Reflections from the Skollar Summit

Every year before the Skoll World Forum, medications our community of Skollar alumni return to Oxford University to spend the day together as part of the Skollar Summit. The Summit is the one in-person gathering a year for this group, link so you can imagine the excitement with which they come. This year’s gathering was facilitated by Ilana Wetzler and Tim Hartley– they share their thoughts of the day below. 


It is fair to say that as professional facilitators of leadership development experiences and change programmes we don’t often find teams of people who know exactly what they want before they’ve had it.  So you can imagine our joy when we saw this written in the Skollars’ formal request for Summit facilitators back in October last year:

“The Skollar Alumni community is seeking to strengthen bonds between alumni and to contribute to members’ ongoing development as individuals, link as leaders of organizations, and as social entrepreneurs.”

It is an understatement to say that we were delighted to work alongside the Skollars to bring shape and purpose to proceedings at the 2012 Skollars Summit.

The highlight for us was hearing what it meant for everyone there to really meet each other, spending a day exploring what it means to be human, and how exciting it is to be committed to the same greater cause.  We had a blast, and very much feel this could be the beginning of something amazing.

It’s difficult to convey the energy of the day, but below is a brief summary:


Starting Point

Our view is that understanding our core identity and values is key to living a life that is purposeful, meaningful and aligned with what we truly believe in. With that as our starting point everyone was invited to speak about why as social entrepreneurs we do what we do – asking what it is that we are most passionate about.

Shifting the conversation away from “I do this” towards “I do this because” had the effect of people realising their common ground, their same-ness – yet each individual spoke from their heart with their very own sound, unique colour and tone.  The feel of community started to form.


Unity in Diversity

From this paradoxical place of sameness and diversity we moved through what one Skollar described as “a term of business school in one day”.  Through a combination of dialogue, team tasks, theory and reflection, we spent a day learning about leadership, about us as individuals, us as a group and the different contexts that we each operate in.


Emotional Intelligence

As a base for leadership, we used Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model. This simple and powerful model shows that in order to affect change and manage our relationships, the fundamental step is developing our self awareness: “we cannot manage that which we are not aware of”.  The premise is that if we are able to develop our awareness, of ourselves, of others, of all that is around us we are more able to see what is needed from us as leaders, and develop the capacity to move to serve those needs.  How can we step back, become aware and respond rather than just react?


Common Values

We looked at the value of being part of one single human family, that we are inter-connected, and how that translates into action if everyone is our brother and sister. We looked at service as being at the heart of leadership.  We also looked at the concept of the ‘ends and the means are the same’, which stems from Gandhi’s quote of, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world” – i.e. if we want to see peace, we ourselves must be peaceful, if we want to see harmony, we ourselves must live harmoniously, if we want to see transformation, we ourselves must transform…

We ended the day with confidence that solid foundations have been laid to support the Skollars as they explore who they are, how to lead, and excitement about what the future holds for them, their ventures, and this community.

Is the “social” needed before the “enterprise”?

With the new academic year kicking off, the debates and discussions are well underway.   Skoll Scholar Daniela Papi (@danielapapi) takes a moment to reflect on one of the more heated conversations we’re having: why the polarization between “entrepreneurship” and “social entrepreneurship”?

Reposted with permission from Daniela’s blog.

I’m starting my first week of classes at the University of Oxford in their MBA program, and I realize that I am not in the minority for having chosen this program because of its connection to the Skoll Center and its focus on “social entrepreneurship.” Many of the people I have met state that some aspect of “better” business is what brought them here…. well, that and the fact that you get to study in an institution with 800+ years of history and where some of the world’s most brilliant minds have gathered. It’s a fascinating place!

During our first week of orientation we had an optional day and a half session on social innovation that opened with Pamela Hartigan, director of the Skoll Center, speaking about how she thinks the word “social” needs to be removed from “entrepreneurship”. I couldn’t agree more, especially given the reception these concepts have received from some of my MBA classmates.

The polarization of “entrepreneurship” and “social entrepreneurship” implies mutual exclusivity. If you are a “social” entrepreneur, do you somehow get to claim moral superiority over your every day entrepreneur? Many of the most mission driven organizations I have seen have never heard of nor benefited from the term “social enterprise”, so why do we make this distinction? Is this naming trend causing us to forget that ALL business has the responsibility to not only increase profits for shareholders, but also respect and support the world around it?

I view “social” enterprises as businesses working towards social changes as their mission above maximizing income. We don’t call Colgate a social enterprise, but if a group said they were starting a business with the explicit mission of getting toothpaste out to people all over the developing world to reduce tooth decay, we might consider them so. If a group with a stated social mission took on the same business as Colgate, would just the motivating factor be enough to note the difference? Or, would there be no difference at all? And towards that end, should programs like mine be working to remove the polarizing “social” from the entrepreneurship to attract more MBA’s who don’t associate at all with the social side of this curriculum. Perhaps through their drive for successful businesses they will be ones who have the largest ability to make changes in the world?

Relying on free market approaches to global development does leave me with some additional concerns many stemming from a lack of a systematic way to define what “social” impact is.  If we believe that people will vote with their money for the things they believe in, then we might take the mindset that as long as you had a socially driven society, the market would drive social improvements. The dilemma here is that the social/environmental implications of certain purchases are not readily available to influence consumer decision making. More worrying is that much of this complete impact understanding is also not readily understood or sought out by business leaders themselves. If we don’t know our social impact and can’t measure it, how can we improve it?

