Between the 8th and 9th of March, the Saïd Business school hosted the annual Oxford Africa Business Forum. The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholarships and Leadership Programme supported four current and two alumni students to attend the auspicious event. It was two days packed with inspiring African leaders in business, entrepreneurship and international development. In between speeches there was not a moment short of thought-provoking discussions among attendants and a few mini-debates on the topics of the day. My greatest lesson, was realising my own potential in the amazing delegates presented before me. Below, I give a brief description of the highlights of the day.
The forum begun with a powerful opening keynote by Cameroonian Professor Landry Singe. His profile includes being the youngest to rise to professorship at Stanford University, being the World Economic Forums young Global leader and even a contribution to the Black Panther movie. In his talk, Professor Landry called the continent and its youth to action. He spoke about the need for Africa’s continental free trade and outlined strategies for the agreements implementation. First, is to negotiate intellectual property and protocols for the trade of good. Second, is to have countries agree on the objectives of the protocols, which should promote and facilitate competition legislatures. His last strategy was implementation of the policies proposed for the African Continental Free Trade Agreement. The Oxford Africa Business Forum hosted panel discussions with teams of about 5 business leaders on the continent in each title. ‘Rebooting the Sleeping Giant’, was a discussion on the case for a continental free trade agreement with one speaker stating, ‘It takes more resources to block free trade, than to allow it’. ‘Upgrading the operating system’, was a discussion on equity banking and entrepreneurship. The panel noted challenges in raising capital and discussed solutions like market diversification and in-country re-investment as is practice in countries like Botswana.
The ‘Branding the African narrative’ was a discussion on marketing in Africa. I was impressed with South Africas approach to tourism marketing which is targeted to selling specific customer-experiences as opposed to a location.
Dr Vera Songwe, executive secretary for the UN economic commission for Africa, gave an astounding closing speech which focused on the African Free Trade Agreement. She stated that the continent has not been able to trade well within itself and that the proposed trade agreement would improve quality, diversification and sophistication of trade in Africa. Trading within Africa could increase employment and improve the economic empowerment of women in the informal sector especially in border areas. Dr Songwe described in great statistical detail, how the African Continental Free Trade Agreement would provide an enabling environment for digital platforms and private sector business. She concluded with expressing her understanding of reservations made by large economies like South Africa and Nigeria. She then explained that on-going consultations will improve the agreement in the hopes for endorsement by more countries by July this year.
Through the Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Leadership and Scholarship programme, I am learning about entrepreneurship and having practical experience through our enterprise challenges. As an African, the Oxford Africa Business forum has given me the perspective on the future of my role in this space. It is exciting to see the contributions to the continent that these amazing leaders are making and I hope to be among them some day.
Since I was admitted as a Weidenfeld-Hoffmann scholar, the activity I have enjoyed the most has been the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy seminars. During these meetings, I have realized how unaware I have been of the discussions that entangle our relations as human beings and as part of a broader society. I am an engineer, and in this field of knowledge most of the challenges have a ‘right’ answer and a straightforward solution. In contrast, in Moral Philosophy Seminars, I have witnessed how complex the social science discussions are and how communal and individual perspectives can shape a shared knowledge; sometimes finding overlapping agreements and sometimes only disagreement. However, I have never been privy to a discussion with such a rich and honest amount of agreement between a diverse group of males and females from as multifaceted a background as those at the WHT’s Moral Philosophy Seminar on Feminism.
The Seminar on Feminism was moderated by Diana Popescu and led by Nikolas Kirby. The core readings for the seminar involved important feminist thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, Sojourner Truth and Iris Young. Taking these readings as a base for the discussion, on the first day of March 2019 at Nuffield College, more than 20 scholars from politics, business, environmental sciences and other areas provided me with the tools to understand what feminism is about.
Women’s struggle for equality has been developed by three main movements; sufferage, access to education and equity in the professional world. These are just the beginning of the decades long fight for women’s rights. These ideas represent the so called ‘first wave’ of feminism. With every achievement of women, it has become obvious that the problem is more complex; it has deep roots in society and more subtle forms of discrimination remain. Thus, the surge of the ‘second wave’ of feminism continues the struggle to overcome the public and private oppression of women. We must be concerned by the lack of understanding within patriarchal / male dominated societies that ‘equal rights’ are not enough if women are not able to exercise them effectively.
