In honour of Juan Jose Ochoa

We are deeply saddened to share the news that one of our Skoll Scholars, Juan Jose Ochoa, passed away recently following a prolonged illness.

A dear classmate, friend, husband, father and inspiring social entrepreneur, Juanjo was among our first Skoll Scholars, completing his Oxford MBA in 2006. He dedicated his career to building a leading microfinance company and improving access to energy, water and communications across rural Argentina and Latin America.

Juanjo was a much-loved and respected part of the global Skoll Scholar community. His energy, passion and generosity left a lasting impression on all those who knew him.  Juanjo is best remembered below through the words of some of his fellow Scholar cohort and classmates.

Our love and prayers are with Juan’s family. He will be greatly missed

The Skoll Centre Team

It is hard to capture in a few lines what a special person Juan Jose was. One of the strongest memories I have from when we first met in 2005, is the kindness of his smile, something I will forever treasure. Throughout our year at Oxford Saïd, I saw in Juanjo a rare combination of compassion and pragmatism; a deep sense of empathy and the eloquence to communicate and act upon it. My thoughts are with Maria and their children. Te queremos mucho, Juanjo.

Susana Frazao Pinheiro

Juanjo shall never be just another fading memory of a social pioneer in a fast-changing world.  Alas, this is too simple a description for such a Master of compassion the likes of JuanJo.  He taught us to strive to transcend the limits of singular perspective and to trust in the grace of deep human connection.  His light is constant, is pure and is forever illuminating brightly inside each of us. Our steps are his steps. Hasta pronto hermano.

Keely Stevenson

Juanjo’s passion, and at the heart of his work over the past years, was to bring light to the very rural communities in Argentina. He also shared his light of purity of spirit, intention and actions with each of us for which we are ever grateful.

Richard Webb

Juanjo and I had many things in common, therefore, we became close friends and fellow mentors. He was a very generous human being with qualities that are hard to find: committed to his family, devoted towards improving people’s lives, an optimist and believer in human nature and a deeply spiritual soul whose words and amazing capacity to listen would brighten us all who were so lucky to have crossed paths with him.  While his life was short; his legacy was profound and will keep pushing many of us forward to continue fighting for the causes he so willingly championed.  Maria and the kids will surely safeguard such inspiring legacy as Juanjo built it with them. Un abrazo fuerte y hasta siempre, amigo!

Henry Gonzalez

A smile and heart so big that everyone who had the pleasure to meet Juanjo instantly connected with him. A dedication and love so deep that it effortlessly extended from his family to his friends to the communities he worked with. His unwavering trust and belief in all made everything seem possible. Juanjo is and will forever remain a beacon of inspiration.

Shanoo Saran

In 2005 we had the pleasure to meet an intelligent, humble and extraordinarily well-rounded human being: Juan Jose Ochoa, Juanjo. Juanjo not only stood out from the rest of the class as one of our Skoll Scholars but also as a loving husband, good father and a true gentlemen. A man with a profound faith in god and in the people, who always looked for the bright side of everyone he met. Juanjo has been a light for all who met him. Now the challenge for us is to honor his name by living from his example.

Felipe Blanco

We lost an amazing man. Juanjo was a wonderful soul who cared deeply for those around him. Truly heartbreaking.

Michael McFadden

There was no other like Juanjo. A determined social entrepreneur on a mission, a kind friend with a listening year, a sportsman with a kindred spirit, a loving father and husband! I will always remember him fondly.

Ruchika Singhal

What is the Future of African FinTech?

In 2008, I completed an MBA as a Skoll Scholar for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. It was an amazing experience where I gained an expansive network and learned a lot about venture capital, technology and innovation. However, the application of these themes to Africa was completely absent from the MBA curriculum, mainly because it was also absent in practice. When I declared my intent to move to Africa immediately after my programme to connect socially-oriented investors with high-impact entrepreneurs who were building scalable tech-enabled companies, it was a novel idea. But it was also an idea that few people took seriously as a commercial enterprise.

