Sunday, 9 June 2019, the Skoll Centre’s Map the System Competition held its
Global Final in Oxford for another year. Making it to the final six teams out
of 20 overall finalists, the University of Oxford team, No Means No, took 2nd
place, winning £3,000 in cash prize money. But the money and the prestige of
being in the top three winners only came 2nd to the incredible
journey of learning and discovery this team of five Indian students, four of
which were Oxford MBAs.
Oxford MBA 2018-19, Prerna Choudhury and teammate and Duke University Sandford School of Public Policy alumna, Tanmayata Bansal, tell us how they mapped the system of gender-based violence in New Delhi, India.
In early January, we came together as a
team with a common thread that is unfortunately part of the lived narrative of
most Indian women—we all had either been victims of sexual assault or known
someone close to us who had. In 2012, the brutal gang rape and death of
23-year-old Jyoti Singh brought the city of New Delhi to the forefront. Seven
years later, Jyoti’s parents, who have now turned activists feel that change
has not occurred and that justice in India has failed Jyoti and women like her.
Not only were we frustrated by the lack of
progress made to address the problem in our country, but we were also
passionate about wanting to be a part of the change. Map the System offered a
public platform for us to break the societal taboo we had dealt with our whole
lives, using the lens of systems thinking, which was particularly relevant to a
problem as complex as ours that involved a diverse range of stakeholders and
was multi-faceted in its contributing causes and solutions.
We conducted extensive primary and
secondary research to help us map stakeholders and develop a narrative illustrating
the interplay between these stakeholders. This ongoing interplay contributes to
perpetuating sexual assault against women in New Delhi. We read news articles,
op-eds, reports, and academic literature to help us understand the history and
quantify the extent of the issue. We identified 20 distinct stakeholders that
were either experiencing, contributing to, or trying to prevent the problem.
The second phase included primary research
which included 31 interviews across our stakeholder spectrum. We started by
reaching out to our internal network and gradually progressed to sending out
cold emails. We received an overwhelming response to our cold emails, which
further strengthened our belief that the issue needs to be discussed on a
These interviews further tied to our
secondary research and gave us nuanced perspectives on the issue. The process
also contributed to our final systems map which underwent multiple iterations –
from a linear process map, to a rather convoluted and more accurate depiction
of the problem and aspects related to it.
So what were our findings? We’ve outlined
and synthesized our research and findings:
Widespread change can only be achieved if
the city of New Delhi implements a concerted city-level strategy that targets
solutions in education, policy, law, technology, and infrastructure:
All our interviewees advocated for education as key to fostering long-term
change in mindset. Solutions targeting education taking the longest to make an impact
but yield the highest probability of bringing about a paradigm shift.
Implementation and enforcement of policies takes time and is key to success.
comprehensive legal structure already exists in India to deal with crimes of
sexual assault. Reform should focus on expedition, reduction of errors, and
placing the victim at the center of the case.
Use of mobile phone apps and SOS emergency lines have provided women with an
avenue to report sexual harassment. Social media campaigns have also enabled
Physical infrastructure such as lighting, or social infrastructure such as
networks help reduce the incidence of sexual assault.
& Levers of Change
A lack of
prioritization and implementation can be addressed by prioritizing gender
equality as part of the national agenda through policy changes such as reducing
investigation times or portraying women in empowered roles in Bollywood movies.
A lack of
sensitivity and support is mitigated through the creation of a safe and
reliable place for women to fight against assault, achieved through repeated
gender sensitization trainings and the building of strong social networks and
cohesion among female professionals.
in staffing and representation are countered by increasing the agency and
representation of women across sectors.
A lack of
knowledge, awareness and accessibility can be addressed by increasing educators’
awareness of the importance of developing emotional intelligence in students.
Our systems map was divided into three
that promotes gender equality: A map tracing the way in which gender inequality
is deeply entrenched in Indian society and promoted from birth.
that normalizes sexual assault: A map analyzing the ways society, the political
and legal system engage in victim blaming and shaming and enable the attacker
through his ability to exercise control through power and bribery.
models and underlying structures that support the system such as a deeply
entrenched patriarchy, an outdated and rigid educational system, caste system,
religious and cultural traditions, weak institutional support, and social
Map the System empowered us to speak about a topic that was deeply personal to all of us. Ever since the competition, we noticed programs and campaigns happening in the city of New Delhi increasing awareness on the issue. Most notably, a leading radio station has started a campaign to make Delhi safe, especially at night by creating a sense of responsibility among its residents and urging them to be more vocal and actionable if they witness sexual harassment. We look forward to collaborating with such efforts and disseminate our findings and report among our stakeholders and organizations to take our efforts forward.
Authors: Prerna Choudhury Oxford MBA 2018-19 & Tanmayata Bansal Masters in Public Policy Analysis at Duke University.
