Aditya Chopra is a 2019-20 Oxford MBA candidate and participant on our co-curricular programme, Impact Lab. He reflects on one of the Impact Lab Masterclasses taught in Michaelmas term, movement building.
Its June 30, 2018. The temperature is over 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degree Celsius) but 40,000+ people have gathered in Washington D.C. to protest against the U.S. government’s new immigration policies. In fact, on that very day, millions of people from all walks of life and across age groups are participating in similar rallies across 750 locations in the country – from New York and Boston to Antler, a town of 27 people in North Dakota. They are all marching forward with the same message – Families Belong Together!
The issue of separation of families is pertinent and emotive, but do you think the issue itself is enough to bring millions of people to the streets? Is it enough for them to have a common vision? Is it enough for them to believe that their emotions can create a movement?
How exactly was this movement created? Then again, how exactly is any movement created? There is indeed a method to this madness and it was discussed in detail in the interactive Movement Building Impact Lab Masterclass. Impact Lab is a curated social-impact-focused program by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Here’s a snapshot of my takeaways from the masterclass.
What are movements for?
Movements are designed to achieve meaningful policy, social, cultural or environmental change for a social issue.
What are the types of movements?
Movements can be built in 3 ways – top down (using marketing campaigns), bottom up (by organizing people at the grassroots) or from within (by converting leaders within institutions). At the heart of these movements, what binds people is a common important issue which sparks a cord with their rationality and emotions.
How do you design a movement?
There are four
components to focus on while designing a movement:
Voice: Voice is the tone and style of communication, including creatives, which reflects the movement fully w.r.t vision, action, people and places.
Pathway: Pathway is an individual’s journey within the movement – from initial interaction in the campaign to deeper engagement going forward.
Campaigns: Campaigns offer opportunities to bring new members to the movement and to build loyalty within those already involved.
Infrastructure: Infrastructure consists of roles and responsibilities, digital and organizing resources, and support for individual and self-organizing engagement.
After figuring out the above, it’s important to have a strategy to bring all elements together, including timing of launch of the movement, key milestones to achieve along the way and super supporters who can help scale the movement.
The masterclass was
helpful in providing a structure and methodology to movement building which was
made real with case studies of real movements including Families Belong
Together and the Sunrise movement which demanded a Green New Deal in the U.S.
During the session,
all Impact Lab members spent most of their time in small groups discussing the
case studies, ideating on designing a new movement, putting together key steps
to follow and discussing the challenges which can come about, including their
As I reflect on the
session, I am reminded of Gandhi, who said –
may never know what results come of your actions, but if you do nothing, there
will be no results.”
Mike Quinn is a 2007-08 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA alumnus, he is also the co-founder and former CEO of Zoona, one of Africa’s earliest fintech companies. With over 10 years of experience running a successful social business, Mike shares his hard-learned tips and experiences on how to get a purpose-driven venture started, built and scaled. This is the third, and final article in the series, how to ‘scale’.
I then shifted focus to the next stage of a company lifecycle, how to build:
Build a model
Build a team
Build a culture
it’s time to learn how to scale. This
is the stage that every entrepreneur and investor wants to get to as fast as
possible, but it’s also fraught with challenges when you do.
Know When to Scale
the hardest part of scaling any venture is picking the right time to put your
foot on the accelerator. If you wait too long, you miss the opportunity and
your investors, team, and maybe even you will lose energy and focus. But if you
try to scale too early, you risk stretching your organization too far and
experiencing burn out.
I have done it wrong both ways. As CEO of Zoona, I took too long to double down on our exponentially growing money transfer product in the early years, but then was too aggressive with market expansion in the later years before we had our core team, operations, and technology ready to go.
The trick, I have learned, is to really pay attention and listen to both the market and your team. If the market is pulling your product and growth is coming organically with strong customer retention metrics, that is the first and most important signal. If you then look across all of your business functions and feel you are executing at a 70% performance level or above, then you are good to go. Don’t wait to achieve perfection (you never will), but be wary of flicking on the growth switch if you have any major shortcomings in your foundations. And if you find these shortcomings, fix them fast!
