Joseph Ssentongo (Uganda, 2016, OxfordWeidenfeld and Hoffmann) spoke of the youth unemployment crisis in his home county, “5 out of 6 young people are unemployed – we need to leverage this wasted potential for good”. Another scholar, Dana Qarout (Jordan, 2019, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) spoke about the importance of redefining womanhood as more than motherhood in Jordan – and unlocking the power of women in the labour market. Finally, alumni entrepreneurs Atherton Mutombwera (Zimbabwe, 2017, Louis Dreyfus – Weidenfeld and Hoffmann – Saïd), Cedric Maforimbo (Zimbabwe, 2018, Louis Dreyfus – Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) and Irina Fedorenko (Russia, 2016, Hoffmann) retold their own experiences developing rapid diagnostics tests for Africa’s most pervasive diseases, turning weeds in Zimbabwe into pesticides and harnessing drone technology to replant the world’s forests in response to climate change.
Scholars and Alumni used this opportunity to launch a landmark campaign to raise funds for the Leadership Programme. Read the full press release here.
I am very glad to have attended the essay writing workshop that the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) organized for scholars at the beginning of Michaelmas term. The workshop was taught by Nik Kirby, a philosopher and Professor at the Blavatnik School of Government, which is where I am studying for a Master’s in Public Policy (MPP). Nik has impressive talent for clear teaching and engaging presentations. The essay writing workshop was especially helpful because each participant knew that we needed a little “something” extra before fully embarking on our Oxford journey.
Regardless of our prior experiences, Oxford presented a new atmosphere, complete with fresh challenges, particularly in the realms of academic writing. The workshop “was a great introduction to the Oxford way of thinking and a great tool to prepare us for writing outside Oxford because it helped us learn how to structure our ideas more fluently,” said Alfredo Ortega Franco(2019, Guatemala, Master of Public Policy, Oxford-Weidenfeld/Chevening), one of the current scholars. Like every other event organized by WHT, from the moral philosophy seminars to the enterprise challenge project, the essay writing workshop was the best way to help scholars prepare to embark on their academic journey at Oxford.
While I had some idea of how to write an academic essay, it was distant and dated; back to my years as an undergraduate. The workshop was really helpful in reminding me how to write academic passages, rather than short activity reports, the writing style I have gotten used to throughout my working years. The first essay of this term I wrote was a Philosophy paper for my Foundations class in the MPP program. I had never written a Philosophy paper before, not even in college! Writing that essay could have been a huge challenge; a challenge I might not have been able to overcome easily, without the techniques I learnt during the essay writing workshop.
During the workshop I learnt some specific techniques that would be of great help not only to write for classes but also for my career in the future. For example, introducing a boarder issue and clearly narrowing it down to the exact question one intends to answer, are techniques that might be easily overlooked if a student is not comfortable with academic writing. These skills are also essential points of departure for those of us who might still be settling back into university life. In addition, supporting one’s argument clearly and concisely is crucial to an essay’s success.
One of the most useful methods that I learnt during the workshop was the “They say, I say,” format, which proved very helpful for writing my philosophy papers. These are skills that will not only be useful for me while completing my degree at the Blavatnik School of Government but will also surely be of great help for my career, well beyond my academic life.
Becoming a stronger writer is just one of my goals here at Oxford, but it is a central one. I firmly believe that we all must be able to make clear decisions on how to communicate our thoughts and express our ideas in writing. As Dr. Priyadarshini Tripathy (2019, India, Global Health Science and Epidemiology, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening) said, “The essay skills seminar increased my competency in writing an essay by compiling my ideas and framing them around the hypothesis.”
What unites all Weidenfeld-Hoffman Scholars? Each of us aspires to make a positive impact in the world, in our own unique way. Being able to do so in a manner that also generates profit is achallenge for us, but also a process which is shaping us into the entrepreneurs of the future. Starting the Enterprise Challenge with my WHT peers in October, I asked myself “Do you have ideas that’ll change the world?” and the answer came up straight away – Always!
Our team is made up of individuals from very different backgrounds. Francisco Obando(2019, Ecuador, International Health and Tropical Medicine, Oxford-Hoffmann) who is from Ecuador and studying International Health and Tropical Medicine, Antonio Beun(2019, Argentina, Master of Public Policy, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann), who previously worked in the Argentinian government, Jade Weiner(2019, South Africa, Bachelor of Civil Law, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening) from South Africa and myself from Belarus, both law students. We’ve come together with our different interests and ideas, and have become a true team, with one passion – to make the world a better place.
Our project is a recycling initiative, aiming to assist governments to incentivise citizens to separate their waste in order to maximise recycling capacity.
Charmian Love, Chair and Co-Founder of B Lab UK, a movement that strives to use businessas a force for good, was at this particular tutorial, and challenged our idea.It was the first time we had pitched our idea to someone with an extensive entrepreneurial background, and we were quite nervous to hear the feedback. However, Jade had some very encouraging words to share with us after receiving our feedback.