When I arrived in Lusaka, Zambia in January 2009, I found a cash economy where over 80% of adults were unbanked. People were constrained to using post office branches or trusting cash envelopes to minibus drivers to move money around to pay for school fees, health emergencies and business stock. Unknown to almost everyone in Zambia, a mobile based person-to-person money transfer service, called M-Pesa, was emerging in Kenya. Entrepreneur brothers Brad and Brett Magrath saw the opportunity to be first to market and set out on a journey to replicate M-Pesa’s success in Zambia.

I helped the Magraths secure a $200,000 seed investment from the Grassroots Business Fund, which none of us knew at the time was one of the first institutional fintech investments in an African start-up. After convincing my parents in Canada to mortgage their house to lend me $100,000 to invest, I joined them and became a co-founder and CEO of Zoona. We continued our pioneering trend by raising a $4 million Series A at the beginning of 2012 and $15 million Series B in 2016 to fuel our growth. In Zoona’s first ten years, we enabled millions of consumers to transact over $2.5 billion across 2,500 micro-franchise agent outlets in Zambia and Malawi.

Africa’s fintech landscape has transformed since those early days of starting Zoona. In 2018, African fintech investments reached $357 million with ecosystems emerging in Cape Town, Lagos and Nairobi. This growth has tracked Africa’s mobile money industry, which had 132 live mobile money deployments, serving 146 million active consumers and 1.4 million active agents in the same year. In Zambia, Zoona was disrupted by this competitive wave after two multinational telcos invested aggressively to roll out 47,000 agents. According to the UNCDF, over 45% of Zambia’s adult population actively uses digital financial services. Across the continent, the fintech landscape has segmented into payments, lending, savings and insurance. Applications have also broadened from financial services to agriculture (agtech), healthcare (healthtech), education (edtech) and even regulation (regtech).

While these statistics and trends are great, they also mask some significant unintended consequences. For example, easy access to unsecured digital credit has fueled an explosion in sports betting, with $2 billion gambled last year in Kenya with 500,000 young people defaulting on loans to fund their habit. In total, 2.2 million Kenyans have non-performing digital loans, with 49% of defaulters having outstanding balances of less than $10. 62% of borrowers also report having more than one digital loan. These are worrying statistics for the industry and warning signs of speed bumps ahead.

So what is the future of fintech in Africa? I will offer three predictions.

First, fintech itself is not a silver bullet. It is the application of it that matters. Fintech solutions that are embedded in the real economy and help increase people’s incomes and reduce their costs will have tremendous positive impact. Those that drain people’s limited resources and promise short term investor returns will have long lasting negative consequences.

Second, the current investor hype in African fintech will wane as the industry matures, but the good investors will stick it out. Too much of the money flowing in is chasing the hype, and not enough people have been burned by the very real challenges of scaling companies in Africa. But the investors who have been around the longest, like Zoona’s Series A investors Flourish Ventures (a spin off from Omidyar Network) and Quona Capital (a spin off from Accion), are well positioned to ride the wave.

Third, the potential of fintech to deliver both positive impact and financial returns is very real. The opportunities in Africa are enormous for thick-skinned entrepreneurs who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and execute well. As I learned my first time around, there is no guarantee of winning in the end but that is all the more reason to try again. It’s a great time to be a fintech entrepreneur in Africa. 

About the author

Mike Quinn, 2007-08 Oxford MBA alumnus and Skoll Scholar. Mike is the co-founder and former Group CEO of Zoona, one of Africa’s earliest fintech companies.  

During his 10-year stint at the company that started with the first transaction in 2009, Zoona processed $2.5 billion of transactions, generated $26 million in income for 3,000 micro-entrepreneurs and their employees across Zambia and Malawi, and raised $35 million in investment. For his leadership, Mike was awarded the Accion 2017 Edward W. Claugus Award for Leadership and Innovation in Financial Inclusion and with one of the Schwab Foundation’s 2018 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year.

Mike’s entrepreneurial journey in Africa started as a volunteer in Ghana and Zambia with Engineers Without Borders Canada after graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of British Columbia. He has completed an LSE Master’s in Development Management, an Oxford MBA, and a Harvard Leadership for Systems Change executive education certificate. He grew up in Calgary, Canada and now calls Cape Town, home.


My journey from Costa Rica to Oxford

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.

Joaquín Víquez

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”?

Joaquin with large biogas machinary in a trench in the ground

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.

Joaquin giving a talk to a small crowd standing on top of biogas machinary.

