The Dark Side of M&E

Samantha Bastian

Samantha Bastian

Current Oxford MBA student Samantha Bastian gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Dark Side of M&E’.

”Impact measurement and scalability have come up in one way or another in every session of the Skoll World Forum. The Dark Side of Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) moderated by Carlos Miranda, Chief Executive of I.G. Advisors, was a timely and lively discussion. Martin Fisher, Co-founder and CEO of Kickstart-International and Andrea Coleman, CEO and Co-Founder of Riders for Health, shared some honest experiences on why they engage in evaluations, and the challenges they’ve faced from donors and partners who don’t fully appreciate the cost and time-intensity involved. Ehren Reed, Director of Evaluation for the Skoll Foundation, brought in the donor perspective, emerging as a self-proclaimed Yoda of the M&E world by balancing the dark side and the bright side.

We came to the consensus that M&E is both essential and useful. Martin Fisher, put it beautifully: “This is hard work we’re doing and it’s important for me to know that we’re getting it right”. He shared an example – Kickstart-International introduced a low cost pump that sold very well, but evaluations showed that the new pump was not achieving the main goal of helping farmers generate more income. They decided to discontinue selling the low cost pump.


The Dark Side of M&E

Andrea Coleman talked about how evaluations have been a source of robust information to convince government partners of the effectiveness of their work. It’s also been helpful in determining the cost of every intervention, and enabled discussions on how to reduce that cost to get more impact for less money. But as pointed out by Rukmini Banerjee from Pratham, this integration of M&E with core activities requires a mind-set of curiosity both among social entrepreneurs and funders.

M&E plans need to be designed around this objective of curiosity to track and make data-driven decisions. Ehren Reed gave some useful guidelines worth spelling out almost like the five commandments of M&E. It is important to:

  •  Connect key metrics with core strategy
  •  Prioritise and identify meaningful metrics
  •  Make use of data collected for decision-making and improving the implementation
  •  Capitalise on existing body of knowledge where possible to develop a robust theory of change
  •  Integrate M&E with the operations of the social enterprise

The reality is that a lot of social entrepreneurs find M&E to be burdensome; a funding requirement to be complied with. At the same time, many funders do not appreciate the effort involved in evaluations and often indiscriminately ask for studies where evidence already exists. Constructive conversation and negotiation emerged as the key solution from the discussion. As Andrea highlighted, the power dynamics between funders and implementers is often flawed. Re-framing the conversation is important in staying away from the dark side.”


How Fast Can Small Grow? The Case for Solar Power

Laurent Nahmias-Leonard

Current Oxford MBA student Laurent Nahmias-Leonard gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘How Fast Can Small Grow? The Case for Solar Power’.

The energy was palpable at the Skoll World Forum’s session on solar power. Led by Aimée Christensen, Founder and CEO of Christensen Global Strategies, panelists shared their enthusiasm for solar power’s immense potential.

Danny Kennedy, Co-Founder and Senior Vice President of Sungevity, kicked off with a few impressive slides from Bloomberg’s 2030 Energy Outlook. Solar power is expected to grow at a phenomenal rate and could represent up to 18% of our new electricity generation within the next 15 years. A significant portion of that growth is expected to come from China, the global leader of renewable energy installations, according to Qi Ye, Director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy. Further, the fact that solar power costs have recently plummeted to less than one dollar per Watt is only the beginning. Consumers are demanding more clean power. As a result, trend-setting retailers, such as Apple, Google and Wal-Mart are starting to commit 100% renewable energy.

The discussion has certainly evolved over the last few years. Whereas solar power use to be niche, it’s now taken much more seriously. Stuart Rolland, Managing Director of British Gas Business, commented that solar power is actually very close to grid parity. This is especially true for grid-connected users who now compete with retail prices instead of wholesale prices.

