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Prodigy Finance: From Capital to Community

Min Ji Kim is an MBA student at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford and the project manager for this year’s Oxford Social Innovation Case Competition, an event that sees teams of students  tackle a real-life business problem faced by 3 different social entrepreneurs, then present their case to a panel of judges where a £300 cash prize is awarded to the 3 winning teams. Previously solely supported by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, this year has seen the generous sponsorship of Prodigy Finance; the MBA tuition fee loan company supporting international students to access high-quality business education.

Although I am now familiar with Prodigy Finance – an official sponsor of this year’s Oxford Social Innovation Case Competition (OSICC) – I have to admit that I used to think that it was a conventional financial institution with a conventional student loan product. I was therefore initially sceptical as to how the company was compatible with the objectives and identity of the OSICC.SICC logo (2)

There was a personal colour to my scepticism. Before I enrolled in the MBA programme here at the University of Oxford, I was an official in the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the UN agency with the mandate to research global employment trends and promote decent employment for all. In the wake of the 2008 Financial Crisis, the organisation found itself very much connected to the consequences of that fall-out and compelled to advocate for millions of ordinary people and families around the world whose livelihoods and, sometimes, survival were suddenly threatened as a result of the irresponsible conduct of the financial sector. At the ILO, I was personally responsible for tracking the devastating consequences of the crisis on youth employment figures and youth flight and brain-drain from crisis-affected countries. It is not surprising that in this milieu, and in the growing popular disillusionment with capitalism beyond it, it was increasingly accepted as fact that capital and community well-being were diametrically opposed.Prodigy Finance1

However, incredibly, Prodigy Finance demonstrates that this does not have to be the case. Founded on the conviction that a person’s country of birth or socio-economic background or lack of a credit history in one fixed country should not hinder her from accessing the world’s top business schools for lack of financing, Prodigy has found an ingenious way to mobilise the often dispersed but high-impact power of the community to invest in not just financial capital but the more important human capital. Even before online crowdfunding was “a thing” Prodigy had developed an online platform through which international students could receive relatively low-interest loans that are fully funded by the alumni of their MBA programme. More than 70% of Prodigy loan recipients are students from developing countries, and more than 80% of the company’s clients could not have accessed the financing necessary to accept the offers they received from top academic institutions had it not been for Prodigy. Prodigy’s business model is predicated on the idea that investing in such talented individuals, giving them the opportunity to have the life-changing and character-stretching experience of a top graduate programme, would lead to the sustainable development of these individuals’ home countries and communities.

It turns out that I am surrounded by ample evidence that Prodigy’s business model is sound. A significant number of my colleagues and classmates are financing their MBA education with the inter-generational community support represented by the Prodigy loan, and they are among the most inspiring, entrepreneurial, and values-conscious people I know – in other words, the kind of people the most likely to create exactly what competitions like the OSICC exist to curate and promote. There is no doubt in my mind that after completing their studies at Oxford they will have tremendous impact, whether they return to their home countries and apply what they learned through the MBA there or get employed in the UK and invest in the sustainable development of their nations from here.

What is equally clear is that, despite not being a loan recipient, I am also impacted through the experiences, insights, and vision of my classmates that Prodigy serves and have become all the richer for it.

Most importantly, I have been pleasantly humbled to consider the possibility that capital in its truest form is neither opposed nor isolated from community but is always embedded in it.

Author: Min Ji Kim (MBA 2015-16)

 

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Journeys of Adversity Diversity, University Necessity!

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, Deborah Owhin gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Leading Through Adversity’.

Adversity is defined as a difficult situation or condition: associated with misfortune or tragedy!

In this all-female panel, the discussion moved from the journeys of personal leadership challenges to family upbringing to what is ahead. The panellist spoke openly and candidly on their hopes and beliefs on women’s leadership roles in public life. In the imminent future panellist such as Mary Robinson is involved in the campaign to seeing the next Secretary-General of the United Nations while Halla Tomasdottir is currently in the Presidential race to be the next President of Iceland!

After the session I had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with each of the panel and asked them all 2 questions

Being a student I’m often intrigued by a range of academic studies and so I asked the panel if they had the chance to go back to school today, what subject would they study and why?

The second question was I posed was; in hindsight of the journey that you have experienced thus far in life, if you had the opportunity to meet and speak to your 12-year-old self what would you tell her to keep her going and achieve the potential….

Their responses are as followed….