“It was so insightful to get such practical and constructive input from Charmian Love –a true expert in the entrepreneurial space. It was immensely beneficial to discuss and bounce ideas off in a group context! I am very excited about our group’s idea.” It would be a lie to say that we came up with a great idea from the get go. Each time we meet as a team our idea continues to evolve and develop into something more tangible. Antonio’s opinion on the tutorial was,“[it] helped me to critically think through our project and gain perspective”. The tutorial with Charmian Love allowed us to present our idea to an audience and have them challenge it.
Francisco also had a few things to say, “I think the value of remaining flexible throughout the entire process and accepting alternative input that I had not considered was an important aspect of being able to “pivot” in the creative design process of a potential enterprise or social business. I think also contributing toward team cohesion through sharing food and caring about the team were important in creating an atmosphere where people were comfortable to challenge ideas and make recommendations. Finally, the pressure of time and a clear shared goal helped us to focus our discussion, increased our productivity and forced us to find a viable way forward.”
Indeed, all of us are increasingly excited about our project and even though we have a huge study workload, we will continue to contribute to the great things that lie ahead of us.
After a month of hard work and preparation, the day was finally here. It was the 14th of November and the Battle of Ideas (BOI) Satellite event, organised by the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars, was taking place. The Investcorp Lecture Theatre at St. Anthony’s College had been chosen as the ideal venue for the event. Democracy was the topic for the evening’s discussion; is democracy in the Global South under siege, and does it require a shift towards liberalisation or should alternative models be sought out?
The idea of addressing such an issue came from one of the sessions of the BOI held at the Barbican, in London. The topic, both controversial and interesting, was focused on the Economist’s manifesto for renewing liberalism. The discussion generated a lot of interest from the audience, and many interesting questions raised, however, it focused mainly on the United Kingdom, specifically Brexit, and the United States under Trump. For this reason, we decided to explore this topic in the context of the Global South.
Being a part of the organising team gave me a better understanding of how the Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust Leadership Programme not only trains us to be critical thinkers but also allows us to develop organisational and planning skills which are relevant for any sector. In this regard, the experience of organising a satellite event was really enriching for me, from participating in the internal discussions to decide on the topic and panellists, to coordinating the particulars of the event with the BOI team.
Furthermore, this satellite gave me the opportunity to present and defend my ideas to the other panellist and an audience. The main point I raised was that although democracy has some serious flaws intrinsically, as a political system, it embraces liberal values and respects civil liberties, making it a superior political system to its autocratic counterparts. That said, the Global South should take advantage of the international protectionist ambience to foster their technological investment and develop more aggregated-value industries.
Fellow WHT Scholar, Grace Mzumara, participated as a panellist as well, and introduced an African perspective into our discussion. Her presentation was outstanding and generated a lot of curiosity from the audience regarding her vision on the African Union and her long-term perspectives for enhancing democracy in Africa. She presented thought-provoking ideas even though her professional background is not closely related to the study of political regimes.
With the invaluable help of Geoff Kidder, from BOI, our panel was complemented with the presence of three academics whose ideas were controversial and challenging. One of these panellists was Dr Tom Young from the School of Oriental and African Studies, at the University of London, who argued for considering the benefits of the Chinese model for Africa and highlighted the flaws of the Washington Consensus as a plausible model. Our other panellist was Dr Vanessa Pupavac, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice at the University of Nottingham, who constructed a case against supranational governance institutions such as the European Union and the United Nations. Finally, Dr Andreza De Souza, Director of the Brazilian Studies Programme at the University of Oxford, spoke about some perils to democracy such as populism or allegedly ‘democratic’ consultation methods such as referendums, which can easily lead to a tyranny of the majority.
The event began with initial statements from each of the panellists, summarising their ideas. The discussion that followed was ably chaired by Dr James Panton. Among the issues raised, was a concern over a lack of passion in defending democracy, the role of the nation-state in our proposed models and the relationship between democracy in theory and in practice.
Talk of the discussions that were had that evening made its way to various lectures, including the Masters of Public Policy lecture.
Besides the participation of two of the Scholars as speakers, the event could not have been the success that it was without a joint effort from all of the WHT Scholars. Different teams collaborated in designing the poster for the event, defining the public relations strategies and promoting the event within Oxford. Working collaboratively is something that we as WHT Scholars have done throughout the Leadership Programme, and value greatly.
Finally, I would like to say a special thanks to Jane Baldwin who has always been our guide, main driver and support in all of the scholarship activities. Always caring and warm, she is one of the main reasons for which we feel that the Leadership Programme is not only about learning and collaborating with fellow Scholars, but also building meaningful relationships.
The Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Trust (WHT) scholars have been developing business ideas during Michaelmas term as part ofthe Enterprise Challenge. The Enterprise Challenge has been an extraordinary opportunity to collectively explore some of the world’s biggest problems anddevelop business ideas to help address them.
