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

Global Justice and the Utility of Borders: First follow up to the Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar

Ayushi Agarwal weighing in on one of the discussions.

When I first arrived in Oxford and headed to the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) Moral Philosophy seminar, I wondered what it would be like to meet so many new people from different backgrounds and to discuss crucial issues such as leadership and human rights. Over the course of five days, I was utterly amazed by the passion and sense of commitment to the world that each of them reflected in their arguments.  My ultimate takeaway from the Seminar, was that it is possible to have intense discussions which encourage intellectual disagreement without losing respect for the person on the other end of the conversation. In fact, I left the Seminar extremely sad I would no longer spend uninterrupted hours discussing difficult problems with my favourite people in Oxford.

When the Moral Philosophy Seminar follow-up came around on 1st November, I was particularly excited. The polite handshakes from when the scholars first met had now turned into bear-hugs and enthusiastic high-fives. We assembled in a glorious room at Nuffield College, joined by our moderators for the day, Paul Sagar and Sarah von Billerbeck. The discussion was based on global justice, with articles by Onora O’Neill, Thomas Nagel, Rahul Rao, and Bernard Williams up for debate.

Scholars deep in discussion on global justice, while WHT Director and CEO, Alexandra Henderson, looks on.

The moderators opened the floor by asking a compelling question; “what purpose do national boundaries serve, and if we could, should we erase them?”.  The discussion immediately moved towards the human tendency to form groups, the inevitability of demarcated territories even within a world without national borders, the right of distinct populations to decide their own affairs instead of subscribing to universal norms, as well as the problems of trade due to borders. Kapil Yadav (2019, India, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) offered an interesting normative perspective that drew nods across the room, “perhaps nations should be seen as cells in a body, that do have boundaries, but those boundaries are fluid to the extent that they depend heavily on the flow of material through them, thus maintaining order within those walls,  co-existing with other cells and driving the existence of the whole simultaneously”, he said.

As the debate became more complex, we turned to the perplexing realm of global justice i.e. ” is there a distinction between our moral responsibility towards persons from our own nation versus those beyond our borders?”. This question gave impetus to an impassioned response from many scholars who emphasised the responsibility of the Global North towards the Global South, especially in light of colonization. The floor soon became divided on whether erstwhile  colonies should forget the wrongs of colonization and move forward, instead of attempting to hold the colonial powers responsible and demanding reparations. Francisco Obando (2019, Ecuador, MSc International Health and Tropical Medicine, Oxford-Hoffmann) stressed that any help has to be motivated by love rather than by guilt, which was appreciated by everyone, but also drew the criticism that such anthropomorphic sentiments cannot be attributed to States.  Simonetta Spavieri (2019, Venezuela, MSc Environmental Change and Management, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) drew attention to the critical flaw of viewing the world in terms of Global North v. Global South, as when it comes to responsibilities across borders, it is counter-productive in many instances where a member of the Global South has been in a position of aiding another member, and has failed to do so. She cited the example of her own country—Venezuela, and how refugees from there are being refused entry to many countries in Latin America.

At the end of the Seminar, we heard from WHT alumna – Quratulain Fatima (2016, Pakistan, Master of Public Policy) who shared her experiences as a WHT scholar, especially how her time at Oxford and participating in the Leadership Programme had been an indelible part of her professional life. Quratulain was part of the first female cohort of commissioned officers in the Pakistan Airforce, where she worked on active service for eight years in the terrorism-stricken Province of Khyberpukhtukhwah. She recounted her time bonding with fellow scholars, the pastoral care she received from WHT staff and her enthusiasm for how much diverse and ambitious talent the Programme has attracted over the years —something that made us all beam with pride.

WHT alumna; Quratulain Fatima.

At the end of Quratulain’s presentation, the floor was still fraught with many hands in the air, waiting to ask follow up questions or continue engaging on the moral questions of borders and global justice. In the interest of time and the delicious Indian food awaiting us, the discussion concluded and the rest of the night was spent in heartfelt discussion over food and wine – a picture-perfect example of the global community that WHT helps to create!