Mary Robinson

  1. “I would find it necessary to focus on human rights development and climate justice. These are existential threat to all of us and I am truly focused on these issues. I would have liked to have become involved in work on this at an earlier age. So a degree would give me a broader perspective”
  1. “My 12-year-old self was VERY shy, I would say get a hold of yourself….I used to block…I would force myself 12 year old self to debate, to help me get over the shyness. I overcame my shyness at University where I still attempted to block but found ways to get out of the shell.”

Halla Tomasdottir

  1. “I would go back to study social entrepreneurship. The only way we can solve the many pressing issues we have in the world today is through building mission driven businesses. I believe in the power of that model. The idea of triple bottom line sits well with my values and I did not learn that during my time as an MBA student which was international.”
  1. “I have a 12-year-old daughter, and when I was 12 years old we had our first female President in Iceland. So talking to my 12-year-old self is very meaningful. I would say to her… be you… never let anyone ever tell you that you are not enough… that you are not okay exactly as you are… that you have been created in that perfect way to be you. Halla, lots of people will tell you that you should be that or this but always have the courage to listen to what is inside of you and trust that intuition. You may cheat on your intuition but your intuition will never cheat on you not even when you are 12.”

Reverend Mpho Tutu

  1. “When I was in school I really went through as scenic route through my academic career. So I started off studying fine arts then engineering and then theology. I have explored a number of fields. So if I go back to school now I would go for something that I have not studied yet like dance. To be able to integrate my creativity with my academics. It would be a modern type of dance or ballet.”
  1. “I would tell my 12-year-old self that she is going to be a phenomenal woman. That’s all.”

Pat Mitchell

  1. “I would love to study international relations because I have spent the majority of the last 20 year of my life travelling the world and promoting global sisterhood. I would have love to have started that earlier in my life and reflecting on it going deeper into the subject area would have been beneficial.”
  1. “To my 12-year-old self I would say; stay curious. Keep knocking on doors and asking questions. It is important to foster a spirit of curiosity as a child as so one is not limited in their view of the world.”

Alaa Murabit

  1. “My first thought is that I would NOT go back to school at 25 I feel like I am ALL schooled out! I have studied medicine and then got an Executive Masters in International Strategy and Diplomacy at LSE. But if I really had to go back to school I would study Life Ethics, and develop my life skills in this course where you get exposed to your civil rights, how to balance your books etcetera, but I am good at Karaoke!”
  1. “My 12-year-old self wanted so much better for me. I had the opportunity to open a time capsule that I did in grade 8 when I was 12 when I was 22 which was 3 years ago. My time capsule said that I would have a yellow VW Beetle, I would be married with a child and 3 cats and I would be the President of the Hospital. I watched the TV show E.R. a lot and always wanted the role of the chief of surgery but just didn’t know what it was called back then.

I would tell my 12-year-old self to listen to listen to my parents, not to listen to kids in school if they were mean and to stick to what she believes in and to take risk. There were so many things that I wanted to do at 12 but was told I could which I regret.

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

The panellist all share a similar sentiment in that their family upbringing played a vital role in shaping them into the leaders they had each become as adult women working across the world to bring about positive change in the lives of women and girls. When she could not access the ready-made platforms that political leaders used to make decisions that affected her, Alaa saw the need to create her own for Libyan Women. Reverend Mpho Tutu’s environment shaped her and gave her the courage to stand for what she believes which lead other religious leaders to support her.

If you could speak to your 12-year-old self today what would you tell her or him?

I would say to you all take the time your relationships deserve because all you have is today do not waste time, be passion filled and willing to take risk.

There are millions of 12-year-olds out there waiting to hear your story have the courage and boldness to share the journey of who you are and how you have not only faced but overcome adversity.

Remember there are no leaders who have not faced times of adversity, what has shaped them is how they chose to overcome adversity.

Follow Deborah: @DeborahOwhin

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The News We Need

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student Matthew Robertson gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘The News We Need’.

Thursday’s panel ‘The News We Need’ opened with a lighthearted nod, initiated by moderator Jess Search of BRITDOC, to Anas Aremeyaw Anas, Ghana’s intrepid undercover reporter who conceals his identity behind a mask. Anas, one of the panelists, has been working diligently to unearth corruption and criminality in Africa. That has to qualify as fierce compassion. For anyone who did not have the time or good fortune to attend the panel, I highly recommend that you learn more about Anas’ work. You should also check out “rage boy” – but more on that later.