It turns out the same dilemmas causing failures in the NGO world are at work in business. An inability or lack of effort to measure impact and tie positive impacts to future decision-making, both for donors and consumers, is creating inefficient markets where funding is going to areas which, with full informational clarity would be less desirable options.

How do we mesh all of the good intentions on one side with all of the business drive on another and make all parties realize that we can and are working towards the same goals? I’m so excited to see where this year takes me and all those of us on this course and how this unique MBA program will impact the work we all take on throughout our lives. Let’s hope that in the future the “social” doesn’t need to be listed as a distinction as a better understanding of the complete spectrum of impacts of our work will be available to all business leaders and consumers and we will all prioritize a better world in designing our businesses.

Announcing the 2011-2012 Skollars!

Drumroll, please!

It’s a special day here at the Skoll Centre, as we can finally introduce you to our newest class of Skoll Skollars!

After a rigorous 6 month search, we have selected four fantastic social entrepreneurs who have made significant contributions to the field already – and who will continue to do so long into the future.

The annual Scholarship funds social entrepeneurs to undertake their MBA at Said Business School and welcomes them into a community of innovators spread across the globe (now 39 Skollars strong over 8 classes).

It was a difficult process and we’d like to thank all the amazing candidates we met along the way.  We look forward to having you all with us next year and making social impact happen together.

Congratulations David, Daniela, Sydney and Andy!  We can’t wait for you to join us next year.

(Read their full bios by clicking on their picture)


SBS Venture Fund gives flight to big ideas

This post was written by Vannary Sar, of the Skoll Centre.

Last night hundreds of students, alumni and people from the business community gathered at Saїd to watch the Venture Fund Final (or should I say “show-down”) and let me tell you, what a fun night!  The Venture Fund happens once a year and is an opportunity for SBS entrepreneurs to battle it out for a chance to win seed capital for their venture.  To date, the Fund has a portfolio of five promising start-ups, with a total investment of £675,000 – and we were all hoping to see another cheque with many zeros being handed over.

The four ventures competing were Contego, TheySay, Off.Grid.Electric and Green & Grow.  The teams pitched their ideas with passion filling the theatre, and you could feel the drama (at one point a £250,000 cheque was waved in the air!)  All entrepreneurs did extremely well, fielding difficult questions and justifying their projections – but the two ventures that impressed the investors the most were Green & Grow and, Off.Grid.Electric.  Congratulations to both teams, and especially Skoll Skollar, Xavier Helgesen and Skoll Centre Associate, Erica Mackey of Off.Grid.Electric. We are SO proud of you!

The celebrations continued throughout the night with cocktails and live performances from Oxford’s a cappella group ‘Out of the Blue’ and it was great to be part of such a supportive and entrepreneurial atmosphere.  While this event isn’t run by the Skoll Centre (congratulations to our SBS colleagues for their hard work), it is a vivid reminder of the incredible resources and networks out there in the wider Oxford ecosystem for entrepreneurs.  These support systems are so critical to entrepreneurs – especially those with ideas for social impact ventures, where seed funding is even more scarce.

A great night all around, where little (or BIG) ideas can turn into a reality.   Here’s to the winning teams!

It’s not every day an Archbishop says grace before dinner

Day 2 of the Skollar Summit is kicking off downstairs as we speak, and Skoll World Forum delegates are starting to roll in.  Before we dive into the excitement of the Forum, we’d be remiss not to recognize the incredible dinner hosted by our friends at the Skoll Foundation last evening at Christ Church. (Think Harry Potter).

A bit of a surreal evening – with social entrepreneutship “celebrities” at every turn.  Great evening of celebrating and networking among the Skollar alumni community, the extended family from the Jeff Skoll Group, the Skoll Foundation team, the Skoll Awardees and others.

Top two highlights, without a doubt:

1) Archbiship Desmond Tutu saying grace before dinner in front of the great portraits of Christ Church.  A little bit of history right there!

2) The 2011 Skollars had a chance to meet and connect with Jeff Skoll for the first time.  Good looking crew, no?!

T-minus 4 hours til the Forum offically opens! Onward!

Reunited and it feels so good

A lively day here at Oxford SBS for the Annual Skollar Summit!

This annual gathering brings together the Skoll Skollars of years past – social entrepreneurs who were selected and funded to spend a year with the Skoll Centre studying for their MBA.  Now in it’s 7th year, the Skollar’s programme consists of 35 entrepreneurial changemakers from all over the world.

Peter Tufano on the future of business

Also, we were fortunate to have with us today this year’s and last year’s class of Skoll Centre Associate Fellows (MBAs at SBS who focus on social impact).    It’s amazing to see the growing community of students and alumni of the Skoll Centre, and all the incredible work they are up to.

The day was full of energy – from catching up with old friends to white-boarding ideas for new ventures. We also  had the pleasure of hearing from Dr. Larry Brilliant, President of Skoll Global Threats Fund, who spoke about the increasingly fragility of our world and routes for action to combat these great threats.  The new incoming Dean of SBS, Professor Peter Tufano, also paid a visit to share his vision for the future of  business education at SBS – with an eye towards solving the wicked problems of our times.

Hear more about the day from the Skollars and Associate Fellows themselves below.  Day 2 of the Summit continues tomorrow – and then onward to the Skoll World Forum!

Grace Sai, Skollar ’09-’10 reflects on what it means to be reunited with this community.


We also caught up with Henery Gonzalez, Skollar ’04-’05.


And finally, Chris McCormick, a current Skoll Centre Associate Fellow talks about the anticipation of attending his first Skoll World Forum: