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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.

Best,

Mohsin Mustafa, 2018-19 Skoll Scholar.

Our MIINT journey

The MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT) competition saw 31 MBA teams take part in 2019. With Yale receiving 1st place with a $50,000 investment prize, Oxford and Wharton were selected as runners up with $25,000 each, as investment for the companies they represented.  Our Oxford MBA team recall their journey through the tournament and the social enterprise they pitched for.

Image of Richard.

Meet Richard. Ugandan social entrepreneur taking on women’s empowerment. As a teacher, he noticed that many young women and girls were missing school due menstruation. In rural Uganda, menstruation is still stigmatised, often seen as something ‘unclean’. Alongside this, there is a lack of access to products to help manage menstruation with women turning to rags and even mud to cope. As a result, females are unable to fully participate in society. For example, they can miss up to 20% of school days, leaving them seriously disadvantaged when it comes to earning a livelihood.

In 2010, Richard founded Bana Pads to tackle this range of issues. Bana makes sanitary pads from agricultural banana waste. Throughout the value chain of sourcing, production and sales, Bana exclusively hires rural women to offer jobs to this underserved group.

These pads are then sold in rural areas to enable women to better manage menstruation and therefore participate more fully in society. Because menstruation is a culturally sensitive issue, Bana has come up with an innovative way of distributing their product. Bana’s sales channel is a group of women known as ‘Bana Champions’ who sell pads door to door in rural communities. This reduces the embarrassment of buying pads from (often male) shopkeepers. It also allows the champions to speak with the head of households (again often male) to raise awareness of the challenges of menstruation and the need for pads. Similar work happens in schools and churches. All in all, Bana reaches 20,000 customers per month, selling over 400,000 pads.

We found Richard while involved with the MBA Impact Investing Network and Training (MIINT) programme. MIINT simulates the impact investing process starting from writing an investment thesis, moving through to sourcing, due diligence, and drafting an investment memo. This culminates in pitching to an investment committee for up to $50,000 investment.

After shortlisting 10 companies, we decided to go with Bana for their compelling impact story. We were worried that they did not look like any of the previous winners of the MIINT competition (typically US based firms, with a range of investment already lined up) but decided to persevere.

After preparing an investment case, our first litmus test was the internal competition at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. Three judges with impact investing, venture capital, social entrepreneurship and consulting experience made up our panel.

Image of the team preparing to pitch at the internal MIINT competition.
The team prepares to pitch at the internal MIINT competition at Oxford’s Saïd Business School.

The judges’ feedback was tough. There were questions about how scalable the model was; the financial analysis and valuation; and even why Richard converted from an NGO to a social enterprise given the challenging investment thesis. All of this was summed up in one judges’ comment: that the business was ‘un-investable’ as presented. After leaving the room, we figured that was probably the end of our Bana Pads journey.

A few days later, we were pleasantly surprised to hear that the judges had selected us to represent the University of Oxford at the global finals in Wharton. The judges believed in the impact story of the organisation and the fact that they already had a viable model based on their track record. The excitement (and very audible celebration) was so euphoric that the barista at the Oxford Saïd common room came over to congratulate us on what must’ve been the news that someone was getting married.

And so, we got to work, taking on board all of the judges’ comments. We worked on the project through our examinations period and international classes in Johannesburg. Armed with a brand-new financial model, impact analysis, pitch deck and memo we assembled in Wharton.

In the morning we pitched in the Semi Finals. Only one team per thematic area would go through to the finals. Following lunch, we were thrilled to hear that not only did the judges chose us, but we also won the students award for best presentation. After the announcement we had a full 30 seconds to mentally prepare before pitching again. This time, in front of a panel of 10 judges including Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Acumen and Omidyar Network and 150 of our fellow competitors from over 30 business schools.

Image of the team pitching.
The team pitches Bana Pads for one last time at the finals

Photo courtesy of Wharton Social Impact Initiative

We gathered for the final ceremony at the end of the day. Hearts pounding, we listened to the closing speeches. And then the moment we had all been waiting for, “and the winners are…”. When we heard “University of Oxford” it took a full 5 seconds before what had happened sunk in. Cue the madness. We had just won $25,000 for Richard and membership into an incredible network of investors. Joy. Relief. Excitement. Disbelief. Sadness (that it was all over). You name it, we felt it.

