The idea that business can play a role in alleviating poverty has long been a subject of real significance for academics and practitioners – in for-profit and non-profit sectors alike. Today, the debate on the role of ‘Business and Society’, ‘Responsible Business’, and a host of other related terms point not just to an emerging trend, but more significantly, to a new normativity in which corporations, NGOs, charities, and indeed a technologically empowered civil society are all co-constructors. This transition from emerging trend to normative value is represented in literatures and conversations that have moved beyond the question of if the private sector has a role to play in addressing poverty (and a host of other social and environmental challenges), to the question of how. This new normativity is neatly summarised in the mantra, ‘doing well by doing good’. In other words, there is a possible synergy between commercial and social value that can be harnessed to tackle serious social and environmental challenges.
In the context of answering the ‘how’ questions, earlier this year, in April, the Skoll Centre and Acumen co-hosted Beyond Dialogue with generous support from Mars Inc, PepsiCo, Levis Strauss Foundation, EY, and Johnson & Johnson. The event was designed to bring together corporations and social enterprises to discuss their warts-and-all experiences of cross-sector partnerships. Through a series of facilitated roundtable discussions, experienced cross-sector partnership managers shared their learning, reflections – whether positive or negative – and made suggestions for improvements and future collaborations. The details of the themes and lessons of Beyond Dialogue are outlined in this report that also includes six case studies of cross-sector partnerships between social enterprises and corporations.
In the on-going pursuit of tackling poverty, corporations and business managers will continue to find that when working in complex, unpredictable, and unfamiliar environments, the creation of new strategic partnerships can offer the best way forward. Social enterprises and entrepreneurs, on the other hand, will continue to find that relating to vast, billion-dollar companies with a myriad of internal stakeholders and managers can be just as challenging as the ‘wicked problem’ they are trying to solve. Ultimately, the challenges of cross-sector partnerships will only be improved over time, when mistakes are made and lessons are learned. This is why convenings such as Beyond Dialogue and the conversations that they spark are important contributions to answering the how questions of ‘doing well by doing good’. Please download the report and continue the dialogue.
While we have all been inspired by her accomplishments, anyone who knows Pamela will have been touched by her energy, her fierce disdain for bureaucracy, and her unique ability to get things done when others would have found the task impossible. As the book she wrote with John Elkington was titled, Pamela certainly did channel “The Power of Unreasonable People.”
At the Skoll Centre, we gathered this morning to mourn and reminisce over tea, and felt a huge sense of loss for the powerful force that had brought us all together. The global community of Skoll Scholars and Saïd Business School alumni whose lives have been touched by her generosity have been reaching out, sharing their gratitude for the opportunities she opened up for them, the inspiration she provided, and the lessons she left them with. And the wider world of social impact educators and practitioners will certainly be mourning the loss of her thought leadership and passion for change.
At the core, the message we at the Centre feel left with is a sense of love. She had an incredible love for her family and for making others feel like family. There are many around the world who know and love the Hartigans as well as a global network of changemakers because of her incredible ability to connect people to each other to get things done, while building life-long friendships along the way. She also had an incredible love for her work. She poured her heart into it, because she saw it as her channel to change the world, and that she certainly did. We can remember how, a few years ago, a group of students asked her to teach a course about social entrepreneurship because they weren’t in the Business School and they wanted to learn from her. She told them “I’ll give up my next 5 Saturdays to teach you, if you commit to showing up.” She had more than 100 people taking that class, on a Saturday morning, and she held true to her commitment, bringing in speakers and lecturers. She offered this course, on her Saturdays, for no pay and no fee, because she loved helping people learn how to improve the world.
She will be greatly missed. Our heart is with Pamela’s family and her global network of friends today as we mourn the loss of such a unique and “unreasonable” woman. Saïd Business School and the Skoll Centre will be celebrating her life in the weeks to come, but today we wanted to share this sad news with our community so you too can hold up your teacups and sing her praises. She lived an incredible life, and we all feel blessed to have been touched by it.