Anas, who is the founder of Tiger Eye Media, defined journalism as “pursuing the truth that emanates from the people and leads to progress.” He added that his unorthodox approach is a product of his society and is needed in order to hold those in power to account, like thirty-four Ghanaian judges facing indictments on corruption thanks to Anas’ two-year long investigations. “There’s no point,” he said, “in doing journalism that doesn’t benefit society.”

Zoe Williams, a columnist for The Guardian, tackled the always-hot topic of the ideological tension between progressive and conservative media, commenting that the liberal media isn’t responding well enough to the negative messages being propagated by conservative media. It was clear through the audience comments and questions that political and ideological tension, at the editorial and corporate levels of the media, are top of mind.

Wajahat Ali, Creative Director of Affinis Labs, explored the stereotypical and fear-based narratives propagated today in our news, including those around Muslims and Islam. He drove home the point by highlighting the case of Shakeel Ahmad Bhut, aka rage boy, a Kashmiri activist whose angry image, shown myriad times in the news has become the media face of Islam. Keeping the mood light with a sprinkling of humour, Ali also delved into the subjects of the news coverage of the US presidential election and water sanitation crisis in Flint, Michigan.

Dallas Morning News reporter Dr. Seema Yasmin used the example of American news media treatment of the Ebola outbreak to highlight the ethical failings present in news reporting. Dr. Yasmin pointed out that the mass media in the US did not jump on the story until there were cases in the US and threats to Western Europe, and even then the situation was presented as a threat to the West as opposed to a humanitarian health crisis in Africa. She added that newsrooms today don’t look like society and that increased diversity would doubtlessly enhance the value and depth of news.

On the subject of the need for diversity, an identifiably conservative voice on the panel would have added some useful perspective. After all, diversity goes beyond gender, ethnicity and socio-economic background, it includes viewpoints and ideology as well.

Finally, for social entrepreneurs and their networks, the news helps to frame their passion and directs society’s attention. While fear is all too prominent in today’s headlines, there’s still a vibrant market for hopeful stories. In some cases, it might require some minor investigating of our own, but the reward of inspiration is well worth the effort.

 

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Ready, Set, Go! Launching the Sustainable Development Goals

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student and Skoll Scholar Sumit Joshi gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Ready, Set, Go! Launching the Sustainable Development Goals’.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were launched in September 2015. The key theme of these goals is world transformation – a development that necessitates tighter integration of efforts among international institutions, national governments, and corporate, social, and philanthropic actors.

Sumit

At the onset of panel discussion on SDGs in the Skoll World Forum 2016, Ray Suarez, Journalist and Author and the moderator of the discussion raised the question about the master agenda of SGDs. Elizabeth Cousens, Deputy CEO, UN Foundation and one of the panelists clarified that SDGs embrace a comprehensive approach to sustainable development issues and carry on the momentum generated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  While MDGs expired in 2015, there was “unfinished business”, she proclaimed. There has been a lot of debate around the adequate number of SDGs, and so a balance between focus and breadth of these goals is critical. The 17 SDGs span a wide array of issues such as eradicating poverty, improving health and education, and ensuring equality, but these objectives require a balance among environment, economics, and society and also their nexus.

Panelist Michael Green, Executive Director, Social Progress Imperative stressed upon the fundamental difference between MDGs and SDGs. While MDGs were targeted at improving the social and living conditions of people in poor or developing countries, SGDs are more ambitious. Although SGDs relied upon the traction that MDGs had achieved, they reap the benefit of the period of economic growth. Furthermore, SDGs are globally more collaborative than MDGs in that MDGs were largely determined by OECD countries and other donor agencies while SDGs are holistic and also measurable.

The other panelists Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary General, CIVICUS and Jane Griffiths, Company Group Chairman Janssen EMEA, Janssen-Cilag Ltd. corroborated Green’s view that SGDs have broader audience. Sriskandarajah criticised MDGs for being too technocratic and having narrow scope of development. He further emphasised, “one of the most important things that will be critical to the success of SDGs is to popularise the goals and make sure that everyone everywhere does recognise that this is a framework that belongs to them.” According to Griffiths, MDGs did not engage the entire population of the world. SDGs are more inclusive and just and also engage the private sector and general citizens far more than MDGs did.

