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

Environmental Change and Management (MSc), 2019
Linacre College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar

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

Water Science, Policy and Management (MSc), 2019
Mansfield College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar

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

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

A Weekend at Ditchley

The location of the Ditchley Foundation has to be seen, to be believed. 3550 acres of sustainably-managed land, dedicated to the conservation of greenery and wildlife.

This October, I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a conference about modern family structures, at the Ditchley Foundation.

The aim of this conference was to bring together a group of thinkers, from diverse backgrounds, to explore what should be required from the institution of the family and how it is both shaping, and being shaped by modern life.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin was an early supporter of the Ditchley Foundation and had a strong influence on Ditchley’s approach, through his conception of liberty as a process as well as a state. More pragmatically, he wrote a letter that still today guides the Ditchley Foundation in framing its meetings; advising that it is important to include “all kinds of apparently irrelevant persons,” dreading otherwise “a lot of dull-faced men probably saying it had all been very interesting.”

I felt I may be one of those irrelevant persons as I reached the Ditchely house. I had been a political journalist in Pakistan and just recently started an MPhil in Modern South Asian Studies at the University of Oxford, but here I was among government officials, professors, psychologists and senior members of religious and secular institutions. That feeling quickly subsided, as I remembered that my scholarship mentors had chosen me to attend this conference because they believed I was a good fit. I belonged here.

I come from a society where the structure of the family is very different from what it is in the U.K. and the U.S. Most of the participants at the conference were from these two countries. Canada, China,  and Pakistan (me!) were the only other countries that were represented there. In Pakistan we have “joint family systems”, arranged marriages are still a reality, and marriage is a rite of passage and the only way two people can legitimately cohabitate. I have written extensively about gender issues and legislation relating to women’s rights in Pakistan, and so I was able to contribute quite significantly to the discussions.

Do we want more lasting relationships and marriages because they are good for both individuals and society? Are they? Is the concept of family and romantic love beginning to lose its exclusivity and singularity, with more people choosing to float between different kinds of families and relationships? How does this affect families and their children? Should we be incentivizing stability or adapting society to the individuals’ appetite for change? These are some of the questions that were discussed. At the core of the discussion was the notion that any intervention had to result in more support and welfare for people, regardless of the family structure they lived in.

There was a difference in opinions at the conference, which was challenging, but refreshing. While some argued that all family structures (adoptive parent, single parent, etc.) work, as long as they are supportive of their children and each other, others felt that the true definition of a family is one where there are two parents who are biologically related to their children. These two views have diverse policy implications. For the former, laws have to be amended to recognise relations beyond “traditional” families so that state support and welfare can be directed towards everyone. The latter requires only changes to existing family laws, to create better mediation and support services in the cases of family breakdown. Choosing what is the best modern family structure is a political question, and if the definition is not one most people can agree on, the recommendations will be biased towards one ideal. This is the apprehension I came away with from this conference.

Some people were quite taken by the idea that families in my part of the world have more support because extended families live together., This communal support is what some found missing in western states, where life is individualistic, and monetary issues become the driving force behind how the elderly are cared for. However, extended family systems aren’t the solution policymakers may be looking for. Such structures often lead to strict hierarchical relationships within families inhibiting the freedom and expression of the young, especially women, who are hindered from working or going out or pressured into having more children. My conclusion from these discussions was that there is no ideal family structure to incentivize.

The fact is that we live in a technology-driven world today that is changing the way we build families. Online dating has changed the way we meet new people and create relationships. Though some considered this to be a problem where people were not making “real” connections, some felt that this was a normal change, something we will soon adapt to. The real problem, for now, may be loneliness. A life where work becomes a priority, for social prestige as well as economic survival, and eventually stressful and unhealthy. While in countries like Canada, Germany,  and Sweden, workplaces provide leave to parents and flexible working hours, it is not the case is in most countries, including the U.K. and U.S. Some changes have to happen in the workplace, to ensure people are happier, relationships are healthier and marriages and partnerships can survive.

About the Scholar

Saadia Gardezi

Modern South Asian Studies (), 2019
St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham Scholar

Thanks to Our Donors – The First of Many

The Trust benefits from the generosity of independent donors who commit to fund a number of scholars every year. Thanks to their continued support, in 2018-2019, the Trust welcomed 29 bright and talented scholars. We are especially excited about the arrival of our first Scholars from Ecuador, Guatemala, Laos and Venezuela:

Francisco Obando (Ecuador, Oxford-Hoffmann Scholar, MSc International Health and Tropical Medicine) 
Francisco has an MSC in Planning and BA in International Affairs and Economics from the University of Toronto. Before coming to Oxford, he worked at the Municipality of Quito on implementation of the Healthy City and Neighbourhoods Program.  He previously worked in the Philippines, Honduras, Bolivia and Canada on development projects. Francisco is passionate about creating conditions for the economic, social and physical wellbeing of vulnerable populations in cities, by crafting social infrastructure to empower and include them in local decision and policy making, particularly in health.
Alfredo Ortega Franco (Guatemala, Oxford-Weidenfeld/Chevening Scholar, Master of Public Policy)
Alfredo received his LL.B. from Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala and holds an LL.M. in International Human Rights Law from the University of Notre Dame. Alfredo’s work has focused on human rights-related issues with both national and international NGOs. Before coming to Oxford, he worked as a staff attorney at the Centre for Justice and International Law (CEJIL) and as a Notre Dame Fellow for the Inter-American Court of Human Rights on indigenous people’s rights, LGTBIQ rights, and prison conditions.
Aditta Kittikhoun (Laos, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening Scholar, MSc Social Science of the Internet) 
After graduating with a degree in political science from the Macaulay Honors College (CUNY) in New York, Aditta returned to Laos and entered the foreign service working in communication and as a speech writer for senior figures. After leaving the public sector, Aditta worked for an event management firm handling major global companies’ product launches such as the Apple iPhone 6, Google Street View and Maps, and the first ever Tedx Talk in Laos. He then founded his own company which has investments in several local news websites and an inflight magazine for the country’s national carrier, Lao Airlines.
Simonetta Spavieri (Venezuela, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar, MSc Environmental Change and Management)
Simonetta studied International Relations at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and has an MSc in Public Management from the IESA management school. Before coming to Oxford Simonetta worked for the British Embassy in Caracas as a Climate Change and Energy Officer around COP21 and worked on project portfolios including improving the oil industry and the management of gas (particularly flaring) climate change legislation and the Embassy’s economic analysis during the still developing national crisis. Simonetta intends to use her studies to serve her country working to embed sustainability in Venezuela’s economic recovery.

About the Scholar

June Samo

Water Science, Policy and Management (MSc), 2019
Mansfield College, Oxford
Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar

Women of the Future Summit

 I had the great privilege of attending the Women of the Future (WOF) summit as one of the only two Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening scholars from India. The summit is a global event for current and future leaders to promote gender equality and women’s empowerment. The event was a part of the Week of Women (12th – 15th November), a collaboration between the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office, the GREATcampaign and the Women of the Future Programme. The Summit started with a formal reception and high tea at the House of Lords (British Parliament) on the13th of November and it was followed by the main conference at the Hilton Hotelon Park Lane, on the 14th of November. Around 350 delegates, a unique community ofdynamic high-achieving leaders from 40 countries, gathered at the venue.

It was an awesome experience to see women from different corners ofthe world, working together and creating a significant impact. The program wasled by Pinky Lilani CBE DL, who is the founder and chair of several awards, recognising influential women and leaders, including the Asian Women ofAchievement Awards. The event had many international delegates, fostering atruly global conversation. The aim was to establish and sustain the globalforum, through the Women of the Future Summit, to inspire and energise thewomen leaders of tomorrow. The conference started with an interestingdiscussion on artificial intelligence, machine learning and how its power canbe directed towards creating sustainable development in this world. The Summitanalysed how technology will evolve the information and intelligence we have inour reach. In the summit, the delegates discussed key issues faced by womentoday and how progress can be made. The program explored how the shifts inculture and leadership style could reflect global challenges in a differentlight and highlight new ideas and opportunities.

Jaspreet Sangha, a poet, talked about the importance of compassion and kindness for the building of trust. The discussion on trust and leadership was quite motivating. A panel also discussed how increased transparency has affected our confidence in institutions. Through a series of debates and discussion, the meeting considered who and what we will trust in the future and what this means for leadership. Elif Shafak, a novelist and a widely read female writer from Turkey discussed the importance of both pessimism of mind and optimism of the heart of future leaders. Speakers discussed how to tackle gender inequality and female empowerment through change at the individual and local levels. Dr. Tara Swart’s talk on building strong mental resilience and redirecting our brain’s activity to achieve our future goals was quite insightful. A memorable lesson was that in this era of a rapidly changing world, our experience can be our worst enemy. As such, leaders need to be very adaptive, innovative, collaborative and deliberate about their words and actions towards others.

Finally, the conference gave me the opportunity to interact with various international delegates and invaluable networking with future leaders from diverse backgrounds. I will always reflect on lessons learned about how to really ‘future proof’ our careers, how to engage meaningfully  in the age of political and cultural tribalism and how to carve new paths which will allow us all to manage the challenges and opportunities which arise in our respective leadership journeys.

About the Scholar

Priyadarshini Tripathy

Global Health Science and Epidemiology (MSc), 2019
Green Templeton College, Oxford
Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening Scholar