Following the success of the Oxford Social Innovation Case Competition on 30th April at Saïd Business School, Project Manager and MBA Student, Min Ji Kim takes time to interview Cameron Stevens, CEO of Prodigy Finance.
The 3rd annual Oxford Social Innovation Case Competition (OSICC) – a competition that challenges teams of students from any and all degree programmes from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University to find the best solution to difficult questions faced by real social entrepreneurs – was held at the University of Oxford Saïd Business School on April 30th 2016. In the lead-up to the big event, we sat down with Cameron Stevens, CEO of Prodigy Finance, a co-sponsor with Oxford’s Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship of this year’s OSICC, to speak about the journey of the company he founded and his personal journey as an entrepreneur.
Learn more hereabout the way that alumni can support the incoming class of Oxford SBS September 2016 students.
What does Prodigy Finance do?
Prodigy Finance is a company that provides student loans exclusively to postgraduate students attending the world’s top business schools and universities. We believe the talent map is global, yet the current student lending credit model is not. We are committed to changing this, and have built a borderless lending model that prizes academic potential over geography.
Would you consider yourself a social entrepreneur? What in your life journey do you think prepared you to start and build a company like Prodigy?
I’ve always thought the purpose of any great business was to solve problems, and have constantly been very interested in addressing social issues via entrepreneurship. Particularly, the concept of combining a social and profit dimension in businesses that can grow to size and scale.
For instance, when I was in university in South Africa, I started a corporate events planning company and designed it in a way to address employment inequality. We provided people with the skills to transition into full employment and grew the company to 65 full time staff. Later, I moved to Malaysia for six years and founded another company there, which I successfully scaled and sold. And ever since, I have always associated business success with doing good in the world and making a positive impact.
What specifically triggered the idea behind Prodigy? What was the specific problem or gap you and your founding team were trying to address?
Shortly after arriving to INSEAD to pursue my MBA, a few of my friends and I were lamenting over a beer the challenges we all had financing our business school education. We really had only three options: (a) self-fund from family, friends, and personal savings, (b) sell or dispose any existent assets, or (c) borrow at usurious rates from banks in our home countries and eat the costs of foreign exchange rates and fees. At the same time, despite being at a well-recognised school like INSEAD, no financial institutions in France would lend us because we did not have local credit history.
At this time, I was very influenced by Mohamed Yunus and the microfinance movement and thought to bring those same principles to plug the gap I was witnessing; enable anyone accepted at a top MBA programme to achieve their dreams and complete the course, no matter where they came from.
What was the biggest challenge in getting Prodigy started? How did you respond?
My founding team and I worked on developing and re-developing the business model of Prodigy during our time in INSEAD and a bit beyond. We managed to attract the attention of Barclays bank and were working out an investment agreement for them to provide the initial loan base, but just as we were about to seal the deal the 2008 financial crisis hit. By the time of our next scheduled meeting with the Barclays team, the team as well as our intended agreement had all but evaporated. The global economy and the appetite for investment in new ideas dried up.
It, felt surreal, a bit like a slap in the face. We were completely deflated, so we did the natural thing. We went back to the drawing board. Clearly our initial idea of getting institutional backing from big banks wasn’t going to work anymore. The model had to change – or at least the investment source needed to. It was around this time that I recalled that I had written my university thesis on crowdfunding in 1999, except of course back then it wasn’t called that. We also needed people with available money who understood the funding plight MBA students faced: alumni. That’s how Prodigy came to be a peer-to-peer platform allowing alumni investors to invest in future classes of MBA students.
What lesson in that experience would you say is the most important for social entrepreneurs?
(Laughs) I’m not sure what I would advise someone…it was not rational or intelligent at the time. The rational thing to do would have been to listen to the people telling us at that time to stop and do something else. On a serious note, I suppose I’d say you need to be very resilient. Problem-solving and being quite stubborn are also personality traits I naturally have, and ended up helping me through the difficult times with setting up Prodigy.