To learn more about the WHT Network or how you can apply for the Scholarship, visit our website at www.whtrust.org where staff, scholars and Alumni are waiting to share their stories. #WHTWishYouWereHere

About the Scholar

Ayushi Agarwal

Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL), 2019
Exeter College, Oxford
Oxford-Hoffmann Scholar

Free Speech Allowed: WHT at the Battle of Ideas

Source: Grace Mzumara

The Battle of Ideas (BOI) is an annual two day celebration of free speech, and features over 400 international speakers, actively engaging with delegates in public debates. In line with their 2005 slogan, “Free speech allowed”, this year the Barbican hosted up to 23 debate panels under the theme, “The Art of Change”. The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars were spoilt for choice as we explored the Academy of Ideas’ thought-provoking debate.

The topic for debate at one of the talks that I attended was, “From Windrush to Yarls Wood: The Immigration Debate today”. Coming from Africa, I have always been curious to learn about the issues I only read about or watch on the news, and so it was interesting to listen to the exchange between the speakers and the audience. The discussion was centred on what ‘Brexit’ means for the future of immigration in the United Kingdom, and the dynamics of privilege and instability in the world and their role in determining which populations choose to migrate.

The following talk I attended was titled “Let’s talk about sex baby”. The contest was what sex had become after the #MeToo movement. Some argued that there has been a loss of the learning process to relationships, claiming the need for ‘room for mistakes’. It was stated that technology presents a threat to intimacy and has created a lot of anxiety in relationships. One of the speakers, Madeline Grant, stated, ‘…We go to bed with our partners and our phones at the same time…’ However, the #MeToo era has undoubtedly awakened the desire to speak up about social problems and created a modern day model for standing up against such injustices. This is probably why one of the debates, “Power to the People, the Art of Thinking about Protest”, moderated by Dr Greg Scorzo, provided the movement as an example.

Source: Laura Aristizabel

Fellow Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar, Ayushi Agarwal (2019, India, BCL, Oxford-Hoffmann), who also attended the event, stated that, “it was a great opportunity to learn about world changing ideas in a discipline I have no interaction with”. Another Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar, Jane Weiner (2019, South Africa, BCL, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening), said she was encouraged to question how she felt about particular matters, not only academically, but on a personal level too.

The event showed how a diverse group of people can critically discuss issues that affect the world through debates, even outside the confines of seminar rooms and the Barbican itself. The 2019 Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars hope to live up to this standard with our Battle of Ideas Satellite event, ‘Democracy Under Siege’, on the 14th of November at 17.30, St Anthony’s College. Here, two of our scholars will be speaking about democracy and populism, alongside two speakers who were at the BOI event in London.

About the Scholar

Grace Mzumara

International Health and Tropical Medicine (MSc), 2019
St Edmund Hall, Oxford
Oxford-Hoffmann Scholar

“Our dream is a world free of poverty”

Sarthak Agrawal on Interning at the World Bank in Washington D.C.

Sarthak Agrawal pictured in the World Bank lobby on his first day as an intern.

The World Bank Group HQ in Washington DC is probably the biggest and surely the most impressive office building I have ever been to. When you enter the lobby, you are greeted by the words ‘Our dream is a world free of poverty’ etched on the wall in front of you, while flags of the 189 member countries adorn the landscape on your left. On my first morning in the internship, I could barely hold back my excitement as I looked around the Offices. All my past work had centered on development in India where I had been fortunate to work in the highest policy making institutions in the country. However, the scale and reach of the World Bank were unparalleled. Furthermore, I was keen on studying the development challenges of other countries and regions and learn more about how the Bank goes about its mission of ending poverty. I wasn’t disappointed on either of these counts.