This is what business school is all about. Taking on a challenge, building a team, working on something that you’re figuring out as you go along. And we managed to pull it off. Richard was so thrilled, he offered to pay us 10% of the winnings (which we had to refuse at least 5 times). It remains one of the highlights of our year at Oxford, we’ve built some amazing friendships on this team, have some unforgettable memories and (hopefully) helped Richard fulfil his dream for Bana Pads.

The next morning, still jet-lagged, a little dazed from what had just happened, we reminisced about the six-month journey that brought us here as we made our way home, taking one last photo before we left…

Image of the team winning.
One last crazy photo before leaving Wharton

We’d very much like to thank those who supported us in travelling to Wharton including MIINT, the Skoll Centre, the Saïd Business School, Green Templeton College and Kellogg College.

Nick, Alma, Alex, Aisha and Emma.

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Accelerating Global Health Delivery

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

This session conducted by the leadership team of Partners in Health was scheduled for 7 am on the 10th of April. Hence by design it self-selected for individuals who were extremely motivated to learn from the experience of Partners in Health in Global Health Delivery.


Partners in Health (PIH) is a Boston-based nonprofit health care organization founded in 1987 by Paul Farmer, Ophelia Dahl, Thomas J. White, Todd McCormack, and Jim Yong Kim.

The organization’s goals are “to bring the benefits of modern medical science to those most in need of them and to serve as an antidote to despair.” It provides healthcare in the poorest areas of developing countries. It builds hospitals and other medical facilities, hires and trains local staff, and delivers a range of healthcare, from in-home consultations to cancer treatments.

The session was led by Dr. Joia Mukherjee, and was facilitated by her colleagues Dr. Gary GottliebDr. Abera Lotha

The session delved into a nuance in global health delivery which are often ignored. Dr. Mukherjee asserted that the successful delivery of healthcare ought to be reviewed through three lenses.

  1. A justice framework
  2. Human rights framework
  3. Social determinants of health framework

The first two are not given their due share of discussion since perhaps as healthcare professionals we feel this is beyond our scope of work however, they are essential to an equitable delivery of good health for all.

The justice framework requires retrospective reflection. Many of the inequities we observe as global health delivery agents are not just because people who we aim to benefit do not know better or that there is lack of will to correct the structural problems that exist. Instead, the source of these issues come from a history of colonization, practices of slavery and exploitation of certain regions by others. The damage from these unfortunate parts of our collective history is immense. While these chapters of history cannot be undone, it would not be prudent to completely forget about these issues as important causative factors towards why certain regions struggle to this day with diseases that the developed world has long overcome. Hence, keeping them in our purview as we think about global health would ensure such injustices are never repeated.

The second framework is the human rights framework. Today we live in a world where almost everything we do, any service we receive or any item we own has input from many different regions. This is especially more applicable to the socioeconomic strata attending this forum or can read this narrative that I write today. When we live in a globalized world of commerce then a question that arises is why our human rights are different depending on national borders. What would be considered exploitation in one country would be considered fair trading practices in another. The world is much more comfortable with utilitarian notions of healthcare service delivery for the poor but not the same yardstick is applied to the wealthy. These are deep-seated, class-based biases that ought to be brought out in the fore and the repercussions of these biases need to be corrected or else the inequities we wish to overcome will always plague us in some way or form. This philosophy of healthcare delivery is reflected in the work of Partners in Health throughout the world. They believe all that they interact within their ecosystems are owed a similar chance towards healthcare services.

Finally, the social determinants of health were also discussed. This is an area quite often discussed and debated on in Global Health conversations. The impact of where you are born, your gender, your education and such all impact health outcomes. This has been researched and well documented. Dr. Mukherjee added a nuance to this conversation though. She proposed that instead of calling it social determinants of health we should label this effect the social forces of health since these socioeconomic markers are not just a correlation but have vector component to them as well hence the relabeling to a “force” would more accurately depict the relationship.

One of the key takeaways from this session was that healthcare is clearly a political and a social issue. And in our respective communities, to enable meaningful healthcare change we must interact deeply with the social and political forces. Meaningful change requires mobilization and that’s only possible once we put our skin in the game by operating beyond our healthcare facilities and embed ourselves intimately with the wider community.

About the Author

Mohsin Mustafa

Mohsin Mustafa is an Oxford MBA candidate, a Skoll Scholar and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Scholar. He is also an entrepreneur who is passionate about the provision of quality primary healthcare. He sees the provision of quality healthcare as a way of enabling social justice and that’s what fuels his passion for work. Mohsin is the co-founder and managing director of Clinic5, an affordable healthcare delivery service for communities in Pakistan. He is currently a Skoll Scholar, Weidenfeld-Hoffman Scholar and MBA candidate at the Saïd Business School.

