“Nostalgia for Now”

The Stag.(Photo: Ana Lucia Azcunaga)

               
   Hello reader, my name is Claudio, Claudio Gonzalez. And you are?

We were just talking about the stag. . .I wasn’t there (too many coupons spent at the bar the evening before) but witnesses described the scene: It was just after 8AM when the deer appeared; its prodigious horns wrapped by the early morning mist. The stag stood in front of an enormous statue of George III on horseback. Despite the sculptor’s best efforts, however, the deer thoroughly outshone the monarch. 

 That was the last morning of the trip. Two days earlier, the Weidfenfeld-Hoffmann Trust scholars arrived at Cumberland Lodge for what was to be a jam-packed series of events: public speaking training, networking coaching, resume-writing exercises and most importantly, several WHT Enterprise Challenge pitches to an expert panel of business and thought leaders.

Breakfast in the grand dining room with Ana Lucia and Alan. 

First came the public speaking training. After a brief introduction, we were assembled into small teams of three or four and proceeded to our corresponding working rooms. There, one by one, the facilitators pointed a camera at our noses and briskly snapped, “rolling”. An awkward silence set in. Then, sitting with a sloped back and gesturing with wild-waving arms, I faced the menacing camera and spoke at a pace so fast that only small phrases were decipherable, but the overall meaning of what I said was hidden. That wasn’t the worse part; We were then all forced to watch ourselves on camera. It was painful! After around of feedback from facilitators and colleagues alike, every second round speech improved very noticeably (in my room, June Samo was especially impressive). 

A while  later we all convened in the grandest room of the lodge, where those brave enough were invited to put their new-learned skills to practice in front of the larger group. There’s scant room here to go into the details but one speaker is worth highlighting: Samuel Taylor Tagore (née Kapil Yadav). Dancing across the room as he spoke, our Tagore deftly conveyed the autumn landscape giving birth to the winter scenery, contrasting it with the change from shy caterpillar into confident butterfly. 

Learning how to network with Sue Tonks.

The next day the excellent Sue Tonks provided an insightful training on networking norms in the UK. But we were all mostly focused on the event that would take place later that night; the WHT Challenge pitches. When the time came, we all scrambled into the large room to face our colleagues and the expert panel. The projects were very diverse – from waste management in Ecuador to early education in Jordan – linked only by a clear social purpose. After every pitch came rounds of applause of varying length and excitement; as well as rounds of equally stringent questioning and supporting advice voiced by the panel. As with the speeches, there’s a lot to highlight here but only time for one notable mention. Project Dastaan, spearheaded by Saadia Gardezi together with a group of five WHT scholars which proposes to use state of the art technology to soothe deeply entrenched wounds. It aims to use Virtual Reality to take Pakistanis and Indians on a tour of their pre-partition homes. 

A fun photo with the full cohort of 2018-2019 WHT Scholars. 

               After dinner that night, the scholars once again came together in the large room, this time to exchange Christmas gifts. Predictably, the most common gifts were books (among them were Alice in Wonderland, Red Rising, El Señor Presidente, and The Choice). Less predictably, the second most common gift was stroop waffles (Dutch cookies). The evening was then carried forward by Zuzana Hlavkova leading on the piano, accompanied by Ramón Narváez on the guitar, and Moshin Ali Mustafa on surprisingly smooth vocals. The group fizzled after awhile, but some moved slowly underground, struggling to match David Hernández at Despacito. Witnesses of that scene were remiss to share the highlights.

An early WHT Christmas complete with Secret Santa gifts. 

 The last morning of the trip some woke-up early to walk to the statue with the stag; others lay in their comfy rooms an extra hour. Then, we all hesitantly packed into the coach that would take us to Windsor Castle en route to Oxford. As we watched Cumberland Lodge disappear behind us, Alfredo Ortega got it exactly right when he said that, “Being here is like a feeling of nostalgia for a moment that hasn’t passed.”

About the Scholar

Claudio Gonzalez

Mexico
Master of Public Policy (MPP), 2019
The Queen's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar
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Just a Regular Lunch…Or Was It?

During the first week of the term, we were kindly invited by the Trust to a drop-in lunch at the Nosebag. The modest restaurant, located just opposite the historic buildings of the Oxford Union, has a reputation for being delicious and wholesome. I must confess that I initially thought this lunch would not merit a blog post. However, upon further reflection, I came to realize there is an extraordinary value and uniqueness to every WHT activity.

