Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.
MBA student, findKaren Ng gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies’.
Past participants of the Skoll World Forum often praised the event as a safe space for leaders and practitioners of social change to be honest, viagra buy reflective and challenging of their own experiences and each other’s ideas. This session – ambitiously named “Refugee Crisis: Roots and Remedies” – was a perfect exhibit of that openness and vulnerability.
The session opened with a video produced by White Helmets, a group of volunteer rescue workers who risk their lives to in war-torn areas in Syria. It showed the volunteers’ effort to pull out a 2-month old “miracle baby” who survived barrel bombs and was trapped among rubbles of collapsed buildings.
It set the stage for Farouk Habib, Program Director of Mayday Rescue (an international non-profit organization that trains and supports White Helmets and many other emergency response groups), to share his thoughts on the root causes of the crisis.
“Refugees did not escape due to hunger, but due to security”, he said. The crisis was resulted from the dictatorship’s oppression that lasted for over 40 years. To deal with the root cause, “we need real political transition to a democratically elected government”.
Running out of solutions
Without an end to the conflict in sight, what are the short-term remedies? Joanne Liu, International President at Medicins Sans Frontiers (MSF), described the dire situation as observed on the frontlines. MSF provides medical support, and carries out search and rescue operations in conflict areas. Out of MSF’s 153 medical facilities, 63 were attacked by aerial bombs and 2 were completely destroyed. The recent closure of borders made their work even more difficult, as refugees are effectively in detention with no idea of when and where their trips will end. MSF readily adopts tele-medicine, however access to bedside support is still extremely crucial but lacking especially in siege areas.
“This is the biggest failure seen in international community”, she said. MSF has been on the fields for over 40 years and yet, “I am out of solutions, I have never been so desperate for a situation”. She called for the international community to step up, “States should live up to their responsibilities according to the Refugees Convention and give back humanity to people who are fleeing war zones”.
With a room full of changemakers and innovators, they do not take “no” for an answer. Audience shared their thoughts on different ideas to harness technology and media to empower refugees and humanitarian workers. Corinne Gray, Innovation Engagement Officer at UNHCR, also shared their optimism. She emphasised the importance of bottom-up solutions, and provided examples of UNHCR’s recent projects to empower refugees through user-led innovation process (a step beyond user-centric design process). She also highlighted the power of engaging with private sector to utilise the businesses’ resources and capacity beyond philanthropic donations, such as distributive capacities of delivery companies and mobile networks of telecoms.
Changing the Narrative
The one thing that all panellists agreed on is the need to change the current narrative, especially on the refugees. As Liu explained, by changing the narrative from refugees to migration, we “take away the right to asylum and protection”. She calls for a stop in thinking about refugees as “good” or “bad” refugees, but accepting our collective responsibility to give back humanity to people fleeing war zones. “When motivated by fear, we will get the wrong answer. The trigger should be life – safeguarding lives – as all lives count”.
The civil society, especially the media, should recognise that these refugees are fleeing for their lives and not merely driven by better economic opportunities. As Habib stated, “all of them dream of going back home”. To enable the bottom-up solutions described earlier, Gray advocated the need to view refugees as “people with capacities, skill sets and had jobs” who, given the appropriate resources, access, training and mentorship, can be leaders of change themselves. Liu echoed the view, and said that “Remember they are looking for a future. No one is more innovative than people looking for a future”.
Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.
MBA student and Skoll Scholar, viagra orderPip Wheatongives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum sessions themed around morality and empathy.
When you bring together nearly one thousand people whose work focuses on the biggest social, price environmental, sildenafil economic and political issues of our time, it is brave to ask the question, “What moral dilemma are you currently grappling with?” But that is exactly how Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka, opened the session on Moral Stances and Decision Making. The honesty of the responses from the audience was not only humbling but indicative of the fierce compassion with which people in the room treat their work. As Bill put it, we are all wrestling with something, and we all feel responsible for the things we wrestle with. And that’s the most important part.
Some big, meaty questions came out: How do we make trade-offs between breadth and depth? Is it ok to profit from poor people? When do we exit and how do we do that well? How rich is too rich?
Panelist Josh Nesbit, CEO of Medic Mobile, captured the challenge perfectly: “We want to maximise on all fronts – but it’s not possible. When we can’t, we have to make a choice, otherwise the choice will be handed to us.” So how do we make these decisions? Kirk Hansen, Executive Director of the Markkula Centre for Applied Ethics presented his guide to “Common Sense Ethics”, a high level overview of five of the most significant strands of moral theory from Aristotle to the present day. His argument is that moral language enables leaders to better think about moral decisions. Safeena Husain, Executive Director of Educate Girls, shared a moral dilemma that she and her team had worked through in Rajasthan while addressing critical gender gap issues, pointing out that all of us grapple with this, “but we don’t have the language [of ethics] built in.”
The last time I was a student, I studied moral philosophy and grappled with the morally and politically required responses to climate change. I thought that if I could just apply the frameworks of the great philosophers, the same ones that Kirk Hansen so clearly presented to the audience, I would be able to work out what we should do and, like magic, the world could think its way out of this global existential threat. I spent a year becoming increasing frustrated as I realised that the different theories give rise to different answers. And increasingly, I found evidence that even when we do know the “right” thing to do, we don’t always do it because of our imperfect, very human rationality. It’s only years later that I realise what I was struggling to articulate then: if we don’t have empathy then we won’t be able to create meaningful, enduring, compassionate change.
Bill Drayton went to the heart of the issue for me: rules-based ethics don’t work anymore. The world is changing so quickly that the rules are outdated or simply do not exist for the types of situations we find ourselves in today. He argued that we need to update our tools for moral decision-making: empathy-based ethics is the answer.
Empathy is a theme that has surfaced often over the past two days: as Roger Martin and IDEO’s Tim Brown discussed innovation in their panel, Design for Action; in a wonderfully honest conversation about education that emerged over dinner between three people from three different continents; from Selena Leem – an 18-year-old from the Marshall Islands who implored us to act on climate change so that her people don’t lose their home.
In the increasingly complex world that we live in, and particularly in the work that we do, we are faced with unavoidable dilemmas. Going back to foundations of morality, particularly a morality based on empathy, allows us to make the best decisions.
Oxford’s Fierce Compassion – Series of Student Insights to the Skoll World Forum 2016.
MBA student and Skoll Scholar, discountRitesh Singhania gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Healthcare as an Engine for Social Transformation’.
Is healthcare about disease management or delivering health?
While it is so important to provide quality affordable healthcare to communities at the bottom of the pyramid, can healthcare alone improve the lives of the people?
This is how we began the session with Gary Cohen, co-founder Healthcare Without Harm; Tyler Norris, VP Total Health, and Rebecca Onie, Co-founder Health Leads. It was very thought provoking to start the session broad, with questions that make us challenge our own thinking about the fundamental role that healthcare can play in the lives of local communities.
It is difficult to set up a medical clinic in the middle of a village community in rural India and expect the community to grow. Illness treatment or disease management in segregation can only have a limited impact in the lives of the people. To give an example – most of the women in rural India still use firewood for their cooking energy needs, leading to massive amounts of smoke within the four walls. This smoke is inhaled by just not the women of the family, but also by their children. As Annie Griffiths, from Ripple Effect Images highlighted during her fantastic opening plenary at the Skoll World Forum, that more children (under the age of five) die due to breathing problems, than diarrhoea, dengue and pneumonia together. Thus, while setting up a medical clinic in a remote village definitely has value addition for the community, it is important to understand the needs of the community and set up a cross-sectoral relationships with other areas of development for a healthier life-style of people.
I would like to share a small example from my days back in India, where we used to set up small scale power plants in the Indian Himalayas to generate clean electricity and cooking charcoal (by-product) from flammable pine needles. We would employ local women in the villages to collect pine needles and remunerate them both in the form of cash and cooking charcoal. Women in the villages are normally responsible to meet the energy needs of the family and spend the entire day gathering firewood. By employing them to collect pine needles, for the first time we were not only empowering them with money, but also offering a cleaner source of cooking fuel so that they do not have to go but down trees, in the fragile Himalayan eco-system. Thus, trying to create an impact at every step in the value chain by not only offering cleaner electricity to people, but also a cleaner cooking fuel and employment.