Pick a Strategy and Execute Well
it’s the right time to go for scale, the next question is how? Having the right scaling strategy is really important, and
it’s generally easier and more effective to scale from your core (i.e. don’t
try to scale something that is new to what is already working).
But I would argue that picking a single strategy and really nailing the execution is paramount. You will never know for certain if your strategy is right until you try, and the worst thing you can do is waste time and energy pulling in multiple directions. Have a robust strategy debate with your team and board to find focus and alignment, but then make sure everyone follows Jeff Bezos’ advice: “Disagree and commit.”
Once your strategy is set, it’s all about execution. Cadence is critical: Set quarterly Objectives and Key Results (OKRs) and cull any non-essential tasks that aren’t directly linked to achieving them, set up weekly dashboards to track leading indicators and key learnings, and establish performance management systems for your team. Also, make sure your best people are focused on your most important OKRs and help them by removing distractions and obstacles in their way.
Stay Close to Your Customers
the scaling process, one challenge I faced as a leader at Zoona was drifting
further away from our customers. When you are small, you are in front of customers
all the time and this is critical to understanding and connecting with them.
But later on, you may have two to three layers between you and your customers,
and those layers may also want to execute without you being in their way.
danger is that you spend more time in meetings watching powerpoint
presentations than interacting with the customers who pay everyone’s salaries.
You lose perspective and retain outdated assumptions. Your own energy may even
wane, as your original source of purpose and inspiration may start to seem
I experienced this several times at Zoona. My favourite remedy was to break my routine and take a customer immersion trip. I cleared my calendar for five weeks and spent all my time in the field working for our agents and serving customers. Not only did I discover several product and operational bugs that were easily fixable, I gained a broader understanding of who our customers were and what Zoona meant to them. This, in turn, influenced my thinking on future strategy and enabled me to take new ideas back to my team to lead the company forward. It also set a new behaviour standard, and soon other leaders across our company were spending more time out in the field with customers, which led to many positive outcomes.
Don’t Run Out of Cash!
Lastly, scaling can be very expensive. You have already gone through an incredible struggle to get to this point and may have even raised a big investment round and have cash to spend. But you can burn through all of that cash surprisingly quickly and end up in a very difficult situation if you aren’t careful.
navigate this challenge, it’s critical that you have the right people on your
team and a culture that values your hard-earned money. Keep your fixed costs as
low as possible and spend your money on acquiring and retaining customers.
Establish processes and controls to create budget scarcity so that cash is not
wasted on things that aren’t working, and empower your CFO to declare war
watch out for copycat competitors with deep pockets and potential disruptions
to your business model. It’s when you are scaling that competition suddenly
takes notice and copies what you are doing. Don’t panic (you are probably
better than you think) but don’t stand still (you won’t be better for long if
And finally, don’t wait until you are out of cash to raise your next round of investment. You should start nine months ahead of when you need the money and always have a plan B in case you can’t get it. The best plan B is to get to cash flow positive so that your venture is sustainable and you have more options on where to take it next.
luck scaling your purpose-driven venture!
If you enjoyed this blog series and would like to learn more, I have written a book called Failing to Win on my ten year journey of being a purpose-driven fintech entrepreneur in Africa. I have launched a crowdfunding campaign for you to pre-order your copy to help me cover the upfront costs of getting the book ready for publication. Please click this link now, and help me spread the word!
Khanya Okumu is a 2019-20 Oxford MBA candidate and participant on our co-curricular Impact Lab programme. She reflects on one of the Impact Lab Masterclasses taught in the autumn term, an ever growing and popular discussion by social entrepreneurs, impact measurement.
For quite a while now, in the world of ‘impact’, there have been many opinions on whether impact can be measured. Even more contentious views exist on how it should be measured and if there is scope for these measurement metrics to be standardized. To address this specific topic, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship hosted a masterclass on the ‘Theory of Change and Impact Accountability’ as part of its Impact Lab Masterclass speaker series.