In my opinion, our collective imagination has been very limited in tackling these problems. There are still forms of direct and indirect discrimination and the idea of women as “The Other” in relation to men still frames them in a secondary role. We need to address these big issues, not only through direct action by women but also the efforts of men. Men need to understand the problem and in addition to all concerns of ‘second wave’ movements, we need to realize and recognize the diversity within the women’s empowerment movement too i.e. the problems of a white women are not necessarily the same as those of a black women. The concerns of women need to be fundamentally understood and acknowledged first and maybe then, our imaginations can really start providing pragmatic and relevant solutions beyond ‘providing’ rights.
During the seminar, many of the comments were related with what Iris Young established as the five faces of oppression. Women are still marginalized, 50% of the world’s population is still deprived of properly participating in social life. They are still exploited, for example, women still have a double work day; combining career and a highly active role in the private/family setting. There is a form of ‘cultural imperialism’ at play and the domination of men has rendered the perspective of women in a secondary role. Additionally, women still lack access to power positions in public and private affairs thus being subjected, in the worst cases, to actions of violence by a dominant group of men.
As a man, having the opportunity to listen to examples and points of view of fellows WHT Scholars, women from all around the world, really piqued my interest in the feminst agenda and significantly enlightened my perspective. It is after participating in this forum that I have come to realize how relevant and necessary it is for men to take concrete actions to avoid another 100 years of women’s struggle for equality. As my dear friend Zamiyat Abubakar from Nigeria said, “men listen to men” and those of us who consider understanding this relevant issue must “call out sexist remarks, encourage men to educate themselves and contribute everyday to make the 50% of population lives better”.
2019 began with a flourish for us – thanks to André Hoffmann’s generosity, we were given a space to showcase our bespoke Leadership Programme at the World Economic Forum at Davos in January. We were undoubtedly the youngest and least experienced contributors, but I can honestly say that the WHT group wowed the audience. In the end, a dozen scholars and alums gave short presentations about the problems facing their countries. The audience of business people, non-profit executives and those interested in education (including Oxford’s Vice Chancellor, Professor Louise Richardson, who introduced the session) asked many questions, complimented the young people on the positivity of their approach and left with a sense of hope about the future. This trip seemed a distant possibility when the visas were not forthcoming, no one quite knew what they should do or say, and we had no idea whether anyone would come and listen to our ‘young voices of hope’. . . But we did get visas albeit at the eleventh hour, the students helped each other to polish their performances and the tent was filled to standing-room-only. If you haven’t already, please look at the short highlights video on our landmark trip to the World Economic Forum.
We also chose this moment to launch a fundraising campaign for the all important Leadership Programme. Some of the alumni that couldn’t make it to Davos sent messages from their home countries, it gives a wonderful idea of what the Leadership Programme has meant – please take a few minutes to enjoy it. Professor Roland Rosner has become our latest supporter – his family foundation is generously donating towards the Leadership Programme for the next cohort, for which we are very grateful.
Otherwise, this term has sped by with an outstanding Moral Philosophy follow up session on Feminism where, for the first time, our male scholars participated in the same numbers as the female ones; the Town Hall was packed with people both ‘Town and Gown’ to listen to a topical scholar run debate entitled: ‘This House believes countries should restrict immigration to preserve national culture’.
Our scholars continue to impress us with extra-curricular feats from fencing to debating and taking on leadership positions in their respective colleges. Our alumni have also returned to Oxford in waves to collect their various awards and take another walk down memory lane; Sagar Dhakal (Nepal, MSc Water Science, Policy and Management, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) brought several generations of family, from grandparents to young cousins, for his graduation and introduced me to the art of making special sounds like gongs with a wonderful gift from their country – perhaps they, rightly, thought I needed some quiet, contemplative moments!
Congratulations also to several alumni who have shared their personal and professional successes with us this term. Saadia Gardezi (Pakistan, MPhil Modern South Asian Studies, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham) took the opportunity over the Christmas holiday to get married. She shared the following colourful and brilliant photos of her and her family’s festivities with us:
Mastish Taddese Terefe (Ethiopia, Master of Public Policy, Louis Dreyfus), who is our first scholar from Ethiopia, wrote to say that she had returned home with new and interesting prospects for the development of her home country, which recently made news for the election of the first woman President, Sahle-Work Zwede.