Similarly, healthcare offerings in the local communities have to be integrated with the needs of the community so that we can actually see a difference in the lives of the people – better, healthier people for a brighter future.
On the opening morning of the Skoll World Forum, a panel luminaries from the world of social innovation assembled under the banner of “Fierce Compassion” to discuss how the hundreds of global changemakers gathered here at the University of Oxford’s Said School of Business might leverage their influence to more rapidly scale solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.
As a current Oxford MBA student and the founder of a non-profit that helps young social innovators to grow as leaders and advance their work across the United States, it is amazing to see the best of Oxford’s academic community converging with so many iconic world leaders and social innovation practitioners.
There can be no doubt that connections made here over the next few days will propel the field for years to come.
If there is such a thing as currency in the world of social entrepreneurship, one imagines that the names and faces of this morning’s panelists (as well as more than a few audience members) would be among those featured on its bank notes.
Representing some of the most influential organizations in this field were Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation; Alexis Bonnell, Chief Applied Innovation & Acceleration, USAID Global Development Lab; Marcela Manubens, Global Vice President Social Impact, Unilever; and legendary Harvard Business School Professor Michael Porter.
To the extent that each panelist was candidly self-critical of their respective organizations and explicit about the need to address chronic shortcomings sector at large, they were greatly aided by fellow panelist Astrid Scholz, a former economist turned tech entrepreneur from Portland, OR who serves as Chief Everything Officer of Sphaera, a cloud-based solutions sharing platform that is working to disrupt the status quo organizations so impressively convened here at Oxford.
Astrid characterized the philanthropic-aid industry as being characterized by rent-seeking behavior and noted that no other industry exhibiting these features has ever avoided disruption, which she sees as imminent – thanks in no small part to the work of organizations like her own.
“Can a broken industry fix itself?”
That was the question aptly put to the panel by audience member and Oxford MBA alumna Aunnie Patton, now with the University of Cape Town’s Bertha Centre for Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Alexis Bonnell of USAID said that major funders can adapt to changing realities, and that the biggest trend in social innovation funding was that it was becoming less elitist, beginning to look at beneficiaries as customers, and leveraging technology to democratize and improve the allocation and assessment of aid initiatives.
Professor Michael Porter, who at Harvard leads the Social Progress Index, a framework for benchmarking success of efforts to catalyze greater human wellbeing, urged that improving accuracy of measurement was essential to establishing a better understanding of what actually constitutes effective social innovation.
“Right now,” he said, “we have a very inchoate field, and no standard classifications.”
Achieving consensus on how to benchmark the many initiatives in this field, Porter urged, would enable comparison, facilitate learning, and pave the way for increased effectiveness.
While acknowledging the importance of improved measurement, President Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation, itself a funder of the Social Progress Index, garnered applause from the audience for stressing the outsized importance of how cultural narratives can both catalyze and inhibit social change.
“We have exalted the individual entrepreneur and have disadvantaged the importance and primacy of institutions,” he said, noting that a major focus of the Ford Foundation was supporting initiatives that help to overcome cultural drivers of inequality.
For all the talk of institutional reform vs. disruption, the question of the non-profit sector’s relevance was a matter of equal concern.
Overcoming the glare of stage lights, panel moderator Michael Green, Director of the Social Progress Initiative, called on audience member Bill Ackman of the Pershing Square Foundation, who exercised his famous instincts as activist investor by calling out the proverbial “Elephant in the Room.”
“Non-profit solutions to problems are inherently problematic,” he said, noting that for-profit entrepreneurs like Elon Musk have demonstrated that business, as opposed to philanthropy, is best suited to addressing social and environmental needs.
But what about when the market fails to address the needs of society?
That, said Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, is why forward-thinking philanthropy remains essential, especially so in an era of accelerated change and persistent inequality.
Evidently, there is an as-yet unresolved tension between the sort of experimental, corrective, and exploratory ideas that philanthropy tends to support and the investment opportunities that make sense to traditional investors.
This was well-illustrated by a successful private equity man turned clean energy investor I met here yesterday who told me that certain young folks at the conference reminded him of the show Portlandia, which jokingly chronicles the sort of zany, neo-utopian businesses that reliably flourish in famously creative Portland, OR.