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.

How to manage difficult conversations

Florentina-Daniela Gheorghe, Skoll Scholar 2018-19, has spent the last year in Oxford studying her MBA. To end the year, she reflects on her own personal learnings and passes them onto you to take forward on your own journey.

I love to ask questions to deepen my understanding. I believe asking great questions is an awesome skill to have. This year, however, I discovered that I am an activist: I raise my voice in matters that contradict my values. And it happened a few times. I also had the wrong impression that many people think like me and I assumed that my MBA colleagues and I think alike. Instead, I learned there are endless perspectives that I need to acknowledge and that the ‘18-19 MBA cohort at Oxford Saïd are not as vocal as I expected.

Here are some stats: this year we were 315 people from 62 countries, average age 28, with 24% of us coming from finance, 17% coming from consulting and the rest 59% coming from 16+ other fields, with an average of 5 years of experience. Wouldn’t you expect these young people to make their voices heard?

In some sections, many were silent during lectures and didn’t ask clarifying questions. Some possible reasons: they didn’t want to disturb the lecturer’s flow, or they thought that their question might be “stupid” and might not bring value to the rest. Culture, personality and English proficiency also play a role. And then there were people who might have been experts in their field.

I experienced many times the impostor syndrome. However, it didn’t stop me from asking brief questions in class: it shows the lecturer where I am in my learning, it helps me clarify my thoughts and other people can benefit too. Even more, given my years of groundwork, I could potentially bring a new perspective on interpreting industry practices and academic research. I kept my computer open many times in class to make sure I get a gist of a concept like debt/equity ratio and use it correctly in my question, but that didn’t stop me from taking my understanding to the next level with a question. The worst thing that could happen was to leave the classroom without understanding the foundation of what was taught.

Question the default – Courage to ask Why

In a world in which “business as usual” – with profit as the single end goal – doesn’t seem to make sense anymore, we need courageous leadership who dares to question the default practices. I actively decided to practice this courage. Don’t be afraid to ask in impact investing class why we assume that tools of traditional finance can be transferred as they are into impact investing. Don’t be afraid to ask in economics and finance, why the perpetual growth assumption is not questioned.

Speak your mind

How many of us question the things we hear from lecturers and speakers? Being at Oxford, we had access to amazing speakers: in class, at the Oxford Union or at events around the campus. Amazingly reputed people come to Oxford, and that’s a great privilege. But Oxford also teaches you to speak your mind, not to get intimidated by the reputation of the speaker. We might have valuable insights. Politely acknowledge someone’s effort to share their story in front of a class of students and then speak up. Just remember to speak with humility!

Always remind people that every management decision affects people

It’s not about the merger post acquisition, it’s about two teams of dedicated people learning how to work together. Thinking about people can help you better understand the expected and unexpected consequences.

Speak with your heart but wrap your position in data: every time

I learned this the hard way. My friend, an editor with The Economic Times, showed me how to keep my emotions under control and use data instead to make the point. It does require a bit more (home) work. I tend to let myself taken away by emotions. When I hear something that contradicts my core believes, such as anti-refugee statements or opinions about “the poor’s ignorance”, my blood pressure goes up. Some perspectives out there really clash with my genuine belief that humanity is equality distributed in every one of us.

Be assertive  

When things go rough, remember to be assertive. One of the best take-aways I have from my year is the Even Fish Need Confidence (EFNC) framework that I learned during peer-support training: explanation, feelings, needs, consequences. Use this framework to communicate openly to someone who might use words that trigger negative emotional reactions in you: explain what happened (facts), express your feelings about what happened (vulnerably), state what you need (to make this relationship work), state the positive (and negative) consequences if your needs are (not) met. Communicating with this framework builds respect between people and reduces the risk that someone gets hurt. Difficult conversations are healthy and important. Constructive conflict, if orchestrated, can help everyone learn how to be a team player. It’s not an easy task to orchestrate conflict but it might be worth it. We are all on a discovery journey to become a better version of ourselves. Enjoy yours!

Daniela Gheorghe, 2018-19 Skoll Scholar.

How to manage business remotely

Whilst doing your Oxford MBA!

You run a growing social business and things are going well. But you soon realise that with a little extra business knowledge and global connections, your business could be so much more impactful.