How Fast Can Small Grow? The Case for Solar Power, L-R: Dipender Saluja, Harish Hande

To be cost-effective is already an impressive accomplishment. But the dream doesn’t stop there. Xavier Helgesen, CEO of Off.Grid.Electric and former Skoll Scholar, went on to explain that his company is ambitiously working towards providing electricity to the 1.5 billion people who live off the grid. Launched in Tanzania, where the rate of electrification is actually negative due to higher population growth, his company plans to steer customers away from kerosene (and all of its nasty health effects) towards high quality, affordable solar power.

But be careful! If we’re going to do it, we have to do it right. Harish Hande, CEO of SELCO Foundation, reminded us of an unfortunate chapter of solar’s failed past. In India, too many wannabe solar providers left the business once the subsidies ran out, leaving behind broken panels and indebted locals. “When dealing with the poor, until you create an asset for them, don’t make them customers!” Hande clamored to a round of applause.

On its way, solar will need a boost from the financing community. Enter Dipender Saluja and his firm Capricorn Investment Group. Saluja justly reminded us of the unique predicament of renewables: free fuel is a great thing, until you realise that you essentially have to pay for 20 years of energy up front as a capital expenditure. It might not seem convenient at first, but the practicality of it becomes apparent once you start thinking of it not as a one-time payment, but as a hedge against fluctuating energy prices and independence from the forces behind those prices. Going forward, innovative financing structures will be key to unlocking solar power’s potential.

The session ended with high hopes and a powerful sense of opportunity. How fast can small grow? The question is outdated. Small is already big.


Never Again? The Ebola Epidemic’s Warning about Critical Infrastructure Gaps

Gregory Marks

Current Oxford MBA student Gregory Marks gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Never Again? The Ebola Epidemic’s Warning about Critical Infrastructure Gaps’.

What if I told you that never again was just around the corner? What if I told you that next time may involve a disease that spreads like the flu and kills like Ebola? And what if I told you that we have an incredible opportunity to make sure that next time around, we’re ready?

Ebola has provided us with an opportunity and an imperative to ensure that the next epidemic is not a death sentence just because it strikes where those are least prepared. Ebola has provided us with an opportunity to act, from the grass roots level to the ministries of health, and all the way up to the international stage. Ebola has provided us with an opportunity to ensure that those who died did not do so in vein.

Never Again? The Ebola Epidemic’s Warning about Critical Infrastructure Gaps, L-R: Richard Besser, Miatta Gbanya and Paul Farmer

Echoing the sentiments of Ms. Miatta Gbayna, the incredible Liberian nurse who now heads up the Health Sector Pool Fund to rebuild the Liberian health system, we would be wise to begin our preparations at the local level. The blood of an Ebola patient from Guinea shouldn’t have needed to travel through the tropical rain forests and across country borders to reach a testing facility which could confirm a positive reading, only after it was already too late. From the development of proper laboratories and isolation facilities on the ground to the empowerment and educational wisdom which comes along with well organised public health campaigns, the value of local health capacity is immeasurable.

When the infinitely wise Dr. Paul Farmer speaks, the global health community listens. Armed with powerful examples from Rwanda and Haiti, it is entirely possible for the poorest of countries to develop strong and sustainable health systems. As Dr. Eric Goosby reminded us, the current drive for health systems strengthening is largely embodied in the UN supported movement for Universal Health Coverage. It is at the country-level, under the jurisdiction of ministries of health, he argues that progress must be made. Both Dr. Farmer and Dr. Goosby would very likely agree that it is the investment not only in health, but also in health equity, that will bring about the changes necessary to prepare us for the next epidemic. Being poor or from a rural and remote village shouldn’t make it right for someone to go without health care, and it is when this sentiment is realised that we begin to pick up on and isolate infectious diseases well before they reach epidemic proportions.

