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Unavoidable Dilemmas

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

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, viagra order Pip Wheaton gives 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.

Follow Pip: @PipWheaton

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Stronger Together? Government Collaboration with Social Enterprises in India

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

MBA student, viagra 100mg Skoll Scholar and Founder of Home Safe, ampoule Nikhil Saigal gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Stronger Together? Government Collaboration with Social Enterprises in India’.

The question of the necessity and possibilities of fostering collaboration between the public and civic sector has been a pertinent one amongst practitioners. When champions from both sectors come together on a common platform, the insights are bound to be powerful.

Natalia Agapitova, Program Lead, Innovation Labs at World Bank kicked us off with her experiences working with multiple social enterprises across the developing world. Seeing a strong synergy in the objectives that both the civil sector and public stakeholders are working towards, she stressed the need to create an environment where support systems can help these social enterprises scale the work they do.

Rwitwika Bhattacharya, CEO for Swaniti Initiative, has been working in the space of delivering development solutions to government officials in India. These solutions have ranged across the fields of healthcare, education, gender equality and livelihoods. Sharing her experiences on working with a government in a rapidly developing environment, she explains that most often the challenges arise out of a difference in perceptions of the problem. While local government officials feel extremely connected first hand to issues in their areas, organizations that have seen successes in other settings are not always perceived to be able to tackle it and may be seen as outsiders. Suggesting that the best approach is to build a track record and show results in a similar environment visavis geography or nature of the challenge, strongly helps push the cause through.

On the flipside, hearing from Ms Vidyavathi Vaidyanathan, Joint Secretary at the Government of India, gave a balanced view of how the public stakeholders view collaboration opportunities with social enterprises. Over her 25 years working with the Indian political system across levels ranging from the Zila Panchayat all the way to her current role as joint secretary, one sentiment that came out strongly throughout was her insight that the perception from governments is changing. While there was a time that for profit organizations were perceived as negative partners, she says “Profit is not a dirty word”, matching Ritwika’s insight on how the transparent profit motive gives the government a clear understanding of what’s in it for the partner.

While times are changing and an environment of greater openness to working together are seemingly closer, we still have a long way to go before these conversations are more common. In the experiences shared, we could see how governments are open to overcoming traditional challenges like partnerships being driven on the basis of individual motivations and changes in this by bringing about longer term, multi year agreements on solutions being delivered. We are also seeing changes in the push for collaboration coming from both sides of the equation, governments reaching out to look for partners combined with the more traditional route of social enterprises advocating the government to open up to partnerships.

In my experience of working on Road Safety in India, there are certain social issues where collaboration with public stakeholders – governments and law enforcement agencies, becomes imperative to see a change. A for profit start up, we faced multiple challenges engaging with the public sector and understanding how these challenges are being addressed by other organizations working with the government. Armed with strong insights and experiences of practitioners in India on successes and challenges on fostering government collaboration, these experiences allow us to evolve our approach to taking the social missions we are passionate about to fruition.

Follow Nikhil: @nikhilsaigal

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Mindful Action, Intelligent Fearlessness: Creating Movements that Inform, Inspire, and Change the World

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

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, recipe Maria Springer gives her perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Mindful Action, Intelligent Fearlessness: Creating Movements that Inform, Inspire, and Change the World’.

Panel moderator Ron Schultz, Co-Founder of Waterman Aylsworth, opened the early morning session with a request for the audience: “Please root your feet on the floor, place your hands on your knees, sit up straight, gently lower your gaze, and feel your heart. Then let your heart radiate out.”

Within sixty seconds, the hearts of 75 delegates were radiating. If we believe that individuals are connected to the universe and by default other individuals, building movements that inform, inspire and change the world require mindfulness and fearlessness. Radiating hearts are just the beginning. Three key insights on mindful action and intelligent fearlessness emerged from the session.

(1) Fear is workable. What if we see fear as workable? After all, even the fearless fear. Insight Meditation Society co-founder, Sharon Salzberg, suggests that if we “loosen the grip on fixed thinking and expectations, new options emerge.” Fears that are acknowledged can be turned around. By creating space and an internal practice for managing fear, we can accept the world as it is, not how we think it ought to be, savings us time, frustration and energy. Founder and CEO of International Bridges to Justice, Karen Tse, summed up the point with a quote from Khalil Gibran, “your joy is your sorrow unmasked.”