Scaling Health Solutions through Government Partnerships

Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.

Achieving universal health care through collaboration between funders, social entrepreneurs, and government

Frustrating. Slow. Fundamental. Scale. These were the words that came to mind to attendees when Erin Worsham of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship asked them to describe working with government. The balance between the challenges of working with government, and the potential impact and scale that could be achieved through collaboration was immediately apparent.

In the next hour and a half, we heard candid conversations from two partnerships between social entrepreneurs and governments. One was between Last Mile Health and the Government of Liberia. The other was between Partners in Health and the Kingdom of Lesotho. Through these conversations, there were three themes that kept coming up:

  1. Collaborative target setting and evaluation between social enterprises and governments
  2. Demonstrating impact to inspire scale up
  3. Funding for comprehensive primary health care, rather than particular diseases

Collaborative target setting and evaluation

Thabelo Ramatlapeng of the Kingdom of Lesotho kicked off this theme when she mentioned one of the major challenges for governments was working with organizations who brought their own missions, and their own objectives, and were inflexible about setting these objectives collaboratively. In both partnerships, there was a concerted effort made to understand the government’s priorities and ambitions, and design the work and evaluation according to these, rather than organizational agendas.

Lisha McCormick of Last Mile Health drove this home when she mentioned that in her experience, the Government of Liberia wasn’t concerned with RCTs, and evaluation; they had very practical questions- how do we implement, and how do we pay for it?

Demonstrating impact to inspire scale up

Another recurring theme was social enterprises demonstrating impact to government in smaller use cases, and government building on this momentum to scale up what is proven to work. Partners in Health by building seven comprehensive primary care clinics in the most isolated and difficult to reach areas of Lesotho, and Last Mile Health by implementing a community health worker model in three counties of Liberia. Each have now scaled rapidly in close collaboration with government, with comprehensive primary healthcare now reaching 40% of the population of Lesotho, and community health workers operating in 15 counties of Liberia.

This to me, seems like the ultimate theory of change around working with government. Innovators prove that work can be done differently and more effectively, and the value of government is in recognizing and scaling this innovation so that it has massive impact. The innovation would not have been recognized, however, if the respective teams hadn’t engaged government in setting the objectives and defining success at the very earliest stages.  

Delivering comprehensive primary healthcare

There was a third stakeholder in the conversation between panelists that wasn’t a speaker, but whose presence was felt- the funders. A major challenge emphasized by Abera Leta of Partners in Health was that funding for health is often in verticals, designated to treat HIV vs. malaria vs. a vaccination, rather than funding that can be used for comprehensive care that treats communicable and noncommunicable diseases, and makes true universal healthcare access a reality.

Again, the importance of following the government’s lead was emphasized. In countries like Rwanda that insist on autonomy in how they use donor money to fund healthcare, comprehensive primary healthcare can be prioritized. Just like with social enterprises, when funding reinforces and enables the government agenda around comprehensive primary healthcare, rather than trying to force its own, the potential of this collaborative relationship is realized. Every speaker, from the government and the social enterprises, was unanimous in calling for funding that could be used to build the primary healthcare systems that countries need.

As we think about these themes, it’s important to keep the individuals at the center, who are the reason that  all three players- governments, social entrepreneurs, and funders- do this work. S. Olasford Wiah of the Government of Liberia brought us back to these individuals when he shared what inspires him to work in community health. He shared the story of one of his former patients. A woman who had a healthy pregnancy, but experienced complications during the delivery. Her community came together to try and bring her to a health center, walking and carrying her for hours in a hammock, but by the time they reached the center, she had passed away.

This is the injustice experienced by the 50% of the world that doesn’t have access to essential health services. And addressing this injustice is what motivates us and demands that we collaborate to achieve a world with universal access to health care.


About the Author

Puja Balachander

Puja Balachander is a social impact designer following the lead of vulnerable communities to help solve their most intractable problems. Throughout her career so far, she has worked on designing sustainable, equilibrium-shifting solutions with end-users. Puja believes in working with end-users in their language and in their community, therefore she practices and teaches design in French, Hindi, and Tamil, and has worked all over the US, India, and Madagascar. Currently undertaking her MBA degree at Saïd Business School, she is also co-founding Devie, a social enterprise that aims to improve access to quality early childhood development.