I was among the first scholars to arrive. Gradually, the others joined as well, each according to their own tight and intense schedules (business as usual in Oxford). Notwithstanding, the atmosphere in the restaurant was homely, soothing, and cosy. I shared my lunch with Aditta Kittikhoun (2019, Laos,  MSc Social Science of the Internet, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening), Kapil Yadav (2019, India, Environmental Change and Management,
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann)
and Mohsin Mustafa (2019, Pakistan, Master of  Business Administration, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Lewis). The four of us come from very different places, but we are quick to have a laugh and to talk about the mundane and the not so mundane in equal measure.

From left to right Aditta, Mohsin, Alfredo

When people ask me about my colleagues from WHT, I always tell them one could write a book based on each of their life stories. Aditta, for example, is a really fun person to be around, with a witty comment always up his sleeve. A funny story that I later learned about him is that he was the first Facebook user from Laos. Ever. Kapil is a blissful and reflexive individual that irradiates positive energy. He is a passionate environmentalist whose work in India can inspire anyone.

For his part, Mohsin is a straight shooter; a very direct, risk-taking, problem-solving physician. Personally, I had previously not associated myself with many entrepreneurs. Mohsin is helping me understand that word. The way he approaches problems is very different to the mindset of a trained lawyer as myself. Always focusing on possible solutions, and rarely in the complications. You can learn a lot just by having lunch with him. This lunch in particular, included a very nice salmon quiche.

Listening to my colleagues’ stories is what made my lunch inimitable. This is what makes being part of the WHT family such an extraordinary privilege and opportunity. A pool of talented individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds that facilitate mutual learning. I now cherish each moment with this bunch, be it a moral philosophy seminar, a cup of tea, or a delicious lunch at the nosebag.

About the Scholar

Alfredo Ortega Franco

Guatemala
Master of Public Policy (MPP), 2019
St Hugh's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld/Chevening Scholar
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Quiet Leadership in Michaelmas Term

Early in the semester, I went on a run through the Oxford Parks with two of my new WHT classmates. The leaves had just started to turn in late September as we set out in the late afternoon. We agreed to talk on our run, boldly so, and we did. I learned about Alan Clarke’s (2019, South Africa, Master of Business Administration, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann-Saïd/Chevening) work in infrastructure finance and his desire to implement sustainable projects throughout Africa, and Kapil Yadav’s (2019, India, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Louis Dreyfus and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann) consuming passion for environmental justice and biodiversity conservation. Throughout our run, Alan and I noticed Kapil run off to the side or slow down to investigate or pick up objects one by one. Kapil picked up sticks, blades of grass, and other miscellaneous objects of the park’s ecosystem as he ran. He touched them, he smelled them, and I wondered whether he would taste them too.

He didn’t.

That moment has stood out in my memory over the last two months because it is symbolic of Kapil’s raw passion, and that of my other WHT classmates. We carry the weight of our passions to lectures, to debate events, to parties, and frequently we carry our desires for justice to sleep. We are here to pursue life goals that are intensely personal, not prescribed careers, and we sometimes lose perspective on these life goals when an essay or group project looms.

Kapil continues to remind me of this throughout the semester. Kapil is soft-spoken, sensitive, thoughtful, and even lighthearted. His acute remarks about microplastics on my sometimes hopeful Instagram posts on plastic-use are a somber reminder of why we need to value our field-experts. I thank him for recreating paintings with WHT students in the British parliament, and I thank him for remaining meditative and critical about his readings. I am immensely grateful for leaders such as Kapil in my life.


All of this is to say that my first semester at Oxford, despite the sharp and sometimes seemingly insurmountable learning curve, has confirmed in me my own passions. I have the utmost assurance that inequality and how it afflicts the United States through the unequal provision of social services is precisely what I can expect to consume me now, and for the rest of my life. This is the energy that WHT members share and multiply, and what has made Michelmas term uniquely memorable.

About the Scholar

Hanna Kamaric

United States
Comparative Social Policy (MSc), 2019
St Antony's College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Grierson Scholar
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WHT Scholars take London!

It was a struggle to get up early and make it to the train station on time that morning. The fatigue was visible on everyone’s faces, but after a few coffees, warm hugs and laughter, the mood completely changed. We had a day filled with new adventures and learning opportunities ahead of us.

Scholars listening attentively to the proposals.