How important is the alumni community aspect of the business model to you? Would you say that it has a role beyond guaranteeing financial returns?
Very important. The alumni community is at the core of our business model. Through their long-term sustainable capital, the alumni community gets to see the tremendous impact their monies have in supporting global talent. Plus, as we extend the model to other adjacencies the alumni community becomes even more important. We are already seeing how the alumni community is genuinely interested in connecting to fill available job positions or to fund new entrepreneurial ventures.
What’s next for Prodigy?
We’ve grown quite fast over the last two years and have now expanded beyond MBAs to support postgraduate students studying for other non-MBA business programmes (e.g. Masters in Finance, International Management, etc.) LLMs, MPPs, and Masters in Engineering at selected schools. We face typical challenges from a business with social impact achieving size and scale, but isn’t this why we signed up to be a case for this competition (laughs)? So you tell me! I look forward to hearing the suggestions of the talented teams in this competition of how and where Prodigy should be focusing on.
Min Ji Kim is an MBA student at Saïd Business School, dosage University of Oxford and the project manager for this year’s Oxford Social Innovation Case Competition, an event that sees teams of students tackle a real-life business problem faced by 3 different social entrepreneurs, then present their case to a panel of judges where a £300 cash prize is awarded to the 3 winning teams. Previously solely supported by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, this year has seen the generous sponsorship of Prodigy Finance; the MBA tuition fee loan company supporting international students to access high-quality business education.
Although I am now familiar with Prodigy Finance – an official sponsor of this year’s Oxford Social Innovation Case Competition (OSICC) – I have to admit that I used to think that it was a conventional financial institution with a conventional student loan product. I was therefore initially sceptical as to how the company was compatible with the objectives and identity of the OSICC.
There was a personal colour to my scepticism. Before I enrolled in the MBA programme here at the University of Oxford, I was an official in the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN agency with the mandate to research global employment trends and promote decent employment for all. In the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the organisation found itself very much connected to the consequences of that fall-out and compelled to advocate for millions of ordinary people and families around the world whose livelihoods and, sometimes, survival were suddenly threatened as a result of the irresponsible conduct of the financial sector. At the ILO, I was personally responsible for tracking the devastating consequences of the crisis on youth employment figures and youth flight and brain-drain from crisis-affected countries. It is not surprising that in this milieu, and in the growing popular disillusionment with capitalism beyond it, it was increasingly accepted as fact that capital and community well-being were diametrically opposed.
However, incredibly, Prodigy Finance demonstrates that this does not have to be the case. Founded on the conviction that a person’s country of birth or socio-economic background or lack of a credit history in one fixed country should not hinder her from accessing the world’s top business schools for lack of financing, Prodigy has found an ingenious way to mobilise the often dispersed but high-impact power of the community to invest in not just financial capital but the more important human capital. Even before online crowdfunding was “a thing” Prodigy had developed an online platform through which international students could receive relatively low-interest loans that are fully funded by the alumni of their MBA programme. More than 70% of Prodigy loan recipients are students from developing countries, and more than 80% of the company’s clients could not have accessed the financing necessary to accept the offers they received from top academic institutions had it not been for Prodigy. Prodigy’s business model is predicated on the idea that investing in such talented individuals, giving them the opportunity to have the life-changing and character-stretching experience of a top graduate programme, would lead to the sustainable development of these individuals’ home countries and communities.
It turns out that I am surrounded by ample evidence that Prodigy’s business model is sound. A significant number of my colleagues and classmates are financing their MBA education with the inter-generational community support represented by the Prodigy loan, and they are among the most inspiring, entrepreneurial, and values-conscious people I know – in other words, the kind of people the most likely to create exactly what competitions like the OSICC exist to curate and promote. There is no doubt in my mind that after completing their studies at Oxford they will have tremendous impact, whether they return to their home countries and apply what they learned through the MBA there or get employed in the UK and invest in the sustainable development of their nations from here.