In a room of 100 people, less than a quarter were confident to admit they know everything there is to know about impact measurement and have the requisite skills to implement impact measurement well. This created fertile soil for speakers Nick Andreou and Francesco Valente (MBA 2018-19 candidates) to plant some ideas on how impact measurement works and how it should be applied to different initiatives.
The ‘why’ for impact measurement is relatively clear, imagine being a business owner or manager who did not monitor income, expenses, employee productivity or customer satisfaction, you would have no idea whether the business should continue or if you should just close shop. In the same way then it makes sense for social impact projects, programmes and investments to monitor and measure whether they are adding value in the way intended.
It’s the ‘how’ for impact measurement where things start to get blurry, and this is where a theory of change becomes important.
The logical steps in a theory of change start off with a needs assessment which identifies specific inputs or activities. These activities when done well lead to a specific set of outputs and outcomes. The result, therefore, should be impact.
I resonated with the initial definition provided by Nick and Francesco on what impact measurement is, as I am an accountant by trade, they defined it as ‘data collection and analysis – the accounting of the impact world’.
In order to do any kind of impact measurement well, the metrics need to be focussed on programme design, delivery and effectiveness. The three approaches covered in the masterclass are outlined in the figure below:
What is clear is that because of the varying outcomes to be measured different measurement tools such as reports, proxies and triangulation can be used. The challenges in adding rigour to the tools are the increase in costs and additional time required. Many ‘impact-first’ programmes tend to rely on external funding, funding which is intended to implement not necessarily for monitoring and evaluation. This is an opportunity for a work-around in the way funding is currently allocated by funds, donors and project sponsors.
By the end of the session, one thing was clear to me: there is a better understanding overall of impact measurement within the impact sector. Furthermore, our impatience with how metrics and measures could be standardised will draw us closer to a world where the metrics and measures are used in a way that adds value to all stakeholders.
noted above was part of a curated series of masterclasses for the Skoll Centre
for Social Entrepreneurship’s Impact Lab 2019-20 cohort. This session was run by
Nick Andreou and Francesco Valente and co-created by MBA students Marvin
Tarawally and Aupah Makoond.
Tara Sabre Collier is not only a 2012-13 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA graduate- in 2019 she joined the Centre as a Social Entrepreneur in Residence. She has extensive experience in the world of social finance and international development, as a social entrepreneur and impact investment advisor. As we begin a new year and decade, Tara Sabre shines a light on how far we’ve come (and how far we have to go) in achieving the UN SDGs.
This January kicks off an inflection point to consider the realities we have created since 2010 and those we aim to create by 2030. As of 2020, we now have ten years remaining to reach the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which serve as guiding pillars for envisioning a better future for the world.
Twenty years ago, the last time the UN set forth the ambitious Millenium Development Goals, we fell short of accomplishing some of the outcomes we envisaged. 2020 is different and can be a watershed moment for global development. Today, the private sector and public sector have partnered at historically unprecedented levels to tackle the world’s challenges. New allies have emerged, leveraging far greater amounts of philanthropic and commercial capital and every kind of vehicle in between. Impact investing, which was valued over $500 billion in 2018, continue to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2025, 30% of family offices expect to allocate 25% or more of the funds to social impact investments.
One important tactic that impact investors can take on is to pursue synergies across multiple SDGs. Researchers at Aberdeen University and University of Potsdam have already embarked upon fascinating research to analyze and forecast the synergies and trade-offs across the SDGs. This provides an evidence base for impact investors to accelerate and measure progress investing in multiple-SDG strategies, from gender-smart agribusiness development to climate-friendly infrastructure.
Another tactic is to innovate cross-sector partnerships. When impact investors pour capital into agriculture or education enterprises that impact SDGs, the business enabling environment can make or break the potential financial success and social impact of said ventures. This is why alignment between impact investors and public sector will continue to be crucial; innovation can play a vital role in amplifying these alignments. Development impact bonds were the last decade’s major step towards innovating cross-sector alliances. The 2020s are an opportunity to bring technology, such as big data, blockchain and AI modalities, to continue innovating these alliances for more effectiveness.