Despite all of our best efforts, health experts agree that it will likely not be long before the next global epidemic is before us. It is at this point, when a disease has spread across international borders and has become more than a national concern, that the global community must be ready to act. As was pointed out by Mr. Anthony Banbury, the next time around we must be quicker, smarter, and more capable of handling what nature has thrown at us. Strong international governance will be imperative to ensuring epidemic control and saving countless lives. At this level of global governance, we do not yet have all of the answers. On the front lines of the next epidemic, will it be a UN agency, an NGO, or both that bravely run in when everything has seemingly fallen apart? Just as local, regional, and national organisations must do, as an international community we must work together to find solutions to challenging and life saving questions to ensure that we are prepared, as never again should never again be what now.

The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination

Sarah Puello Alfonso

Sarah Puello

Current Oxford DPhil Modern Languages student Sarah Puello gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination’.

‘From the places you have been instructed to ignore or rendered unable to see, come the stories that change the world, and it is here that culture has the power to shape politics and ordinary people have the power to change the world’ – Rebecca Solnit.

Speakers, delegates, students, coordinators and staff at this year’s Skoll World Forum share one thing that fuels our passion for social enterprise: we all treasure a personal story –  a personal belief that is at the heart of what we do. Through their personal stories, the panellists of ‘The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination’ have come to understand that top-down leader-driven models no longer serve the collective – a collective increasingly reliant on visual queues to understand the world, but a collective that also hopelessly yearns for connection.

As Tabitha Jackson of the Sundance Institute expressed, story is the bridge between word and action. Story is also, according to Jackson, a vehicle for truth, transcendence and transformation. During their presentations, Pamela Yates of Skylight, Charmian Gooch of Global Witness, Carne Ross of Independent Diplomat and Dawn Porter of Trilogy Films met at the intersection of these three pillars in the art of storytelling: they each recognised the meaning and emotional resonance they derive from their lives in order to become agents of change, and they described the work in filmmaking and social enterprise they have been doing ever since in order to transcend the status quo and contribute to a different future.

Though they each expressed varying levels of optimism during moderator Jess Search’s masterful icebreaker, they all expressed a sense of wanting to move people to action for change because, yes – change is possible. Jess Search, of BRITDOC Foundation, made sure to keep the audience plugged in to this general message by drawing the attention throughout to insightful quotes such as Andy Warhol’s ‘They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself’.


The Story of Change: Revolution Begins in the Imagination, L-R: Carne Ross, Pamela Yates, Jess Search, Dawn Porter, Charmian Gooch

The discussion turned to presentations by each of the panellists. Pamela Yates shared her view that storytelling through film is her ‘granito de arena’ – her grain of sand in Spanish – the way that she helps to grow the movement for human rights change. Most recently, this was done through the movie Disruption, based on the work of Fundación Capital, an organisation that has empowered women across Colombia and later Latin America by helping them become more financially and politically conscious.

Similarly, Charmian Gooch saw the impact that a small undercover film about the corruption of one family controlling farming deals in Malaysia had in ‘making sounds’ about the situation. With over a million hits on YouTube, this small clip energised Global Witness to transcend the framework of their reports on human rights violations, environmental destruction, corruption and war. Today, Global Witness’s efforts include teaming up with Skoll and Sundance in order to explore different ways to report on the events they bear witness to all over the world, and providing details of the deals and corporate structures that threatened the Congolese National Park for the critically-acclaimed film, Virunga.

Dawn Porter also discovered the power of film through her years working as a lawyer and in the editorial room of ABC. She believes that films allow ‘the quiet people to stand up’ – like the deeply religious man turned abortion doctor in her documentary film ‘Trapped’, a film about the closure of abortion clinics in the south of the United States.

Moved by his desire to give representation to people all over the world who do not have a platform to speak for themselves, Carne Ross was the only panellist without a film under his belt (yet!). However, sitting ‘on the other side of the table’, on the side of independent and socially conscious diplomacy, providing council for the politically marginalised has felt to him like a much more fulfilling mission.

