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Global Goals for an Uncertain World

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

Avery Bang, Oxford MBA at the Saïd Business School, shares her insight from the  Skoll World Forum session “Global Goals for an Uncertain World”.

The buzz of the Skoll World Forum is something any attendee is not soon to forget. I look forward to this week every year with excitement for the flood of new ideas, and dread for the lack of sleep and inevitable FOMO (not familiar with FOMO? You clearly haven’t yet studied at Oxford Saïd).

One of the sessions I most looked forward at this year’s Forum was Global Goals for an Uncertain World, moderated by Susan Myers of the United Nations Foundation. I entered to session with a genuine curiosity of how she would lead a conversation about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through a diverse panel including a Skoll Awardee, a Deputy Minister and an Oxford social entrepreneur. When the session started with a 90 second, dance-move inspiring animated video Turning Plans into Action, my FOMO melted away and I knew I had found my people.

For those who are not familiar, the Sustainable Development Goals (officially known as Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development) are a set of 17 targets to fight inequality and tackle climate change launched in 2016. The SDGs were announced as the United Nations wrapped up the 15-year cycle of the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and launched the even more ambitious plan to banish a host of social ills by 2030. For those of you that skipped the video animation above, the MDGs got us half way over the last 15 years; the SDGs will get us the ‘rest of the way’ over the next 15.

I personally love audience participation, and really appreciated that the afternoon discussion weaved in each of the panelist’s favorite goals, invoking an audience-wide inquisition of our own (mine is #9 – comment below with yours!). I walked away with a much greater appreciation for a range of issues – access to justice for building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions (goal #16) in particular jumped out. Vivek Maru of Namati, a 2015 Skoll Awardee, painted a story of a world with access to social justice through ensuring all people ‘know law; use law; and shape law’. The panel conversation also shed light on how close several goals were from being cut, and how the world will truly be a different place in 15 years because they weren’t.

Susan framed the session with three main discussion points; how to sustain momentum for the SDG release, particularly in a time of political turnover; how to empower social entrepreneurs to work on SDGs; and how to empower action across all levels. Throughout the conversation, it became clear that there has been a fundamental shift between the MDGs and SDGs – a shift towards aligning international commitments with those right at home.  Elissa Goldberg, the Assistant Deputy Ministry of Global Affairs for Canada shared her government’s commitment to develop their national plan using the SDGs as a framework, and it occurred as something of an ‘ah-ha’ moment for me – how incredible is it that we are all one, operating under one global framework, all aligned towards one (or 17, in this case) common goal. By aligning our domestic agenda with our investments overseas the global community is speaking loudly that there no longer can be an ‘us’ or ‘them’.

One common goal – one common framework – and one incredibly inspiring conversation. After another, after another, after another. With a new common vocabulary that we all can work towards, and within, I believe the SDGs will continue to ensure that social entrepreneurs, policy makers, private sectors players and everyone in between continue to contribute one common direction.

 Follow Avery: @AveryBang

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Philanthropy for a Fractured World

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

David Sanders, Oxford MBA at the Saïd Business School, gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session, “Philanthropy for a Fractured World”.

On the final morning of the 2017 Skoll World Forum, simultaneous panels were offered on Impact Investing and Philanthropy.  I debated whether to catch up on the latest from the former, with its sex appeal of “profit + purpose”, a proposed new kind of capitalism, or to return to the original solution for affecting positive change: strategic donations.

A simple realisation drew me to Philanthropy for a Fractured World:  the most pressing, extreme problems facing society today do not lend themselves to viable business models, but through giving, these issues can be remedied.

Foundations and family offices are increasingly seeking hybrid organisational models when deploying capital, and I expected the session on philanthropy to at least touch on this growing practice.  Much to my surprise, and relief, on the contrary, the panelists reminded the packed room that philanthropy has a unique, and extremely important role to play in the social impact space.

Panelists at the Skoll World Forum, from philanthropy and government, discuss the role of their organisations in an increasingly polarised society.