Twenty years ago, there was no impact investment industry, no development impact bonds, no blockchain, no social impact certification agencies and barely any smartphones! And yet, despite the shortcomings, the period of the Millennium Development Goals was marked by biggest drop in global poverty in recorded history. Today, we have a fleet of new technological advancement, more supportive business enabling environments and a thriving new asset class supercharging our progress towards global development. Even with the enormous scope of the Sustainable Development Goals, with continued progress we may be on pace to accomplish them this decade.
Mike Quinn is a 2007-08 Skoll Scholar and Oxford MBA alumnus, he is also the co-founder and former CEO of Zoona, one of Africa’s earliest fintech companies. With over 10 years of experience running a successful social business, Mike shares his hard-learned tips and experiences on how to get a purpose-driven venture started, built and scaled. This is the second article in the series, how to ‘build’.
In my last blog, I outline a three part strategy to starting a purpose driven venture:
Start by falling in love with a big problem
Pick the right co-founder(s)
Rapid prototype to discover product market fit
If you get that far, you are well on your way and should be able to raise investment. The art of fundraising is a topic on its own that has been extensively covered, including this excellent piece by Y-Combinator’s co-founder Paul Graham. In this article, I’m going to assume you have some capital and now it’s time to build. Specifically, there are three critical foundations you will need to put in place in advance of scaling your venture (which will be the third part of this series).
Build a Model
I used to falsely believe that innovating means everything needs to be new and unique. A more mature approach is to first research what other models are out there that you can learn from. As John Mullins and Randy Komisar wisely advise in Getting to Plan B, start by finding successful analog models that you can emulate, and figure out how to copy and adapt them to your market. When launching Zoona, we studied M-Pesa’s agent and money transfer model in Kenya and figured out how to adapt it to Zambia where it didn’t exist. It’s a lot easier to build off of someone else’s successful innovation than to start from scratch.
Conversely, it is also useful to identify
antilog models that are past their prime and explicitly define what you want to
do the opposite of. In Zoona’s case, this was deploying entrepreneur owned and
managed kiosks instead of branches as the banks and the post office were doing.
You will also need to figure out your growth levers, how you make money, and establish metrics and feedback mechanisms to track if your model is working. The faster you can learn and adapt, the greater the probability of success.
Build a Team
Your ability to build a motivated, aligned and high-performing team will make or break your venture. This is one of the most important jobs of an entrepreneur and ironically one of the easiest to screw up. When there is so much work to do, it is extremely tempting to hire the first person who walks in the door and leave her alone to sink or swim. I have learned that it’s much more effective to be purposeful and systematic every step of the way. Here is a checklist I use when building a team:
Do you really know what roles you need, and have you defined them as
clearly as you can?
What roles can you outsource or
make part-time to avoid taking on too much fixed cost?
Have you defined what values,
abilities, and skills (in that order of importance) are required for each role?
Do you have a clearly defined
Employee Value Proposition to attract the right people? (i.e. Why would anyone
want to work for you?)
Do you know where to find
potential candidates? (The good ones most likely already have jobs). Have you
looked within your organization?
Do you have a non-biased process
to assess candidates?
Have you thoroughly checked their
references to identify red flags and validate their track records?
Can you “try before you buy” by
starting new hires off as consultants?
Have you defined clear
30/60/90/180/365 day objectives and key results that will determine if the new
hire is performing?
Do you have a process to give and
receive regular and honest feedback?
Do you have a simple and effective
performance management system?
Do you have a process to identify
exit the wrong people?
The last point on identifying and exiting the wrong people is as important as hiring the right ones. A mentor once told me that the best recruitment firms in the world will only get it right 75% of the time, but the best companies in the world are those that efficiently deal with the other 25%. If you want to build a great team, learn how to compassionately offboard people who stand in the way of that goal.
Build a Culture
With the right people in the right roles, amazing things are possible. But for anything to be achieved, those people also need to exhibit the right behaviors, which is where your culture comes in. As with all my advice, the starting point is to be purposeful about designing what culture you want and then taking steps to shape that. If you don’t do this purposefully, a culture will emerge anyway, and it may not be one that is productive or that you want.
