Announcing the 2011-2012 Skollars!

Drumroll, please!

It’s a special day here at the Skoll Centre, as we can finally introduce you to our newest class of Skoll Skollars!

After a rigorous 6 month search, we have selected four fantastic social entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the field already – and who will continue to do so long into the future.

The annual Scholarship funds social entrepeneurs to undertake their MBA at Said Business School and welcomes them into a community of innovators spread across the globe (now 39 Skollars strong over 8 classes).

It was a difficult process and we’d like to thank all the amazing candidates we met along the way.  We look forward to having you all with us next year and making social impact happen together.

Congratulations David, Daniela, Sydney and Andy!  We can’t wait for you to join us next year.

(Read their full bios by clicking on their picture)


Achieving Transformative Philanthropy: Promises and Challenges for Colombia

This post is written by Skoll Centre Director Pamela Hartigan, ampoule who has just returned from Colombia.

When Felipe Medina emailed me eight months ago inviting me to keynote a meeting in Cartagena, Colombia, sales on “Transformational Philanthropy”, I needed little persuading. Colombia is my favourite country on the planet –well, okay – definitely my favourite country in North and South America.  Perhaps it is because I lived and thrived there for 7 years between the ages of 10 and 17, formative ones for any young woman.  Perhaps it is because it is just so beautiful, its people so warm, its history so rich and fascinating.  Yet this lovely country is the best kept secret in the region given that most tourists are scared away by its reputation for drug trafficking and violence.  But the situation has been changing.

I’ve been back “home” many times since I lived there, and it is always a treat.  But this time I was looking forward also to connecting with old friends, pioneers in leading a broader vision for philanthropy than just writing checks.  Among them:

However, I was not sure what to expect in terms of the state of evolution in Colombia of “transformational philanthropy”. Certainly, if my long experience with Latin American countries in this sphere was any guide, I expected that wealthy individuals would still be focused on supporting palliative and unsustainable approaches to assuage the suffering of the poor and the otherwise marginalized.  Latin American philanthropy in most cases has been very much coloured by a paternalistic (or maternalistic) approach – and a deep suspicion about mixing business and charity.

Granted this is a generalization, but that has been the tendency.

But at this meeting in Cartagena (a gorgeous place to vacation, by the way), I was very surprised to find that all 200 or so invited guests were convinced that business can be a powerful lever in addressing the multiple social and environmental challenges the country faces.  And while there was recognition that charitable approaches will always be needed in certain situations, the role that these Colombians want their philanthropy to play is to prepare those community driven efforts that are market-based to be investment ready.

Admittedly, Felipe had hand-picked the participants.  He himself is a Goldman Sachs investment banker who is dedicating a good portion of his time to strategic philanthropy and impact investing space.  Thus, many of those attending had similar mindsets.

But besides my happy discovery of the way in which highly influential Colombian businessmen and women are thinking about their philanthropy, I was struck by the strong presence of senior government officials throughout the event.

Indeed, President Santos himself gave a superb video-conference presentation that even if it had been scripted, whoever scripted it certainly knows what strategic philanthropy and impact investing are all about.   We always struggle with securing high level government participation at the Skoll World Forum – but of course, which government representatives do you invite, given the Forum is a global event?  In the case of this national event, the case is clear.

And it was heartening to see how many of these public sector leaders were as passionate as any of us about the importance of transforming the opportunities for the 45% of Colombians who live in poverty.  In fact, I was horrified to learn that Colombia is the most inequitable country in the region, having edged out Brazil for this unfortunate status three years ago. However, it is not a poor country.  The economy of the country has grown 5% annually since 1995 – the same period that inequality grew.

The government has now focused on those 1 in 6 Colombians living in extreme poverty.  It is thus very keen to decrease fragmentation of effort and create synergies with the business and philanthropic community to focus activities.  Will it succeed?

As I listened to Samuel Azout, the President’s Advisor for Social Prosperity who left his life as a highly successful businessman to lead this cross-ministerial effort, I was struck by his passionate speech and captivated by his power of persuasion.  Impressed, I turned to the Colombians sitting at my table, expressing my admiration.  They smiled and shrugged.  Yes, they admitted, Sammy is impressive and believes strongly in what he is doing.  We like him.  But….