The first half of the day involved a session with the MAVA Leaders for Nature Academy; a leadership programme for professionals. We started out with a session on creativity and thinking outside the box, facilitated by Grace Owen, a Senior Programme Director at MAVA. After this, we had the opportunity to listen to and give feedback on a few proposals from some of the MAVA leaders, aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing conservation problems. The optimism, passion, and commitment shown by the MAVA leaders was quite inspiring and encouraging. A key takeaway for me, was to learn to give positive feedback to others, which provides support for, rather than tears down, an idea. 

The interactions with the MAVA leaders were positive and chatter about our overall experience there continued to the Houses of Parliament – our next destination. We each received audio guides and took the time to complete the tour and learn about the history of United Kingdom and its parliament. The tour put everyone in a reflective mood, but also inspired us to showcase our creative side as we recreated some of the artistic pieces at the Houses of Parliament. 

Scholars recreating one of the paintings at the Houses of Parliament.

Our next destination was Crypt, a cosy, underground cafe. There we helped ourselves to an assortment of cakes and hot beverages. 

Scholars at Somerset House.

All cheerful and lively, we made our way to Somerset House. By this time, the sun had completely set and the Christmas decorations illuminated the streets of London. It was a beautiful sight, as was Somerset House. The ice-skating rink was beautifully lit and inviting.  However, some of us, myself included, had no past skating experience, and the thought of getting on the ice was daunting. As Priyadarshini Tripathy (2019, India, Msc Global Health Science and Epidemiology, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening) and I clung onto the side rails trying our best not to slip and fall, Antonio Beun (2019, Argentina, Master of Public Policy, Louis Dreyfus and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann) and David Hernandez Benitez (2019, Colombia, Master of Public Policy, Oxford-Weidenfeld/Chevening) breezed passed us, taking selfies as they skated. I was tempted to give up, but Zuzana Hlavkova‘s (2019, Slovakia, Master of Public Policy, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Barnett) dedication to helping me get it right kept me going. I was happily falling and getting back up again. 

As the trip came to an end, we made our way back to the train station. The return journey an enjoyable one; from discussions of start-up ideas, to singing and laughter. 

About the Scholar

Kapil Yadav

India
Environmental Change and Management (MSc), 2019
Linacre College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar
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Thank you Louis Dreyfus Foundation & André Hoffman

Pushing towards the critical mass one scholarship at a time 

I never imagined that in the span of two short weeks I would listen to Hillary Clinton give a prolific address on Eleanor Roosevelt, attend a talk by Ian Khama – one of the most celebrated retired presidents in Africa and engage in rigorous philosophical debates with budding thought leaders from 20 different countries across the world. These and a myriad of new opportunities became open to me as soon as I stepped into the hallowed halls of Oxford.

Drinking from a protected spring in my rural home in Kenya

 I am a 28-year-old girl born and raised in Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. I have always had a strong passion for sustainable development in rural areas particularly the supply of water for communities in marginalized areas. This passion led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Water and Environmental Engineering after which I immediately joined the Kenyan Water Sector Workforce where I worked for three years. It was during this stint that I was confronted by the shocking realities of inadequate water supply across Kenya.  In the arid areas of the county, women trekked for kilometers to fetch saline and often unhygienic water while in the urban slums, cartels charged the poor exorbitant amounts for meagre amounts of water.  All this was exacerbated by the dearth of proper institutional structures and water supply policies in a landscape of devolved water supply.

It quickly dawned on me that technical knowledge alone was inadequate in meeting the challenges.  I knew that I would have to acquire policy formulation know-how as well as hone my leadership skills to navigate the murky waters (pun intended) of water supply in the developing world. This birthed my desire to go to the University of Oxford – a place I believed (and have come to confirm) is the domain of leading thinkers, researchers and practitioners in the field of water.

Following my resolution to pursue a Master’s degree, I worked tirelessly to draft my admission and scholarship essays. Ultimately, my labour paid off and I was fortunate enough to gain acceptance to undertake an MSc in Water Science, Policy and Management. More importantly, I was also extremely lucky to receive a fully-funded scholarship generously supported by the Louis Dreyfus Foundation as well as the Hoffmann Foundation. I was doubly fortunate as the scholarship not only covered my financial needs, but also offered vital knowledge and skills around leadership through the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Leadership Programme. The scholarship was also a great fit because the Louis Dreyfus Foundation focuses on improving food security in developing and emerging economies, which I believe ties in very closely with sustainable water supply.

A visit to Farmoor Water Treatment plant with my Oxford classmates. 