Skoll Scholar 2018-19, has spent the last year in Oxford studying her MBA. To
end the year, she reflects on her own personal learnings and passes them onto
you to take forward on your own journey.
I love to ask questions to deepen my understanding. I believe asking great questions is an awesome skill to have. This year, however, I discovered that I am an activist: I raise my voice in matters that contradict my values. And it happened a few times. I also had the wrong impression that many people think like me and I assumed that my MBA colleagues and I think alike. Instead, I learned there are endless perspectives that I need to acknowledge and that the ‘18-19 MBA cohort at Oxford Saïd are not as vocal as I expected.
Here are some stats: this year
we were 315 people from 62 countries, average age 28, with 24% of us coming
from finance, 17% coming from consulting and the rest 59% coming from 16+ other
fields, with an average of 5 years of experience. Wouldn’t you expect these
young people to make their voices heard?
In some sections, many were
silent during lectures and didn’t ask clarifying questions. Some possible
reasons: they didn’t want to disturb the lecturer’s flow, or they thought that
their question might be “stupid” and might not bring value to the rest.
Culture, personality and English proficiency also play a role. And then there
were people who might have been experts in their field.
I experienced many times the impostor syndrome.
However, it didn’t stop me from asking brief questions in class: it shows the lecturer
where I am in my learning, it helps me clarify my thoughts and other people can
benefit too. Even more, given my years of groundwork, I could potentially bring
a new perspective on interpreting industry practices and academic research. I
kept my computer open many times in class to make sure I get a gist of a
concept like debt/equity ratio and use it correctly in my question, but
that didn’t stop me from taking my understanding to the next level with a
question. The worst thing that could happen was to leave the classroom without
understanding the foundation of what was taught.
Question the default – Courage to ask Why
In a world in which “business as
usual” – with profit as the single end goal – doesn’t seem to make sense anymore,
we need courageous leadership who dares to question the default practices. I
actively decided to practice this courage. Don’t be afraid to ask in impact
investing class why we assume that tools of traditional finance can be
transferred as they are into impact investing. Don’t be afraid to ask in
economics and finance, why the perpetual growth assumption is not questioned.
Speak your mind
How many of us question the
things we hear from lecturers and speakers? Being at Oxford, we had access to
amazing speakers: in class, at the Oxford Union or at events around the campus.
Amazingly reputed people come to Oxford, and that’s a great privilege. But
Oxford also teaches you to speak your mind, not to get intimidated by the
reputation of the speaker. We might have valuable insights. Politely
acknowledge someone’s effort to share their story in front of a class of
students and then speak up. Just remember to speak with humility!
Always remind people that every management decision
It’s not about the merger post
acquisition, it’s about two teams of dedicated people learning how to work
together. Thinking about people can help you better understand the expected and
Speak with your heart but wrap your position
in data: every time
I learned this the hard way. My friend, an editor with The Economic Times, showed me how to keep my emotions under control and use data instead to make the point. It does require a bit more (home) work. I tend to let myself taken away by emotions. When I hear something that contradicts my core believes, such as anti-refugee statements or opinions about “the poor’s ignorance”, my blood pressure goes up. Some perspectives out there really clash with my genuine belief that humanity is equality distributed in every one of us.
When things go rough, remember to be assertive. One of the best take-aways I have from my year is the Even Fish Need Confidence (EFNC) framework that I learned during peer-support training: explanation, feelings, needs, consequences. Use this framework to communicate openly to someone who might use words that trigger negative emotional reactions in you: explain what happened (facts), express your feelings about what happened (vulnerably), state what you need (to make this relationship work), state the positive (and negative) consequences if your needs are (not) met. Communicating with this framework builds respect between people and reduces the risk that someone gets hurt. Difficult conversations are healthy and important. Constructive conflict, if orchestrated, can help everyone learn how to be a team player. It’s not an easy task to orchestrate conflict but it might be worth it. We are all on a discovery journey to become a better version of ourselves. Enjoy yours!
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
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.
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
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
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
Don’t get involved in office politics
Some will happen inevitably. When that
happens try not to take sides
Don’t give negative feedback over a
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.
It was 2017
and I was visiting an indigenous Aymara community of quinoa producers. After 3
years of hard work and with some funding from international organizations, these
humble smallholder farmers received organic certification that would allow them
to earn a fairer price on their quinoa. They put in all the necessary internal
audits to prove that the quinoa was organic quality. That year should have been
their second organic-certified harvest.