Each of these speakers expressed finding transcendence – forgetting themselves – in the transformations that their endeavours have yielded. They also coincided in one self-affirming fact: if they had known ten years ago what they know now about the power of personal story, commitment to a cause and storytelling, they would have started much sooner.

If change is contingent on us embracing our own stories in order to then find those of others that need telling, where does our story start and how will we harness it in order to effect change?

The Opening Plenary

Denise Hearn

Denise Hearn

Current Oxford MBA student Denise Hearn gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Opening Plenary’.

Belief is inherently partial (read: not neutral). Belief demands we choose – choose the ways in which we view the world, ourselves, and, others. Often unaware of the fundamental principles which underpin our own actions, most beliefs are inherited not chosen. Selecting to theme this year’s Skoll Forum around belief was potentially risky with the current proliferation of destructive and dangerous ideologies. However, no human is bereft of belief, whether those beliefs are pessimism about the future, skepticism of a higher power, or assent to specific religious doctrines.

The opening Skoll plenary, presided by Chairman of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Stephen Chambers, kicked off with the acknowledgment that belief is mysterious and contains elements of doubt. Acumen founder, Jacqueline Novogratz, described her personal journey of determining what beliefs were fixed and fluid.  She described the iterative process of determining which beliefs are inherited from family and tradition, teasing them apart, and consciously choosing which frameworks to carry forward.  Arguing that belief should be audacious and relevant, Jacqueline issued a challenge for all to consider which beliefs were essential for progress and which needed to be retired like old bric-a-brac. Jacqueline is guided by pursuing human dignity and the belief that only justice, not charity, will change the world. This theme of evolution of belief was quite powerfully addressed by Zak Ebrahim, the non-violence advocate and lecturer whose father was a terrorist involved with planning the first World Trade Center bombings in 1993. He reminded us all that belief is a choice, isolation is a fuel for ideological indoctrination, and that choosing to move away from religious affiliation did not undermine the spiritual values inherited from his mother.

Jeff Skoll, interviewed by Mabel van Oranje from Girls not Brides, reiterated the belief upon which eBay was purportedly principled: “good people doing good things.” This seemingly simple axiom undergirded Skoll’s take on good leadership qualities. Firstly, a moral compass or ethical framework, revealing that he was raised in a Jewish family in middle-class Canada. Secondly, an ability to rally people earnestly, which is a natural outflowing magnetism birthed from true passion, and thirdly, stamina and hard work for the long journey. Skoll, as evidenced by convening us all at the Forum, seems to believe that good leaders choosing to apply their talents to good causes is our true hope for future global progress.


Opening Plenary, L-R: Jaqueline Novogratz, Zak Ebrahim, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond M. Tutu, Reverend Mpho A. Tutu, Ophelia Dahl.

Ophelia Dahl, Executive Director of Partners in Health and daughter of Roald Dahl, described the role of imagination and creativity as a fodder for belief about future positive outcomes, recounting a tale of her father claiming that her math problems in school would be solved by a giant blowing answer through the school window. Her inheritance? Change can take place because of imagination.

I would be remiss to not mention, of course, the star of the evening: Archbishop Desmond Tutu whose boy-like cackle was only the second most laughter-inducing element of the evening, following behind the quick-witted response of his daughter, Reverend Mpho A. Tutu. Responding to Novogratz’s question of what it was like to be raised by such an extraordinary person, Mpho replied: “yes, thank you. I agree – my MOTHER is one of the most extraordinary people on the planet” to great peals of laughter from the crowd and from her distinguished father. Reverend Tutu stated that her beliefs were formed from observing the mutual respect and trust modelled in her parents was her training ground to see faith embodied and lived.

There was, ultimately, much discussion of the inherited set of beliefs often adopted via parents and surrounding culture. It is clear that each illustrious panellist has undergone great lengths to either solidify or reject those inherited beliefs – each choosing to work towards the establishment of justice and increased human unification in unique ways.