Panelists at the Skoll World Forum, from philanthropy and government, discuss the role of their organisations in an increasingly polarised society.

The speakers, who included Lillianne Ploumen from the Government of The Netherlands, Darren Walker from the Ford Foundation, Laleh Ispahani from Open Society Foundations and Pia Infante from the Whitman Institute, discussed their organisations’ respective responses to crises, with significant focus paid to the risks facing women and minorities in the U.S. under a Trump presidency.  Ms. Ploumen’s department has partnered on the #SheDecides campaign, which swiftly raised €183 million to help fill the gap in maternal health provisions following the president’s drastic cuts to Planned Parenthood services.  This initiative, from a foreign government to the U.S., is admirable, but indeed troublesome—it seems the U.S. is entering a period of international reliance for the protection of human rights.

Mr. Walker emphasised the importance of minority representation in leadership positions today, especially where racism and sexism persist, and he also cited specific concerns on the failure of the economy to deliver stable jobs to low-income populations.  These shortcomings, coupled with a shrinking government social mandate, escalates demand for Big Philanthropy.

While the panelists focused more on the role of philanthropy than they did on specific causes, a highlight of the conversation was a recognition that there are causes that span the political spectrum.  Disability issues and criminal justice-reform, to name two, are both values-based issues, and garner support from the right-leaning Koch brothers, and progressive institutions like Open Society Foundations.

The world of giving does grapple with some important questions, however, around its own identity and purpose.  As Mr. Walker acknowledged, philanthropists are incredibly privileged, and it is easy for practitioners to succumb to an ivory tower mentality.  One proposed solution to this, as posed by the distinguished moderator Marc Gunther from Nonprofit Circles, is to democratise the work.  Like shareholders of a public company, who convene regularly to take a voice in key decisions, should not beneficiaries to causes also be gathered to express their views to donors?

In the Trump era, the culture of giving in the U.S. plays an essential role for social progress and human protections.  And it seems, based on the views of those at the Skoll World Forum, philanthropy is stepping into its heightened role with a determined spirit.

Follow David: @DavidSandersUSA

 

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Media Matters: The Future of News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mapping and Measurement: Expanding Systems Entrepreneurship

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

Alex Fischer, DPhil Candidate at the University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment and member of the Water Programme at the Smith School of Enterprise and Environment Water Programm.e He gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum session “Systems Entrepreneurship: A How-To Guide for a New Action Paradigm”.

What does it mean to take a systems approach to problem solving and entrepreneurship? This question emerged in multiple sessions at the Skoll World Forum where delegates and speakers traded ideas framing several perspectives and components of systems thinking and complexity.  A delegate-led lunch discussion focused on how to take innovations to system-wide scales, and specifically overcome barriers set by development funding structures and organisational capacity. A second delegate lunch discussion explored how to use system analysis and mapping tools to find leverage points in complex, dynamic systems, such as peacebuilding or the nexus of climate and food systems. The third session argued for a new action paradigm of system entrepreneurs or the coordinated collaboration of actors and funders to drive large-scale system changes such as malaria eradication or education reform.

Further arguing the need for a new approach of system entrepreneurs, Jeff Walker, the Chairman of New Profit, presented five elements for a practical guide to this new action paradigm.  The argument, summarised in an article published the same day in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, opens with the provocation to set up problem-orientated coalitions:

The message is clear: our focus should be more on solving problems through creative collaboration, and less on the establishment and perpetuation of new institutions. In addition, we need to develop and employ system entrepreneurs who are skilled in coordinating systematic approaches to addressing the complex, large-scale problems of our time.”

To achieve this Walker shared five elements in his approach to drive large-scale change:

  1. Identify the issues and think in systems and start by asking “what is the problem”.

“Having a great idea for solving a social problem is just the beginning. You also need to identify the collaborators who can help you translate your innovation into real solutions for the real world.”

  1. Invest in research and analysis to define the context and map the other actors.

Engage in research and analysis to hone your strategy. Figure out what’s really needed—and what works.”