(2) Compassion is a practice. Practicing compassion enables social entrepreneurs to align intention with heartfelt, powerful action. APOPO Founder, Bart Weetjens, suggests that social entrepreneurs are often successful because they demonstrate compassion for themselves and for those they serve. Social entrepreneurs who love themselves authentically connect with those they serve.

(3) Boldness and compassion are not mutually exclusive. Fierce compassion does not make one weak or foolish, and the notion of being compassionate towards oneself is not to be confused with laziness, a lack of rigor or an inability to pursue excellence. On the contrary, “being compassionate can increase the audacity and intensity of action,” advises Salzberg. By practicing fierce compassion, social entrepreneurs create the space to avoid superficial reactions, and can instead respond intelligently and strategically.

Mindful action, fierce compassion and intelligent fearlessness require practice and commitment. By valuing mindfulness, compassion and fearlessness, social entrepreneurs can inform, inspire and change the world.

 

Follow Maria: @mariaspringer

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Healthcare as an Engine for Social Transformation

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

MBA student and Skoll Scholar, discount Ritesh Singhania gives his perspective on the Skoll World Forum seminar session ‘Healthcare as an Engine for Social Transformation’.

Ritiesh - Healthcare

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.

Follow Ritesh: @riteshs01

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SCHOLAR BLOG: Seeking out the Special and the Valuable

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. 

nikhil-nair

Nikhil Nair

Nikhil Nair comes to oxford with over 6 years of experience in the solar industry. He spent  three years working at the social enterprise SELCO Solar, and he holds a degree in Business Management from Christ University, India.

Thomas Lawrence asked the class: “Do you think everyone is special?”

Almost all of us put up our hands and said yes. Then he made a simple but powerful statement: “Although everyone may be special, not everyone is valuable”.

In the past few weeks since my arrival in this city, I have established that there are several truly special people at Oxford. Let me share an incidence of meeting one such person.

One evening, the MBA class gathered for wine at the Oxford Museum of Natural History, where I struck up a conversation with Joel and Caryn. Joel was telling me that he planned to try his hand at rowing. Caryn also said she intended to row, not just for her college, but also for the University team. Since rowing is big at Oxford, making it to the University team is extremely competitive. So I stopped and said to Caryn, “Rowing for the University can be extremely competitive I hear. Have you rowed before, and do you have any experience in competitive rowing?” That’s when she said that she has been part of the US Olympic rowing team for the last three times, at London, Bejing and Athens! My jaw dropped. I was bursting with questions:  what was it like to be at the Olympics? How does it feel to represent the country? Did you win? And why in this world would you need an MBA?

Unfortunately I was unable to pick up my dropped-jaw and ask her these questions at the time, but I hope to do so in the course of the year. I at least found an answer to one of the questions through her Wikipedia page: yes she won – a gold at London and Beijing, and a silver at Athens. Caryn to me is a special person. And although my other classmates may not be Olympians, I have realized if you listen, each of them are special through their stories and life experiences.

But do I only want such special people and special experiences? Thomas’ theory in class is helping me differentiate between being special and being valuable. To make the most of this year, I will also need to engage with people and events that are not just special, but extremely valuable to my personal and professional life.

How do I find out what is valuable to me? If I had Aladdin’s magic lamp, I would ask the genie to create for me a list of all the valuable people and events that I could ever experience. But when I think again, perhaps it’s better that this genie doesn’t exist, as the experience of engaging and deciding whether things are special or valuable or both, is the true joy of this one year at Oxford.

Interesting events are happening all the time, such as: a talk by Eric Schmidt from Google, an event by the Smith school on GDP & Businesses, Harry Potter enthusiasts playing Quidditch (yes, this is an actual sport at Oxford), or the former Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Gillani speaking about leadership in his country.

While juggling between readings for Strategy class, OBN meetings and late-night BOP parties, I continue to look for events/people that are special and valuable. So that when people ask me about my experience at SBS, I will be able to use the same phrase I have heard from several alumni: “It was the best year of my life!”

 

 

Scholar Blog: Coming Home, but with a larger family

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

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[1]; 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.”

[1] Acronym for Oxford Business Network, a student-led group.