But all was
I had already spoken with the certifier to learn that they missed the required $7,000 payment for certification, and I wanted to know why.
prices had plummeted to their lowest levels in years and the grant project
supporting the community had ended.
the cooperative had no connections with international clients willing to
purchase organic quinoa at a premium price, so their valuable harvest sat in
the warehouse for nearly a year.
couldn’t come up with the money and by the time a buyer came, it was already
too late to pay for the next year’s certification. Years of efforts had been
wasted, and the farmers were now stuck with poverty-level quinoa prices once
this tragic situation have been avoided?
An MBA (or
any type of higher education) is not a silver bullet for solving problems like
these, but it can be a starting point. Business has the power to create wealth,
but this wealth often doesn’t reach those who need it most desperately.
As an Oxford educated MBA student with the added privilege of graduating debt-free thanks to the Skoll Scholarship, how should I strive to use business as a force for good? How can I avoid the mistakes of other short-lived projects that have failed to deliver their goals? How can business school skills be of service to smallholder farmers, to ecosystems, to the Earth that we must share?
the core concepts upon which our economic system is built, by extension
affecting everyone in society. In some ways, an MBA is geared towards profit
maximization, both of MBA alumni and of the corporations they work for. After
all, official Financial Times MBA rankings are based partially on the who has
the highest salaries 3 years after graduation. With the field of impact investing
on the rise, the win-win philosophy of “doing well by doing good” has
caught on, affirming that achieving positive social or environmental impact can
those of us who are committed to a social problem know that impact work often
requires sacrifice. As a social entrepreneur the hours are long, the risks are
many, and the most significant victories take years to achieve.
societies face escalating existential threats due to climate change and rising
inequality, the MBA programs of tomorrow may look drastically different from
those of today. Some of my courses this year have helped me imagine this change
and provided me with the language to express it. I’ve learned that there is a
difference between avoiding harm and contributing to solutions, that if traditional
financing tools don’t meet the needs of social enterprises we can invent new
ones, that future business models should be restorative and regenerative by
design, and that a major task of business today is to help find a just space
for humanity within our planetary boundaries. I’ve also learned the traditional
tools of finance, accounting, economics, and strategy which have helped leading
business ideas scale and grow.
actors from many fields and disciplines must work towards solutions, the role
of business is unique because economic activity is the root cause of the most
critical environmental problems affecting our world. After all, cleaning up a
mess is not as good as preventing it in the first place. This means cutting off
or minimizing the flow of pollution and resource depletion from businesses, and
some top firms such as IKEA and Unilever are now working to do so.
To prevent catastrophic 2-degree climate change, carbon emissions must sharply and drastically reverse from their long-term steep upward trend. There is no precedent for this and currently there are few signs that this is happening at a sufficient pace. Without cooperation from businesses, the task may be impossible. Social entrepreneurs must also work to build and prove the technologies and business models that will provide the building blocks of this change.
has reaffirmed my commitment to social enterprise, which to me means using the
tools I have learned to create business models that benefit local communities
In September I plan to return to Andean farmer communities after a year at Oxford to witness some of the same realities with a new perspective and a new set of resources. I plan to scale my company, Kai Pacha Foods, which I have now realized has a core purpose: to build healthy foods out of healthy ecosystems. By designing food and beverage products based on native crop systems in which each food plays complementary ecological and nutritional roles, we are crafting a business model capable of generating a profit while also improving the livelihoods farmers who conserve land, water, and biodiversity.
After a year
packed with so much learning, I have much work ahead to put these concepts and
tools into practice. Likewise, the business world and business education have a
lot of work ahead to play a more positive role in building an economy that can
be sustained on a planet with finite resources.
At Saïd Business School, I have learned about innovation in impact and responsible business alongside the more traditional concepts of an MBA upon which our current economic system is built. From these pieces, the task now falls to us to assemble solutions that are equal to the scale of the problems afflicting our planet.
Julie Greene is a 2018-19 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA,
and co-founder of The Women’s Bakery in Rwanda. She recounts her time and
whirlwind journey on the MBA programme this year.
This year was, frankly, much
harder than I expected. I didn’t think that getting back into the swing of
school would be such an adjustment, I had forgotten how short and dark the days are in northern hemisphere winters, and I didn’t anticipate the magnitude of changes I would need to navigate with my company and my own personal direction during the year.
Transitioning back into school was not hard so much in the academic sense (although trust me, the workload was challenging!) as it was in the day to day motivational sense. I was so used to fast paced, hands on start-up life. Where every day brought new problems to solve, visible successes or new challenges, and constant connection with the women our company was working with. By comparison, sitting in class lectures day after day felt impersonal and theoretical. I could certainly connect classroom ideas to potential application in The Women’s Bakery, but I missed the action, the constant feedback, and the personal connection to my work.