Desmond Tutu reminded us that we do not stand alone and are upheld in our beliefs by the strength of community. Recounting his amazement and gratitude for our interconnectivity, he recalled a woman he met years ago who stated she would begin her day by waking up and praying for him. He mused, “If I am being prayed for at 2am in the woods in California, what chance does Apartheid stand?”

We inherit, we choose, we change, and ultimately we believe in our ability to create a better, more human future.

The Great Paradigm Shift

Patrick Beattie

Patrick Beattie

Current Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA student Patrick Beattie gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The Great Paradigm Shift’.

At first glance, generic today’s talk on a “Great Paradigm Shift” in front of a full audience in the Nelson Mandela Theatre at the Saïd Business School, view might have seemed better suited for the Oxford Union, Oxford’s famed debate hall. Indeed, it seemed like a debate of public good versus business savvy. On one side of the panel sat Paul Farmer, a tireless global healthcare practitioner known for refusing to entertain hand-wringing discussions of cost-benefit, and Diana Good, head of the UK’s Independent Commission for Aid Impact. On the other side sat Eduarda la Rocque, former Secretary of Finance for the city of Rio de Janeiro, and Michael Porter, the father of 1980’s cut-throat corporate strategy. Of course, like all first takes, this over-simplifies things – Farmer does care about sustainability and maximizing impact; la Rocque is now the president of the Instituto Pereira Passos, supporting social development; and Porter, who let pass the friendly jabs from Farmer and moderator Michael Green regarding Porter’s competitive corporate mindset, was there to present his recent work on the Social Progress Index. Still, a group that could have easily been assumed to hold irreconcilable views on the relative merits of economic and social development showed surprising unity in proclaiming that it is time for economic and social development to share the spotlight when it comes to international and national attention.


Great Paradigm Shift, L-R: Michael Green, Dianna Good, Michael Porter, Paul Farmer, Eduarda La Rocque.

As presented by Porter, the old point-of-view still commonly held is a belief that with economic development comes social development, so one need only focus on economic development and the rest sorts itself out. That belief, which always seemed alien to most of us working in the social space, has proved to be false. In fact, the situation is more complex, with social development affecting economic development and vice versa. And when social development is ignored at the expense of economic development, unstable situations occur. This can be manifested in political instability (as Porter referenced, citing Tunisia pre-Arab Spring) or in sensitivity to disease outbreaks. (Farmer contrasted Sierra Leone and Liberia to Rwanda, where the former countries invested heavily in economic, but not health-related growth and suffered greatly from the inability to effectively respond to health crises.)

With the importance of social progress agreed upon, Porter presented the SPI, an attempt at quantifying social development. This is an obvious step for a business school professor – if it’s important, it needs to be measured, and if it can’t be measured, we can’t take action. There will undoubtedly be disagreement about the SPI and the judgements that go into the numbers. However, it should be remembered that GDP, the stalwart of economic development measurement, is a relatively recent invention that can be calculated in many different ways. In the end, the more important factor here is that the SPI gives us a benchmark. A benchmark, even a mildly imperfect one, provides information that can be publicized and referenced in debates, pushing governments to improve and strive for growth that benefits the economy and society. As la Rocque stated in her talk, “Qualified and Shared Information = Power for Transformation.”

Recognition that social progress needs to balance economic progress for both to be sustainable is a good start, but the question of how to ensure this happens remains. In many ways, that’s the question that the SPI is trying to answer. Sharing the spotlight means balanced awareness and appreciation, and that is only achieved with balanced qualified information. The SPI is a good step towards this. Of course, there are questions that remain. Proving correlation between social and economic development is one thing, but proving causation – that social development can, in fact, lead to improved economic development – is another. Farmer replies, “Who cares?” While I’m not ready to be so cavalier, in a way I agree. The value of social progress to stability is clear, and whether social development leads to economic development or not, social progress needs to be measured so that action can be taken. As Porter said wrapping up his talk, “We can’t leave improving society to chance.”