Have you defined your purpose,
values and principles?
Do you live your purpose, values and principles?
Do you reflect and learn from
Do you celebrate your successes
and acknowledge achievements?
Do you care about your people and
The golden rule for building an effective culture is “do what I do, not what I say.” As a leader, everyone will watch how you behave for signals on how they should behave. As Ben Horowitz rightly titled his latest book about creating culture, “What You Do Is Who You Are.” With any purpose-driven venture, time and energy spent designing and improving your model, team and culture will be time well-spent. It will pay off in multiples when you enter the next phase: scaling.
Rangan Srikhanta is a 2019-20 Skoll Scholar and MBA. He is dedicated to equal and fair education for all as a catalyst for future progression and access to opportunities for the world’s most marginalised communities. Rangan shares the story of how this came to be his passion and how he ended up at the University of Oxford doing his MBA.
My journey to Oxford isn’t a typical one,
but then again – as I soon found out, no one’s is!
Born in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, my family and I
fled a civil war that would change the lives of millions of people. Arriving in
Australia, it took me many years to realise that social disadvantage transcends
nations and disproportionately affects minorities.
Many government policies when combined with
externalities, in whatever their form, first manifest as minor differences in
education and health in early childhood, but snowball into much wider social divides
later in life (lower life expectancy, lower employment opportunities and so on).
Layer in the rapidly changing landscape, thanks to technology – a fast forming
digital divide, would also become synonymous with an opportunity divide.
As fate would have it, in 2005, I found an opportunity to do something to contribute to improving access to educational opportunities for thousands of children by closing the digital divide. One laptop per Child (OLPC), was a partnership among businesses, NGOs, and governments to produce the world’s least expensive laptop and to distribute that device to children all around the world. I was intrigued by OLPC’s vision of bringing those sectors together to solve social problems. I was equally impressed by the low-cost laptop that OLPC proposed to create.
The device, which came to be called the XO,
would cost just $100 a piece to manufacture, had free and open software,
ultra-low power usage, a sunlight-readable screen and be field repairable.
Inspired on so many levels, I chose action
over theory, opting to make numerous late-night phone calls to MIT to figure
out what we could do to bring the project to Australia. Armed with what would
be my greatest asset, my child like naivety on how these projects came in to
being, I set upon a journey that would not only improve educational
opportunities for thousands of primary school children but also change my
entire trajectory in life.
Whilst our early days were focused on
advocacy, it wasn’t until after our volunteer group formalised into One Laptop
per Child Australia that I realised that the OLPC initiative needed a re-think
to some of its core principles.
After delivering computers to many remote
communities, it was clear that flying in, dropping off computers for free and
then leaving was not sustainable and would undermine our ability to improve
access and usage.
A major challenge facing remote schools in
Australia is the tenure of teachers. On average teachers last 8 months. Any
model that required face-to-face training was not scalable, would only serve to
build a dependency relationship on our organisation, and do little to build
local capacity to overcome teacher turnover.
In fact, we found there were many
dependencies on suppliers (by design) that resulted in schools being forced to
come back for repairs, support etc. This was a market failure that increased
the cost of technology and reduced access to those that needed it most.
After evolving our programme over 10 years,
raising just under $30 million to train over 2,000 teachers and deliver over
70,000 computers, it became clear that I needed time and space to reflect on my
journey into the future.
Truth be told, after the management
rollercoaster I’d been through over the past decade, I wasn’t convinced I
needed an MBA. But to classify Oxford’s MBA with its deep connection to the
Skoll Centre as ‘just another MBA’ is a career limiting move for anyone who wants
to lead an organisation deep into the 21st Century. It forms the
reason why I wanted to come here – this MBA, is a place to consider how
externalities need to be core business for all executives.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was how the power of such a resilient institution like Oxford could be a catalyst for my own change. In my short time on campus, not onlyhave I been able to reflect on why I came here, but have also started to reflect on where I will be going.