There is the small matter of “confianza” – “trust”.  The level of corruption is such in the public sector that no matter how much people want to work with the government to the benefit of their country, they simply don’t believe the funds will be put to the use for which they are intended.  Indeed, just a few weeks before, the Mayor of Bogota had resigned because of corruption.   But corruption also permeates the business sector.  Only 34% of Colombia businesses comply with the law.

Until Colombia’s public and business sectors abide by the rule of law, no amount of philanthropy and market based entrepreneurial solutions will allow the country to shine as the beautiful and promising nation it has the potential to be.

SBS Venture Fund gives flight to big ideas

This post was written by Vannary Sar, of the Skoll Centre.

Last night hundreds of students, alumni and people from the business community gathered at Saїd to watch the Venture Fund Final (or should I say “show-down”) and let me tell you, what a fun night!  The Venture Fund happens once a year and is an opportunity for SBS entrepreneurs to battle it out for a chance to win seed capital for their venture.  To date, the Fund has a portfolio of five promising start-ups, with a total investment of £675,000 – and we were all hoping to see another cheque with many zeros being handed over.

The four ventures competing were Contego, TheySay, Off.Grid.Electric and Green & Grow.  The teams pitched their ideas with passion filling the theatre, and you could feel the drama (at one point a £250,000 cheque was waved in the air!)  All entrepreneurs did extremely well, fielding difficult questions and justifying their projections – but the two ventures that impressed the investors the most were Green & Grow and, Off.Grid.Electric.  Congratulations to both teams, and especially Skoll Skollar, Xavier Helgesen and Skoll Centre Associate, Erica Mackey of Off.Grid.Electric. We are SO proud of you!

The celebrations continued throughout the night with cocktails and live performances from Oxford’s a cappella group ‘Out of the Blue’ and it was great to be part of such a supportive and entrepreneurial atmosphere.  While this event isn’t run by the Skoll Centre (congratulations to our SBS colleagues for their hard work), it is a vivid reminder of the incredible resources and networks out there in the wider Oxford ecosystem for entrepreneurs.  These support systems are so critical to entrepreneurs – especially those with ideas for social impact ventures, where seed funding is even more scarce.

A great night all around, where little (or BIG) ideas can turn into a reality.   Here’s to the winning teams!

Student Treks: A week in the Bay

We’re pleased to welcome guest blogger Patrick Keenan, MBA ’10-11.  Along with dozens of his classmates, Patrick traveled to Silicon Valley over spring break with the Oxford MBA trek to experience the region’s entreprenerial energy first-hand.  The post originally appeared on Patrick’s blog.

Trickling into the Carlton hotel one Oxonian after another. It was Sunday night and we knew, despite the long ride, we would need all our energy for the week ahead. The schedule was packed. We certainly had options: Google, Facebook, Twitter, Box, IDEO, The HUB, Path, Genetech, LinkedIn, CurrentTV, and YCombinator.

What stuck about the Bay area was the contrasts. From one block to the next, from one hour to the next it was a place of:

  • Perfect Weather vs  Cold Fog
  • Delicious Tastes vs  Fast Food
  • Optimism vs  Destitution
  • Opportunities vs  Workaholics
  • Thought Leaders vs  Deluded realties
  • High quality of life vs  High cost of living
  • Freedom vs  Income disparity
  • Beautiful Public Space vs  Urine soaked streets

We heard many contrasts at our visits as well. Entrepreneurship and Innovation often come from making unexpected connections, here are a couple we saw:

Path: Anthropology + Online Networks

Drawing from Professor Dunbar at Oxford, Path is working to create a smaller social network. The venture is based on 2 of Dunbar’s magic numbers of 150(the amount of people you can know) and 5(the amount of people you can trust). By limiting your social network, the idea is that you’ll share more of your life(photos). Download the app, its beautiful., one of many entrepreneurial highlights (photo courtesy of Human Centred Design + Social Issues

We were privileged to hear from Jocelyn Wyatt about IDEO’s venture into the social innovation space. They’d be launching an incubator for ideas, and a kit around HCD. Design and Development have been too far for too long, we have 90% of designers designing for 10% of the population. Great to see this connection, apply for the fellowship here.

SYPartners: Strategy + Design

I took the liberty of visiting a firm I’ve been inspired by for a while. SYPartners has worked with top tier clients on changing culture for the better. By their material you might think they were a design studio. What they do well is assist leaders to develop new visions for themselves. I hope to see more work that hits the high note of both core strategy and quality execution, check them out here.