What is equally clear is that, despite not being a loan recipient, I am also impacted through the experiences, insights, and vision of my classmates that Prodigy serves and have become all the richer for it.
Most importantly, I have been pleasantly humbled to consider the possibility that capital in its truest form is neither opposed nor isolated from community but is always embedded in it.
Lara Barbier is a writer/producer for Be Inspired Films, an award winning video production company aiming to bring great ideas to life and tell stories that matter through the creation of broadcast quality video and animation.
So, you’ve got that kick-ass idea, and you’re ready to harness the power of crowd funding! That’s great. Crowdfunding is potentially a really powerful way for the average person or small organization to launch their music, game, film or product without the traditional finance and commercial backing that multi-nationals and corporations have. It can also be a great way to get people to support a cause.
However launching a successful campaign isn’t always straightforward, in fact, according to Crowdfunding Academy , around 60% of projects fail.A successful campaign requires lots of planning, a well thought through timeline, some very important social media sharing triggers, a little bit of luck and – a killer video!
As Kickstarter succinctly puts, projects with a video are 50% more likely to succeed than those without, while John Vaskis an Indiegogo ‘Games Guru’ says that campaigns with videos raise, on average, 114 per cent more than those without.
The video is the elevator pitch – it’s going to tell your story and should entertain, but also make people care and want to be involved in the process – preferably by a pledge and/or by sharing your project with their friends.
It doesn’t matter if you’re recording on an iPhone or on a top-range DSLR – take time to plan your video before going anywhere near that shiny recording device.Watch lots of other crowd funding videos, both successful and not, and think about why they did or did not work.
Once you’ve done your research you’ll want to write out a script and shot list, and practice what you’re going to say, so it sounds engaging and sincere. Reel SEO offers these five points as the backbone for the structure of your crowd-funding video:
Your Project’s Story
We would probably add a couple of things to that. It can also be very powerful to clearly define the problem you are seeking to solve through what you are doing and then offer your solution, this can get people on board if they can identify with the problem. While it’s great to include possible rewards – don’t list them all! Pick your top two to three.
This leads to the next point – keep your video short and sweet.You need to be respectful of your viewer’s time – and grab their imagination up front. As Entrepreneur.com points out, you have the rest of the project page to expand on the details, don’t try and cram it all into the video!
You don’t have to be the next Michael Bay to make a great video. According to Kickstarter, it doesn’t have to perfect, it just has to be you. That said, you do need your videos to be of a good enough quality to capture and keep the attention of your audience. Poor sound and lighting can be a big turn off, just as much as an unplanned, monotone speech.
But don’t be afraid to try out bold ideas or mix it up. The best place to try out innovative ideas is usually at the start of your video says Crowdsourcing.org, and cites The Bridge as a good example launching straight into the action, before going to the who, how, when, why of the film project. Be creative – but also test it out on people who will tell you straight up if it works for them (your mum does not count)!
Finally, have some fun – and let your enthusiasm and passion shine through – this project means a lot to you and perhaps exists because of the way you or your friends and family live life. A great example of this is Gotham Bicycle Defense, who created a theft resistant bike light after a friend was hit by car after having his light stolen one night.Or “Boombot REX Ultraportable Speaker” campaign on Kickstarter , which, as Crowdsourcing.org point out, sells an out-doors lifestyle just as much as the product.
Crowdsourcing involves soliciting input from the public, usually on a digital platform, to address market gaps and surface promising solutions in an open, efficient way. It often has a voting component wherein the top-voted ideas win support. Crowdsourcing uses collective intelligence to help creative ideas rise to the top – while generating a real-time feedback loop and a shared sense of ownership in the project.
Crowdsourcing facilitates problem-solving and innovation across all sectors. In the private sphere, GOOD helped launch the Pepsi Refresh Challenge, a $20 million campaign that channeled Pepsi’s marketing dollars to ignite citizen activism. Social impact endeavors like the Knight Foundation News Challengeand the Case Foundation’s America’s Giving Challenge harness broad-reaching input about information-sharing and philanthropic giving.