Mowmita Basak Mow (Bangladesh, Master of Public Policy, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld
and Hoffmann) shared the happy news that she has given birth to a lovely little
And so the list goes on. . .
We now begin the process of selection for the next cohort and look
forward to welcoming some of you back for our end of term celebration in June.
One event I always look forward to is the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar. By far my favorite activity of the many things we do as WHT scholars; I was excited to find out that the subject of the second follow-up Moral Philosophy Seminar would be Feminism, as this is something I’m passionate about. I went to the seminar with the expectation of being intellectually stimulated and enlightened and I was not disappointed. The Seminars have typically been an avenue for us to critically consider and dissect topics of importance in today’s world and this was no different.
At about 5:30PM on Friday the 1st of March, scholars at the height of the stress of Hilary term gathered at Nuffield College around now familiar faces to have open intellectual and moral examination of a contemporary issue as they have done a few times before. The seminar was hosted by Dr Nikolas Kirby, WHT Academic Advisor, and moderated by Dr Diana Popescu. The event had a great turnout, with most of the scholars taking the time out of their busy terms to come and share thoughts on this very relevant issue.
The seminar opened up with Dr Diana Popescu stating the importance of allowing everyone to share their diverse ideas on the issue of Feminism. Participants began by defining what feminism meant to them. For example, Hannah Kamaric relayed the importance of women having ‘true choice’ in defining feminism (as opposed to traditionally prescriptive definitions). Antonio Beun, added the acknowledgement that sexism is carried out in everyday life, saying that “things we take as normal, are actually oppressive to one gender of human beings.”
The discussion featured readings from historic and contemporary feminist thinkers like Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone De Beauvoir, Sojourner Truth, and more. Scholars were able to examine how discussions around women’s rights have evolved over time, and the relativity of what is considered as “radical” feminism. In discussing approaches to “radical” feminist rhetoric and shock value in social movements; Ayushi Agarwal articulated the significance of making choices on rhetoric that was either more palatable to the masses or that would garner results in the long term.
The discussion moved to analyzing the inhibitions that have hampered the level of success of feminism so far. The scholars discussed how women negotiate their identities and defining women as “The Other” in relation to men, with men always being the template for humanity. Zuzana stressed the importance of feminism having a relationship with men that was both oppositional and allied, since women have positive emotional relationships with men as no other group has with its ‘oppressor’.
The scholars also discussed intersectionality in feminism, and how important it is to take into account the different meanings and interpretations of feminism to women as influenced by their race, social class, and culture. We progressed to the topic of work and economic freedom for women, exploring how economic opportunities for women are hampered by them still having to do the majority of work at home, and the need for a change in the extent to which we attach economic value to the work that women do in the home.
For some contrast, Grace Mzumara discussed an example of a matriarchal society, citing a town in her home country of Malawi. She elaborated that there were problems of marginalization of men in that situation as well and urged the need for a focus on equality as a solution to oppression.
As discussions progressed, we were so engrossed in our debates that we hardly realized we had used up the allotted time while everyone still had much to say. We opted to take a break for dinner and made our way to the large dining room where a delicious assortment of food awaited us. During dinner the discussion carried on as everyone dined and socialized, smiles and laughs of friendship resonating all around the long dinner table.
We reconvened after dinner in the meeting room for a second round of discussions, glasses of wine and cups of tea in hand as we picked up where we had left off with a discussion of ‘third wave feminism’. Pornography and its influence on behavior in society as relates to rights and perceptions of women was at the heart of this discussion. There was some division in views on whether or not pornography and sex work in general, is degrading to women. In the end, consensus was that there is a need for reform in that industry. Ayushi articulated the need for a rethink on the ‘proliferation of porn’, considering the harmful effects it has on how men view women as sex objects. We agreed that there is a definite need for reform in society to inform reform in porn, as it is a consumer-based industry that feeds off of the desires of men in a patriarchal society.
As the evening wore on, we were eventually able to
wrap up discussions so scholars could disperse for the night. The seminar was
no doubt an incredible learning experience for all of us and it was with
wistful hugs that the scholars finally parted that night, the wonderful
experience a fitting finale to WHT events for this Hilary term.