The year 2015 provided policy makers and citizens with a great opportunity of formulating the next global development agenda. MNCs and private players will have a major role to play to make these goals more inclusive. The new goals are based on sustainability. Therefore, the key consideration for the policy makers is not to update the MDGs but rather draft new sustainable agenda. The commonality of interest for all countries and people is critical to setting up a package of comprehensive goals rather than individual and immeasurable ones. What needs to be verified in 2030 is whether SDGs are able to serve as an accountability framework from the government that encourages participation of private sector and civil society.

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Water: Tenacious, Collaborative Responses to a Global Crisis

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA student, Sean Peters gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Water: Tenacious, Collaborative Responses to a Global Crisis’.

Access to water has never been more critical. The 2016 World Economic Forum Global Risks Report Water lists water as among the top 3 risks for negative global impact, and is ranked as the highest perceived risk over the next ten years. The newly minted Sustainable Development Goals list goal number 6 as to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”.  But how do we get from where we are today to a world where everyone has access to clean water and sanitation? And what can we learn from the last twenty years of work by development organizations, foundations, and social entrepreneurs?

Starting off Day 2 of the Skoll World Forum, J. Carl Ganter (Managing Director and Co-Founder, Circle of Blue) opened our discussion with three accomplished panelists:

  • Eleanor Allen (CEO of Water For People), journalist and photographer, reports on global freshwater issues (competition between water, food and energy
  • Neil Jeffery (CEO, Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor), WSUP
  • Gary White (CEO and Co-Founder, Water.org).

Water - Sean

The discussion opened with an overview of the differences that have emerged over the past twenty years in trying to manage water globally. The first major difference is that there are many more organizations paying attention.  Gary White, who started this work in the 90’s, noted the incredible proliferation of water-focused organizations in recent years. “When we started, we were one of the only ones,” White said. ‘Today, there are hundreds.”

The tone has changed as well. Twenty years ago funders didn’t understand the problem. “We used to spend 90% of our funder meetings simply explaining the problem to them, and in the end funders just wanted magic bullets in the form of new, catchy technologies” noted Jeffery. “Today, this is no longer a technical issue. The problem now isn’t that we don’t have the technology – we do. The next hurdle is trying to stimulate the demand side.”

So how do we stimulate demand? Part of the problem is access to financing. Currently low income people around the world pay a premium for water or sanitation services, but don’t have access to financing that could make these costs lower for higher quality access. By opening up financing and providing access to high-quality technology (water pumps, toilets, etc) at affordable prices, the short run benefit is healthier communities that are spending less of their time and money on getting access to water and sanitation. The hope is that over the long run these kinds of models will “pull” future financing and greater impact. “At this point we know what works and what doesn’t on the technology side”, said Allen. “We need to build these markets so that access can persist beyond the engagement with NGOs.“

While much progress has been made, there’s a long way to go. The session concluded with a universal message that is important for all of us to remember:  The importance of collaboration between people, between organizations, and between institutions. “At Skoll, we build relationships,” White said. “We’re all in this together. It is critical that we work together to solve these problems.”

Follow Sean: @sean_robert

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Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change

Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.

MBA Student Frank Fredericks gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change’.

“Our biggest struggle isn’t of action, but in action,” Father Czerny thoughtfully shared.  Among the rooms of social change agents, we gathered in the session “Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change” to explore how what we can achieve together.  Father Czerny captured the challenge…inaction is hurting us as much as the terrible acts of few.

I’ve been to countless panels on faith, spirituality, and interfaith dialogue.  Honestly, many of left me hungry for more, after a series of exclusively male religious leaders calling for peace, harmony, dialogue, understanding, tolerance, and other interfaith buzzwords.

That is why I found this conversation so rewarding.  Our gender-balanced panel included clergy and liety, activists and media minds.  But most importantly, it was illuminated by stories of engaging faith, from institutions to narratives, to making real, measurable change, tackling issues from public health to education.

For instance, Sakena Yacobi is a Afghan activist who has not only fought for women’s education and rights.  She has advocated for this change from an Islamic point of view.  Even when faced with threats of violence, dissenters become advocates once they hear her case for women’s literacy based on the Quran.

Molly Melching spoke of her work with Imam Muhammad Hussaini Bagnya in engaging community leaders, especially faith leaders, to begin deconstructing culture and religious traditions in the context of health practices.  The effect was profound.  Whole communities would, by their own motivation, commit to abandoning the practice of female genital cutting all across Senegal.  The reverberations of these transformational efforts are still continuing to ripple across the country and beyond.

At its core, the conversation was richly focused on faith’s role in progress, and not of conflict.  About how faith can inform work for positive social change.

Follow Frank: @frankiefreds