom in a resource-limited school in Bangalore India. Parents aspire for their children to speak English, get a good job and a good salary. Teachers struggle to teach in English and ensure that foundation learning happens.

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.

Little 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.

Daniela in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. Picture is taken during her work at Jaipur Rugs, a company presented asa case by C.K. Prahalad in his book: The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.
Daniela’s room in 2011, in a women’s hostel in Jaipur, Rajas than, India while working at Jaipur Rugs. On the wall, spot the postcard depicting an aerial view of Oxford University. Jaipur Rugs connects more than 40,000 artisans with high quality markets in USA and Europe while creating timely handmade carpets.
Daniela in a village around Jorhat, Assam, India. Picture is taken during her work at ERC Eye Care, a social business offering affordable eye glasses and ophthalmological services to rural families in this “tribal” state of North-East India.
Daniela’s office in ERC Eye Care in Assam, India. Daniela supported the start-up to raise its first impact investment of $100,000.
Daniela on the field on a regular day in a waste management company in Telangana, India. As a Frontier Market Scout, Daniela worked to improve the operations of Waste Ventures, a for-profit impact business that transforms organic waste into soil conditioner and sells to farmers. More on Daniela’s journey in India, before she started her owned-tech company, here.

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.

But 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.

Find Daniela on  TwitterInstagram, and LinkedIn.

Visit Daniela’s personal project on emotional intelligence here.