As the days grew shorter, and the business finance exam loomed larger, I sometimes questioned what I was even doing here. Why had I taken time away from my passion, to sit in lectures all day and learn about corporate finance? What does a small-scale social entrepreneur need to know about corporate finance anyways? (It turns out, a lot.) At the same time, having stepped away from the day to day of my company, I had to face another reality: I was drained. I took the incredibly difficult decision in January to leave my company, which was something I had not considered before coming to the MBA.
With all of these changes, the first half of the year felt like a pretty long road for me. I often felt like I should be joining a case competition, or should be more social and end more of my nights at the ever popular bar Hank’s. But, with the support of a lot a great colleagues, classmates, and mentors I gave myself what I really needed – permission. Permission to take time and process, permission to be more introverted than extroverted in a program of over 300 incredible people, and permission to grieve and deeply reflect on one ending before throwing myself into any of the million new possibilities in front of me.
And eventually, the days did get longer again. The sun started to shine a bit more frequently, and stressing about corporate finance turned into choosing thought provoking electives. The spring filled up as I planned and led a student trek to Rwanda to explore the social enterprise and impact ecosystem, and worked with a team to develop a business plan for an impact focused craft brewery in Rwanda. I even found myself at Hank’s a few times. Before I knew it, the year was winding down.
As I was nearing the end of the final term, researching and writing thousands of words for what felt like endless papers, something clicked. I was reading an article and it struck me – what I had just read, full of terminology and references to all kinds of financing options, would have been nearly gibberish to me a year prior. Yes, I would have had a general sense of what was going on, but I wouldn’t have grasped any of the specifics. And then I had the same experience listening to a podcast. And then listening in to a conversation next to me in a café. Like an image coming into focus, the year came together for me. Despite all the challenges and grey days and distance from the work I am passionate about, I had in fact amassed a lot of knowledge. I had gained a new understanding of the world around me, from sustainable supply chains to impact investing, from trust in technology to raising capital. Of course, you go to school expecting to learn. But there is still something truly amazing about the moments when things click.
I walked into this year thinking I knew where I was headed when I walked out. The specific destination has changed for me it is now completely unknown. But I am walking out confident that I have grown and learned, that I have been challenged, and that I have an incredible community that will support me as I find my next direction.
Puja Balachander is an outgoing 2018-19 Oxford MBA, a member of the inaugural Impact Lab, awardee of the Skoll Venture Awards 2019, and social entrepreneur. On Friday, 11th July, she attended the Business Fights Poverty conference at the Saïd Business School. Here she shares her own personal experience.
Having spent my former life working in the public sector, I have to admit I’ve often been frustrated by the narrative in business circles around social impact. The message is often implicitly or explicitly that government and philanthropy have failed, and therefore business needs to step in to save the day by bringing the “rigour” to the impact sector that it desperately needs.
I walked into the Business Fights Poverty 2019 conference prepared to hear the same rhetoric again, and found it refreshing that rather than painting business as the cure all, the conference theme this year was around “Purposeful Collaboration.” It brought together players from major corporations and the third sector, and emphasized a systems approach to problem solving, where business wasn’t the solution, but it was part of the system of solutions necessary to address the complex global challenges we face.
Yet I couldn’t help but notice the irony of what I saw compared to the expectations I had encountered in government. I was always told that we needed to adopt more rigorous “private sector” methods to understand the ROI of the resources the government spent on social impact. But the conference showed me that the private sector is being far more lackadaisical about their impact efforts than government ever was.
The need to move from defining a corporate purpose, to creating structures, processes and culture that actually facilitate that purpose were repeated in nearly every session, yet the examples cited and celebrated at the conference seemed tokenistic and only superficially impactful. The keynote speaker for the day from Unilever gave a presentation that seemed to equate socially inclusive and progressive marketing with Unilever’s social impact. In a corporate intrapreneurship workshop, speakers from major companies told us about their social innovation initiatives to surface ideas and potential ventures from within their employees. And while I’m sure there might be positive social outcomes that come from these efforts, they sounded more like employee engagement than social innovation.
I’m not sure that celebrating these efforts is helping move companies towards more ambitious and rigorous social impact efforts. At the same time, I’m aware that being overly critical of companies’ incremental efforts could be counter-productive. Incremental progress is better than none at all, and who’s to say that companies won’t throw up their hands and figure that if they’ll be criticized, either way, they might as well go back to a pure profit-maximizing focus?
So rather than a critique, I left the Business Fights Poverty conference with questions. How do we encourage companies to be more ambitious and rigorous about their social impact efforts? Celebration and commendation like we did at the conference felt disingenuous, and like they wouldn’t catalyse the urgency and scale of transformation needed to address the challenges we face. Critique has the potential to scare companies off, or put them on the defensive, stopping them from engaging with the academics, public servants, and third-sector players that might be able to help them in their transformation. Is there a middle ground between these that might put companies under an optimal level of pressure, and provide the optimal support that will spur them forward in their impact journeys?