So, you decide to take some time to study your MBA.

But what happens to the business? You think, ‘surely there will be plenty of time to run my business remotely, it’s the 21st Century for goodness sake, it’ll be like I’m practically in the office with all this technology at my fingertips’!

Well, sadly, most of the time this is where our Oxford MBAs can quickly get overwhelmed. In their hopes to do both, get an Oxford degree and run a successful business from 5,000 miles away, only one will prevail in the end.

So, what can we learn from those who have come before?

Mohsin Mustafa, Oxford MBA, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar, and Skoll Scholar 2018-19, offers some handy advice for any prospective MBA looking to keep their business ticking over whilst they take a year out to study. 

Some background…

I run a healthcare business in Pakistan. We have pediatrics Clinics and we run those clinics in partnership with schools where we provide preventative care services. My enterprise Clinic5 is three years old and we have a team of 15 people. One of the biggest concerns I had when I was leaving for the Oxford MBA was what would happen to the business in my absence. So, I would like to share with you my experience and what worked. For advice on this aspect I would really like to credit Sidhya Senani, MBA 2017-18 who faced a similar dilemma as I did whose advice was crucial in helping me plan my transition this past year.

What to DO:

Have a lead in place

Having one person to contact while you’re away makes it much easier for you to administratively manage affairs in your enterprise. Also having one second in command makes it easier for your other stakeholders (suppliers, clients, rest of the team) to know whom to contact in case they want an issue to be solved.

Pilot not going to the office for at least 2 weeks

This pilot helps everyone in the team see how things happen in your absence. If you’re the cofounder, its quite possible that you were always available, both in person and with your time, now that you would be gone for a year, the gap would be felt so it’s always better to first give a feeler to the team and troubleshoot the issues that come up. Trust me this will come!

Set aside dedicated time for a weekly video call.

This is very important. Face time with the team every week makes them see you still care about the work. It’s quite likely that the ownership you feel towards the business is much higher than anyone else. Feed the team with that energy every week. Additionally, during these calls, keep negative feedback to a minimum. Primarily serve as the motivational speaker or the cushion for their stressors. Let them speak. At your end reiterate the achievements during the year and how much longer the team must go before you join them and what’s waiting in store for the team after you join. Sharing the vision goes a long way.

You will get a few calls from your primary point of contact every now and then. Prioritize that call. Important for your primary point of contact (your lead) to feel that you have their back.

Also, if other team members call, try and route them through your primary lead. If there’s a call, document it immediately through an email so that everyone in the team is aware of what was discussed. This practice reduces the chance of misunderstandings. This year will be a real challenge of your business leadership skills.

Set aside cash flows so that your business operation does not suffer.

It’s possible you might get cancelled clients, it’s possible that your business development plans for this year do not work out. The cushioning of cash flows for your business should be greater than what you keep. You need not share the exact level of cushioning with your team. It’s more as a safety net for rainy days.

What NOT to do:

Don’t intervene in operational matters.

Let the team on the ground deal with them and TRUST their decision even if you think you would’ve done things differently let it be. Unless and until you think a certain decision is an existential threat, resist the temptation to intervene. This is essential to empowering your team.

Don’t get involved in office politics back home.

Some will happen inevitably. When that happens try not to take sides

Don’t give negative feedback over a group phone.

Call if you must do it, do It one on one

Don’t plan to scale your work this year.

It exerts immense pressure on the team

A year later, I could safely say, things went by quite smoothly for Clinic5. I would give this credit to my brilliant team: Dr. Taha Sabri, Dr. Selina Hasan, Muhammad Irfan and Syed Kareem. Additionally, my father kept an oversight on financial matters which took a lot of stress off me, so thank you Abbu!

This time away might have been a blessing in disguise since people took up more leadership responsibilities within my organization and now when I go back, I can really focus on scaling.

If you’re taking part in the Oxford MBA this coming year, brace yourself for an intense and exciting year.


Mohsin Mustafa, 2018-19 Skoll Scholar.

An MBA for Social Entrepreneurship

It was 2017 and I was visiting an indigenous Aymara community of quinoa producers. After 3 years of hard work and with some funding from international organizations, these humble smallholder farmers received organic certification that would allow them to earn a fairer price on their quinoa. They put in all the necessary internal audits to prove that the quinoa was organic quality. That year should have been their second organic-certified harvest.