  1. Continuous communication and awareness to convene partners

“The systems change model demands a high level of interaction and transparency between previously unaffiliated individuals and groups. If these links break down, or are never quite formed in the first place, it is unlikely that an effort will succeed.”

  1. Engage with policy to change policy

“If you seek to change a complex system, you will often need to change the laws, administrative rules, and official practices governing that system.”

  1. Measurement and continuous evaluation

“The most successful systems change campaigns create consistent and ongoing data assessments, and rely upon those findings to guide strategy and ensure accountability.”

One common agreement across the different sessions, reinforced by my own research on the role of disruptive information systems within water management institutions, was that success of this approach is contingent on robust data that describes entire systems, not only measuring sub-components, actors or specific interventions.

Dr. Raj Panjabi, CEO of Last Mile Health, posed the question how to set collective Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and related metrics that measure sector-wide successes, and how to incorporate that into the actor-specific evaluation structures. This left a wider challenge for participants to define what outcomes they would measure to provide at a system-level to incentivise collective action while still providing a platform for individual actors, and their funders.

Follow Alex: @alexmfischer

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Aha! Moments: When I Changed Course

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

University of Oxford DPhil student, Luiz Guidi, gives his perspective on the  Skoll World Forum session “Aha! Moments: When I changed course”.

What is the secret to having a good idea? How do those moments of inspiration happen?

For Albert Einstein, the answer lied in thinking in completely different terms as, according to him, “no problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it.” Searching for inspiration, some people have used psychedelic drugs to let their minds enter new dimensions including, allegedly, a certain Steve Jobs. At the Skoll World Forum yesterday, we decided to time travel using, not drugs (as far as I know), but through personal histories.

Josh Babarinde (Cracked It) take us back to his “aha!” moment.

Josh Babarinde (Cracked It) take us back to his “aha!” moment.

In an inspiring session, six speakers took us back in time and along their journeys of discovery and realisation, through those moments when something clicked in their brains and—aha!— they came up with a solution to the problem they were faced with.

Kennedy Odede (Founder & CEO, Shining Hope for Communities) told us his deeply moving story of struggle and forgiveness in Kibera, and how overcoming the suffering of a friend’s death and a football made him realise how he had to empower himself to help shape the lives of those in his community. Josh Babarinde (Founder and CEO, Cracked It) gave us an insight into how working directly with young offenders in London made him realise the potential for turning their existing social entrepreneurial skills in crime into something positive and desirable for them using technology. Ruth M’Kala (Alum, Global Health Corps) shared her tale of inspiration by the philosophy of justice and human rights, and how that enabled her to unlock her inner motivation to work towards promoting health as a human right.

Building on this, Chuck Slaughter (Founder, Living Goods) told us about how serendipitous encounters and conversations can lead you down to unexpected paths and to discoveries, and about the importance of testing these ideas quickly and cheaply—like when he became an “Avon lady”. Randomness and surprise were also a theme in Julia Ormond’s (Founder & President, Asset Campaign) story, as she realised that things are often very different than you think. For Julia, we must always ask ourselves: what is our own personal contribution to those faulty lines out there? Christine Su (CEO and Co-Founder at PastureMap) told us her history with cheese and how it put her in conflict, physically through causing her hives but also emotionally and ethically with realising how much of our food is still produced.

The connecting theme about all the ‘aha-ness’? It has nothing to do with training your brain or brainstorming playing in climbing walls. Instead, it is by simply being on the front line, experiencing things personally, feeling it for yourself. Through that, not only you can really deeply understand the problem, but you let serendipity play its role. By working directly with the people or the problems at stake, living it in the flesh, our speakers ended up stumbling upon an idea. As Chuck Slaughter put it, “we have a lot less control over our own path than we think.”

But, whilst this session was especially dedicated to it, ‘aha’ moments were everywhere in the Skoll World Forum. Moments of vision and insight have been shared by many throughout the week. And, hopefully, it provided a platform for many other moments of enlightenment, be it fuelled by inspiring stories, exchanges over coffee during the day, or random late night encounters over a beer—which, I suspect, many of us here today now regret drinking.