Fortunately, the many dreamers at this conference have not come here to retire. Rather, they have traveled great distances to explore possibilities and exchange ideas with world leaders, visionary upstarts, and established institutions that have the power to accelerate large-scale change.
At the Skoll Forum, we find ourselves at the intersection of global capital and social impact, amidst a watershed of imaginative new possibilities that – if matched with resources – will change our world for the better.
From Oxfordshire: here’s to a week of rigorous self-reflection, dialogue, and world-changing connections.
In this series of Scholar Blogs, our four Skoll Scholars for 2014-15 tell us what shaped their journey toward doing an MBA, and give their first impressions of how it feels to be starting their MBA course at Saïd Business School.
José Miguel Alfaro Gomez
The first Skoll Scholar to blog for us in this vein is José Miguel Alfaro Gomez, an Attorney at Law in Costa Rica and Founder of s.e.e.d., a boutique law firm targeted to social businesses in Costa Rica.
“I started my MBA application process in 2012. At that stage, what I had in mind was the “traditional perspective” of an MBA, a program that would provide me with the sound business skills needed to further develop my venture in Costa Rica. Since the very beginning of the process, Saïd Business School appeared to be, without a doubt, the perfect combination of networking, events and curricula for a student interested in Social Entrepreneurship. Nevertheless, at the same time, I was somewhat concerned about the “horror stories” one hears about business schools and their wildly competitive environments.
By April 2013, I learnt that I was not only accepted onto the MBA programme, but had also been awarded a Skoll Scholarship. Unfortunately I was forced to request a one-year deferral due to a personal situation. Both the School and the Centre supported me 100% at this time. The deferral was granted and everything was set for September 2014. This was one of the first hints I got that I wasn’t joining a “traditional” business school.
A year later, I was invited to participate in both the annual Skoll Scholars Reunion and later on that same week, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. From the moment I stepped into the Skoll Scholars Reunion, I felt it was the place to be. The “traditional perspective” totally changed and in two seconds Oxford became home. The idea of a “network” was replaced by one of a family of Skoll Scholars, all of them incredible people, spread across the world and tackling global problems with sustainable solutions. In the same way, during the Forum, it became clear to me that the events and exposure to key agents in the field of Social Entrepreneurship that Saïd Business School provides are of the highest quality possible.
A few months later, September ‘14 came and it was time to travel back to Oxford to start the MBA. I already felt that I was coming back home. However I expected that most of the momentum around Social Entrepreneurship would be concentrated within the Skoll Centre itself. Of course, I was wrong once more. The passion for tackling global problems with sustainable solutions clearly drives the entire School: more than half of the class joined the Social Impact OBN; at least 15% of the class has a background in Social Entrepreneurship; and, certainly all the class and faculty add extreme value to my learning process. All this takes place in a tremendously collaborative environment enhanced by the Skoll Centre as a resource available to all the Oxonian community. Suddenly the family increased by 240 classmates coming from 47 different countries.
I’m now a few months into the course, and I am sure that this year will be one of the best of my life, and that both the Skoll Centre and Saïd Business School will enable me to be part of a family that will make my learning experience at Oxford an endless journey.”
 Acronym for Oxford Business Network, a student-led group.
As you may know, term has started and things are getting more exciting everyday here at the Centre. Part of that excitment has been fueled by opportunities like the ones below. Feel free to peruse them and see if any are of interest to you!
Dr Larry Brilliant is coming to Oxford
Dr Larry Brilliant, President of the Skoll Global Threats Fund, will be speaking on ‘Pandemics – Can we eliminate major worldwide epidemics?’ on 22 October at 17:30. To register or for more information click here.
Are you interested in working in Russia? The Alfa Fellowship Program is a professional development program placing American and British citizens in work assignments at leading organizations in Russia in the fields of business, economics, journalism, law, public policy and related areas. Financial and programmatic support are provided. Apply by 1 December.
Want to help WAMT generate its own income through social business? If so, apply to intern and help compile a costed Business Plan for the social business(es) WAMT wishes to pursue. For more information contact Andy Kelmanson, Chief Executive at firstname.lastname@example.org.