But all was not well.

I had already spoken with the certifier to learn that they missed the required $7,000 payment for certification, and I wanted to know why.

Image of Alexander Wankel

Quinoa prices had plummeted to their lowest levels in years and the grant project supporting the community had ended.

Worse yet, the cooperative had no connections with international clients willing to purchase organic quinoa at a premium price, so their valuable harvest sat in the warehouse for nearly a year.

The farmers couldn’t come up with the money and by the time a buyer came, it was already too late to pay for the next year’s certification. Years of efforts had been wasted, and the farmers were now stuck with poverty-level quinoa prices once again.

How could this tragic situation have been avoided? 

An MBA (or any type of higher education) is not a silver bullet for solving problems like these, but it can be a starting point. Business has the power to create wealth, but this wealth often doesn’t reach those who need it most desperately.

As an Oxford educated MBA student with the added privilege of graduating debt-free thanks to the Skoll Scholarship, how should I strive to use business as a force for good? How can I avoid the mistakes of other short-lived projects that have failed to deliver their goals? How can business school skills be of service to smallholder farmers, to ecosystems, to the Earth that we must share?

Image of Alexander Wankel

MBAs teach the core concepts upon which our economic system is built, by extension affecting everyone in society. In some ways, an MBA is geared towards profit maximization, both of MBA alumni and of the corporations they work for. After all, official Financial Times MBA rankings are based partially on the who has the highest salaries 3 years after graduation. With the field of impact investing on the rise, the win-win philosophy of “doing well by doing good” has caught on, affirming that achieving positive social or environmental impact can be profitable.

However, those of us who are committed to a social problem know that impact work often requires sacrifice. As a social entrepreneur the hours are long, the risks are many, and the most significant victories take years to achieve.

As societies face escalating existential threats due to climate change and rising inequality, the MBA programs of tomorrow may look drastically different from those of today. Some of my courses this year have helped me imagine this change and provided me with the language to express it. I’ve learned that there is a difference between avoiding harm and contributing to solutions, that if traditional financing tools don’t meet the needs of social enterprises we can invent new ones, that future business models should be restorative and regenerative by design, and that a major task of business today is to help find a just space for humanity within our planetary boundaries. I’ve also learned the traditional tools of finance, accounting, economics, and strategy which have helped leading business ideas scale and grow.

Although actors from many fields and disciplines must work towards solutions, the role of business is unique because economic activity is the root cause of the most critical environmental problems affecting our world. After all, cleaning up a mess is not as good as preventing it in the first place. This means cutting off or minimizing the flow of pollution and resource depletion from businesses, and some top firms such as IKEA and Unilever are now working to do so.

To prevent catastrophic 2-degree climate change, carbon emissions must sharply and drastically reverse from their long-term steep upward trend. There is no precedent for this and currently there are few signs that this is happening at a sufficient pace. Without cooperation from businesses, the task may be impossible. Social entrepreneurs must also work to build and prove the technologies and business models that will provide the building blocks of this change.

This year has reaffirmed my commitment to social enterprise, which to me means using the tools I have learned to create business models that benefit local communities and ecosystems.

In September I plan to return to Andean farmer communities after a year at Oxford to witness some of the same realities with a new perspective and a new set of resources. I plan to scale my company, Kai Pacha Foods, which I have now realized has a core purpose: to build healthy foods out of healthy ecosystems. By designing food and beverage products based on native crop systems in which each food plays complementary ecological and nutritional roles, we are crafting a business model capable of generating a profit while also improving the livelihoods farmers who conserve land, water, and biodiversity.

Image of Quinoa

After a year packed with so much learning, I have much work ahead to put these concepts and tools into practice. Likewise, the business world and business education have a lot of work ahead to play a more positive role in building an economy that can be sustained on a planet with finite resources.

At Saïd Business School, I have learned about innovation in impact and responsible business alongside the more traditional concepts of an MBA upon which our current economic system is built. From these pieces, the task now falls to us to assemble solutions that are equal to the scale of the problems afflicting our planet.

Image of field of Quinoa

Alexander Wankel, 2018-19 Skoll Scholar.