During my internship, I worked with economists in the Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation global practice on a chapter for an upcoming IMF book on the macroeconomics of fragile countries. The World Bank was requested to contribute a chapter on private sector development in fragile and conflict-affected regions, and co-authoring this paper was to be my main responsibility. Admittedly, I was curious about why the World Bank was writing a chapter for an IMF publication. I soon understood that a close synergy exists between these two institutions. For example, employees from either organization have full access to the other’s buildings (of which there are many).  I often visited the IMF library, which tended to be more up-to-date on the latest economics books and talked to several people at the Fund about their work.

My work was intensive as it involved plenty of literature review, assembling and analysing large data sets. The project was particularly rewarding because it gave me an important new insight; growing up in India, which despite all its challenges has a strong state weaved in a democratic polity, and faces little concerns of rampant insecurity and conflict, I had become less appreciative of how important these assets were. My time on the project showed that many countries have not been nearly as fortunate.

It was at the Bank that I finally understood the marginal value of a successful intervention. I was pleased to know that the World Bank, in accordance with a similar understanding, had begun to prioritise fragile and conflict-affected countries in its lending portfolio. Luckily, I was working with people who also had extensive experience in the Bank’s lending operations. During many lunch-time conversations in the beautiful Lafayette Square, overlooking the White House, I learnt about the life-cycle of a World Bank loan; how progress is monitored through frequent missions by Bank professionals, and the kinds of challenges which project leaders have faced in the past while working with different governments.

In hindsight, I must also say that I was humbled by the importance accorded to an intern like me. On my very first morning, I had a private office, a workstation and an email ID set up within an hour of my arrival. I was invited to formal group events and made to feel like an important member of the unit despite what was to be a short stint with them. I realised that although the World Bank is a global public sector unit, its day-to-day workings are like a big private firm.

Besides my work at the Bank, I was most fascinated by the interesting people I met. One of them was a brilliant young American economist trained at Harvard, working in the Bank’s prestigious development economics group, who was enthusiastic about ‘all things related to India’. He had a life-size photograph of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (architect of the Indian constitution) in his office. In general, I never failed to be amazed by how humble and helpful the people were, and how they could easily take out time to guide me in my work and my career.

In addition to housing international financial institutions, DC is also home to the headquarters of the world’s best think tanks. During my time there, I visited the Centre for Global Development to witness the publication of one of their flagship reports and returned very impressed with the technical rigour as well as the policy relevance of their work. Another idiosyncratic feature of the city was its free museums, generously funded by the Smithsonian institution. I made full use of this opportunity; visiting each museum and art gallery at least twice. The highlight of my sightseeing expeditions was the U.S. Capitol building. A government enthusiast myself, and as someone who has followed American politics for many years now, it was a memorable experience to visit the Senate and House chambers, explore the magnificent galleries built for tourists, and experience two equally spectacular nearby institutions- the U.S. Supreme Court and the Library of Congress (of which I am now a member!).

Sarthak sports his business attire shortly after a Conference at the Bank.

New York, New York

During a long break around the 4th of July holiday, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in New York City. NYC was in many ways different from DC; it was bigger, busier and never quiet. While in New York, I saw my first Broadway musical; gazed out from the top floor of the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere; and visited the iconic Hayden planetarium for a physics lesson from none other than renowned American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who has been the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City since 1996. Although his narration was enchanting, the effort I had to expend on understanding the bare minimum of content, convinced me that moving from physics to economics was the wisest decision I ever made.

My internship has since ended and I have returned to compete my graduate studies at Oxford. However, in December, during a conference at the Blavatnik School of Government, I will have an opportunity to present my co-authored paper to many economists whose work I admire. One of them is Professor Daren Acemoglu of MIT, whom I heard at this year’s Annual Bank conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) where he spoke about his latest book. Even though it has been a couple of months since the internship ended, my excitement, enthusiasm and engagement with the Bank still continue.

To learn more about the WHT Network or how you can apply for the Scholarship, visit our website at www.whtrust.org where staff, scholars and alumni are waiting to share their stories. #WHTWishYouWereHere

About the Scholar

Sarthak Agrawal

Economics (), 2019
Mansfield College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann Scholar