O’Reilly: Communities + Venture

Another fortunate meeting was with O’Reily Alpha Tech Ventures. They work with the alpha nerd, and the communities that surround folks who are doing for the sake of it. Some familiar technologies line the walls here: Drupal + Aquia, Foursquare, Strobe + SproutCore, Get Satisfaction.

The highlight of the trip for me though, wasn’t a company, but a talk. I’ve been an avid listener of the Long Now Foundation for years. As fate would have it, the dates matched.  In the talk many contrasting visions were reconciled, from the singularity, to nuclear power, to the importance of geography, and more. Check out the talk here.

Its clear I’ll have to go back. There’s an attitude, a culture, and an ecosystem in the bay area that can’t compare. Entrepreneurs live on the fault line of ideas, and the Bay area is wrought with tectonic activity.

For more on the trek to Silcon Valley, read what other student’s had to say

The Search for the 2011-2012 Skollar class continues

Peace and quiet.  Yes, it’s the time of year we cherish here at Said Business School:  spring break.

While we love our students, there’s no denying that their departure for spring break means catch up time for us.  Sigh. Breath. Repeat.  It also means we can reflect on all the activity of the last 2 terms and start planning for next year’s incoming class. Where has the time gone?!

In contrast to the silence in the corridors, we’ve been making A LOT of noise on Skype.  This week we were deep in interviews with candidates for our Skoll Scholarship. We had the chance to speak with amazing entrepreneruers from around the world who are aiming to join us at Said next year as one of the five Skoll Skollars. We are so grateful for these incredible candidates and can’t contain our excitement about their energy, new ideas, and excitement for growing the Skoll Centre.

Pegram Harrison, a lecturer in Entrepreneurship at Said, took some time today to reflect on the Scholarship process and what we’re looking for in the next Skoll Skollar.  We’ll be announcing the 2011-2012 cohort next month so stay tuned!


Radha Basu shares insights on frugal innovation

Last week, the Centre had the pleasure of hosting Radha Basu at SBS as part of our year-long Speaker Series.  She spoke to us about her work in frugal innovation, and if you are new to the term (like many of us were) it’s a simple, brilliant concept.

Rather than adapting products for emerging economies, why not reverse the  process of innovation? Take the needs of the poor, and design technology that works for them.  Strip it down, make it rough and tough, relish constraints, and most importantly, rethink the entire process, business model and distribution channel with an eye towards the emerging market consumer.  The social and environmental impacts are massive, not to mention the economic opportunities for companies to seize this burgeoning market.  (Need proof of frugal innovation’s rise?: see this feature by the Economist.)

Radha, a former Hewitt Packard executive  in India and now a social entrepreneur,  is no stranger to the potential of technology to develop economies and change people’s lives.  As faculty at Santa Clara University, she is developing the Frugal Innovation Lab to channel the  expertise of faculty and students from engineering, business, science and entrepreneurship into practical solutions for emerging markets.  This is a real feat in multi-disciplinary collaboration (have you ever tried to herd siloed academics from across a university?!) and solid evidence of how forward-thinking educational institutions can throw their hat in the ring to not just think, but to do.

Radha’s insights were plentiful, but some of her top thoughts:

Innovate frugally

Core competencies of engineering for the developing world include:

  • Ruggedness
  • Affordability
  • Simplification
  • Adaptation
  • Use of local materials/manufacturing
  • Lightweight
  • Simple user-centric design
  • Green technology

Break all the rules

By taking the needs of poor consumers as a starting point and working backwards, a new paradigm for inclusive growth with rural customers is arising.  Radha gave examples of a rice husk water filter that provides clean, bacteria-free water, an eye care system that provides preventative care to all at a low-cost rate, and an electrocardiogram that fits in a backpack and reduces patient cost to $1 per test.

My favorite example is Nokia’s  Bicycle Charger Kit that clips to bike handlebars and uses your own pedal power to charge your phone, also providing light to cycle in the dark.  It’s penetrating the rural Indian market, and leaves me wondering when I can get my hands on one.

This is a massive business opportunity

The BOP market continues to be a breeding ground for disruptive innovation and market insight.  Multinationals expect 50% of growth in next ten years from developing markets whose economies are driven by adoption of  technologies such as mobile, renewable energies, clean water, mobile banking and innovations in last mile health and agriculture.

Seems as if Radha and her frual innovation team are on to something big.