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Has Impact Investing Been Inflated?

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

Rareș Pamfil, Oxford MBA Candidate at the Saïd Business School, shares insight on the Skoll World Forum debate, “Has Impact Investing Been Inflated?”

Participating at this panel were:

  • Julia Sze, Director of Impact Investing at Arabella Advisors
  • Chris West, Partner, Sumerian Partners (formerly Director of Shell Foundation)
  • Mara Bolis – Senior Advisor, Private Sector Department, Oxfam America
  • Cathy Clark – Director of CASE i3, Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University
  • Lisa Kleissner, Co-Founder, Toniic

This was a special session at the Skoll World Forum, because it centered around an Oxford-style debate on the motion “Has impact investing been inflated?” Chris West and Mara Bolis argued for the motion, Cathy Clark and Lisa Kleissner argued against, and Julia Sze moderated.

It should be noted that speakers on both sides of the debate are active in developing the impact investing space, with neither of them opposed to the practice. Nonetheless, today they took a firm position either for or against the motion being debated, for the sake of creating a more thought-provoking debate.

The argument from Chris West and Mara Bolis broadly followed the one made in their recently launched report: “Impact Investing: Who are we Serving” (blog by Mara Bolis). Their key concern with the field as it stands today is that there is a mismatch between the type of capital supplied and the type of capital needed. “Because this sector is trying to behave differently, this money should behave differently”, pleads Mara Bolis. Too frequently, the social entrepreneurs who are knowledgeable about the financing needs of enterprises which serve the poor in developing countries, are left out the conversation when impact funds and other investment vehicles are designed. This has lead to unrealistic expectations about returns, and risks undermining the sector.

What can be done? Chris West argues that more patient capital is required, as well as more realistic expectations about returns. Entrepreneurs also need to ensure that they accept investment only at the right time, from the right people, and under the appropriate terms. Otherwise, enterprises can end up with “schizophrenic boards”, which cannot agree on whether to prioritize financial growth of social impact. Participants from all sides agreed that social investment finance intermediaries have a key role to play in helping entrepreneurs raise the right kind of capital, as do resources developed for entrepreneurs seeking investment, such as the CASE Smart Impact Capital toolkit.

Nigel Kershaw, OBE Chair of The Big Issue Group, addresses the panel of speakers.

On the other side of the debate, Cathy Clark and Lisa Kleissner spoke about the progress that has been made in developing this field, emphasising that there is genuine commitment to social impact among many of the funders have in the field. For instance, in the Toniic 100% impact network, over 130 individuals have pledged to use 100% of their assets for positive social and environmental impact, amounting to a total of over $4.5 billion in assets. Lisa Kleissner, who is a member of the network, shared her personal perspective: “The money that we [received] was more than we had hoped for, so we were willing to take a risk.” Her approach has been to work closely with entrepreneurs, understand their business model, and provide a combination of grants, loans, and other investments as needed.

The T100 project will provide other personal journeys and insight from 50 Toniic 100% impact members. The early findings are that 83% met or outperformed financial return expectations (in a sample of 40 portfolios), and 87% of all respondents met or exceeded their impact return expectations. However, what constitutes an annualised market rate of return varies considerably among respondents, leading 53% of respondents to state that the discussion around financial returns needs to be re-framed.

What can we conclude from this this debate? By one metric, the side against the motion won. The small group of 7 audience members who felt that impact investing had not been inflated grew to over 15 after the speakers finished their remarks. But they remained a minority in the room. Nonetheless, many audience members commented that “Has [the promise of] impact investing been inflated?” was the wrong question to ask. Inflated according to whom? And is it not too early to tell? What is clear is that the field has developed substantially in the last 15 years. Regardless of whether early results meet or defy expectations, the recently created sector infrastructure (funds, advisors, measurement experts, and other intermediaries) will enable growth, better capital placement, and better impact outcomes in the coming years.