Thus far, my Oxford experience has been rich both inside and outside the classroom. Never have I had so much time to read, learn and write about what I enjoy. This is a truly amazing time for me, particularly because I came from a full-time job where it was particularly difficult to squeeze in adequate reading and learning sessions.  I also love the practical and outdoors bent of my course where we get to go on a variety of water-related excursions ranging from visits to water treatment plants to studying hydrogeological water bearing aquifers on the southern tip of England, to mention a few. Outside of my course, I try to attend the numerous activities that go on every evening. These include seminars and talks,College formal dinners, cultural city events like the recently concluded Oxford Christmas Lights Festival, among others.

Ramon Ramirez at the Battle of Ideas satellite event 

The other facet of my Oxford life is the WHT Leadership Programme.  Right from my first moment in Oxford, I have engaged in a series of interactive and thought-provoking activities with 28 other dynamic scholars. Thus far as a cohort we have critically analyzed complex issues such as a global justice and colonialism, engaged in developing social entrepreneurial ideas and cultivated strong friendships.

Most recently,a few scholars organized a Battle of Ideas (BOI) Satellite event where democracy in the global South was put under a critical lens. Renowned authorities on the topic from various universities across the UK were invited as part of the expert panel. Two of the scholars were also on the panel -Grace from Malawi and Ramon from Mexico. They both did such a stellar job in elucidating their arguments on democracy in the global South. One of the invited guests from the MBA program later said he mistook them for professors in Oxford!

Being thrown together with such high caliber, global change-makers in the scholarship and learning about a variety of concepts in my course will no doubt equip me with the skills to contribute to improved water access.   However, I also know that it is fallacy to think that I can achieve this alone. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of individuals back home (in Kenya as well as in other developing and emerging economies) who are intelligent,eager and desirous to change the status quo.  I believe if organizations like the Louis Dreyfus Foundation and the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust continue to give them opportunities to improve their skills, we will ultimately attain the critical mass required to reverse the fortunes of developing countries.

About the Scholar

June Samo

Kenya
Water Science, Policy and Management (MSc), 2019
Mansfield College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar
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From Ideation to Execution: The WHT Enterprise Challenge


Scholars sharing their business ideas.

Slowly and steadily I have watched our ideas start to take shape. On the 21st of October, the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars gathered at the Saïd Business School to begin the significant journey of understanding the user of their product or service.

This workshop was ably facilitated by Charlie Curtis and former WHT Scholar and Saïd Business School alum, Atherton Mutombwera (2017, Zimbabwe, Master of Business Administration). The ideas presented ranged from health technology, and water and sanitation, to arts and culture preservation, and crime reduction. The key feature among all of our ideas is the desire to positively impact the ecosystems within which we each operate.

In order to have the intended impact in our ecosystems, it is imperative that we understand them, and so Charlie led the group through the concept of Business Model Canvassing. The Business Model Canvas, first proposed by Alexander Osterwalder in his book, Business Model Ontology, is a business tool that helps one identify and categorise all the key relationships, activities and challenges of the proposed business, on one page. The categories include: Key Partners, Key Relationships, Value Proposition, Customer Relationships, Key Resources, Customer Segments, Social & Environmental Cost & Revenue Streams.

 

An example of a Business Model Canvas from Strategyzer.

By thinking through these issues, you could layout a 360-degree perspective on your business. This allows you to identify weaknesses, strengths and untapped opportunities.

The second exercise we were taken through during this session was customer profiling. This exercise involved thinking about what the typical customer of our product or service looked like. We considered the daily routine of our typical customer, what their likes and dislikes are, their hobbies, what they like to eat, what they like to wear, etc. We did this to identify whether there are certain ‘pain points’ which could be improved through our products or services, and how best to integrate these into their lives. For a lot of people in our group this was especially valuable since it was a new way of thinking through an issue. Another key takeaway from this exercise was that we got a fair idea of whether our proposed enterprises would solve real problems or not. This was a very important exercise as it’s quite common for enterprises to create solutions where there are no problems to begin with.

It has been amazing to see how quickly we have gone from aspirational ideas to creating structure around these ideas. I believe at this rate, we should be quite well-placed to pitch our ideas at the Leadership Forum in June. I hope this experience of thinking through the incubation of an enterprise will stick with us and help to make us well-rounded professionals, as we take up various leadership positions in our respective fields. We are grateful to the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann trust for providing us with this fantastic, one of a kind coaching and learning opportunity.

About the Scholar

Mohsin Mustafa

Pakistan
Master of Business Administration (MBA), 2019
Green Templeton College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Lewis Scholar
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