With LA2050, an initiative to create, drive, and track a shared vision for the future of Los Angeles, the Goldhirsh Foundation relies heavily on crowdsourcing. Citizen input via crowdsourcing assists us in investing a total of $1 million annually via the MyLA2050 Grants Challenge to 10 organizations (both for-profit and non-profit) with ideas that shape a better future for Los Angeles.
For two years, we have run this crowdsourced campaign to great acclaim – generating about 300 vetted projects per year and engaging more than 70,000 people in the voting process. Crowdsourcing encourages creative idea generation and promotion, enables us to connect the dots among ideas, supporters, and entrepreneurs, and allows us to co-create solutions for the future of Los Angeles.
Crowdsourcing benefits and concerns
Crowdsourcing is an effective tool to helprealize an organization’s goals, whether you are an entrepreneur seeking funding, an investor exploring a new idea, or a civic organization trying to identify a breakthrough process.
Benefits for funders:
Exposure to new organizations, ideas, and funding. Crowdsourcing brings funders closer to real problems and solutions. Some applicants that didn’t get funding from LA2050 went on to receive more than $1 million in follow-on funding from the Annenberg Foundation and the Roy and Patricia Disney Foundation.
Community engagement. Crowdsourcing enabled us to engage more than 70,000 people a year, putting private dollars to public use. As a result, we now have a group of Angelenos who have opted to receive information about the organizations they supported, and who care about a better future for LA.
Emerging trends. By analyzing the data that emerged from the 2013 MyLA2050 Grants Challenge, we identified promising trends that could create significant change – trends that we also see in the private and civic sector, like sharing economy solutions and the re-purposing of public space. By sharing this data in our report with other funders and leaders, we identified approaches that could help other organizations progress.
Benefits for entrepreneurs:
Earned media. Projects that compete in a crowdsourced challenge can receive exposure to new audiences via earned media. The MyLA2050 Grants Challenge garnered significant radio, print, and digital media coverage about the ideas we were showcasing – both challenge winners and those that did not win.
Marketing inspiration. Participation in a crowdsourced challenge forces you to crystallize your idea or project, and pushes you to create videos, photos, tweets, and pithy messaging to promote your project.
Landscape knowledge. By showcasing a range of projects, crowdsourcing can help organizations better differentiate themselves from their competitors. Simultaneously, this fosters collaboration between organizations that have similar visions and theories of change or that work along a similar continuum.
Exposure to other funders, investors and partners. As mentioned, even organizations that didn’t win a MyLA2050 grant reported more than $1 million in follow-on funding from other sources, based directly on exposure generated through the challenge.
Engaged feedback. Crowdsourcing helps establish a dynamic relationship between organizations and their supporters, including immediate feedback on projects.
Crowdsourcing also raises legitimate concerns that need to be addressed:
Isn’t this just a popularity contest? The idea most likely to succeed or to have the most impact may not win if the organization behind it has a small online constituency. To address this concern in our 2014 challenge, we allowed the public vote to determine five winners, while the foundation team chose the other five winners.
Competition pits social sector groups against each other. What crowdsourcing really does is allow groups to compete publicly and transparently. When entrepreneurs submit their proposals to an investor, the selection is made behind closed doors, by a few people. We addressed this issue by encouraging more collaboration among participants and favoring collaborations in our selection process. We also hosted networking events for entrepreneurs to meet each other and join one another’s projects.
There aren’t enough benefits for participants who don’t win. In our second year we spent a full month honoring and promoting the submissions – before voting even began. In this way, we were able to showcase all the great ideas that were submitted.
Crowdsourcing Resource Guide for Entrepreneurs and Investors
Whether you are looking for a way to expand your funding, generate awareness about innovative ideas, unleash potential within your constituent base or increase participation in your initiatives, tapping into the crowd may help. The guide below offers some resources on how to effectively crowdsource – for both entrepreneurs and investors.