On 29 November 2018 we got the opportunityto practice our business pitches and receive feedback on them ahead of the pitches to the business panel at the annual Practical Skills Seminar at Cumberland Lodge.
This was the first time that I had seensome of the business ideas since they were initially discussed at the Moral Philosophy Seminar in September. I was amazed by how far the teams haddeveloped the initial ideas and by the quality of the pitches. I have summarized just a few of the business ideas below:
DocLink is a mobile application that aims to connect patients in Pakistan with their personal doctors in an efficient and easy-to-use manner.
Project Dastaan is a project using virtual reality (VR) to transcend physical borders and promote cultural exchange by reconnecting individuals displaced during the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan to their ancestral villages through cutting edge technology.
Be CHANGE is a recycling initiative in Ecuador focussed on harnessing the potential of waste and reducing the cost of waste disposal in cities.
H2nOw is a network of water dispensers in developing countries helping improve access to water for people on the move in urban areas.
Bridge is a platform to connect individuals to volunteering opportunities in India. It was inspiring to watch Ayushi Agarwal (2019, India, Bachelor of Civil Law, Oxford-Hoffmann) present her idea so passionately and confidently.
The pitch practice session proved to be avaluable opportunity for the teams to learn from each other and to receivevaluable feedback from the panel comprised of Charmian Love, Libby Wood, Atherton Mutombwera and Elizabeth Roberts. The feedback that really stuck withme was:
Using creative stories or comparisons is a useful way of connecting your audience to the idea that you are pitching.
It is important to highlight your teams’ core competencies and diversity and what makes them the right teamfor the job.
Framing the problem and presenting the solution early in the pitch is important.
It is important to clearly articulate the market you are targeting and the business model you are using.
The Ask. End your pitch with a clear request. This is usually a request for funding (in the case of astart-up), but it can also be for feedback on your idea or connections to people in the industry that may be of assistance.
The pitch practice session was a great way for teams to flex their pitching muscles. At the time of writing this we had just completed our Practical Skills Seminar at Cumberland Lodge and it was incredible to see how the teams had taken on the feedback from the practice session and improved the pitches even further. The pitches were full of innovative ideas, passion and confidence. It made me feel exceptionally honoured and proud to be a part of this exciting family. #WHTWishYouWereHere.
The timing of the Enterprise Challenge could not have been more convenient. I am a public servant and in the public agenda we have enormous challenges ahead: poverty, growing inequality and climate change. These are complex problems that need wide consensus and cooperation among politicians to be overcome. Yet, we face a highly polarised political environment and it is hard to find common ground on how to solve fundamental issues to ensure sustainability and growth.
In a world that is swaying toward isolation and polarisation, entrepreneurs seem to have cultivated the capacity to break through politics and address issues more efficiently through iterative learning and testing. I found in the Enterprise Challenge the perfect opportunity to acquire useful tools from the entrepreneurial world which are highly applicable to the public sector. In particular, the Enterprise Challenge has taught us about the effectiveness of working upon feedback processes. We’ve learnt how to apply design thinking methods to improve policy decisions and were given the chance to design business models capable of scaling-up solutions for higher social benefits. Furthermore and most importantly, we were also given the chance to enhance our knowledge of the frameworks used to better understand and identify the sectors which contribute the most to a nation’s progress and change, decipher the underlying dynamics of these sectors and discover how to increase growth within them.
My fellow scholars also shared their main takeaways: Laura Aristizabal(2019, Colombia, Master of Business Administration, Louis Dreyfus and Weidenfeld-Hoffmann) stressed the importance of understanding the private sector when building a better society, because many of the most significant stakeholders in the world are no longer only countries, but also companies. Understanding the language and underlying mechanisms of any business is a key tool for leaders.
Aditta Kittikhoun(2019, Laos, Social Science of the Internet, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann/Chevening) learnt of the importance of narrowing down the definition of ‘customer’ for a business, to a real specific person with a name and a face, in order to humanise sales strategies. The Challenge helped him understand the importance of breaking down our assumptions of what the ideal customer is. This is important to mitigate the tendency of private sector companies idolising a certain type of ‘customer’ that may not exist in practice. This logic also applies to relations within companies; in a business to business setting, one should personalise communication efforts to specific persons inside that company.
Mohsin Mustafa(2019, Pakistan, Master of Business Administration, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Lewis) highlighted how the Challenge showed a real sense of what entrepreneurship is. Rather than showing only glamour and success, we were reminded that it is a journey with ups and downs, in which resilience is fundamental.
Claudio Gonzalez(2019, Master of Public Policy, Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann) highlighted some key learning-points that are fundamental for any project, public or private, to be sustainable in the long term: pivot early, use survey insights and test iteratively.
Finally, Ramon Narvaez Terron(2019, Mexico, MSc Evidence-based Social Intervention and Policy Evaluation, Oxford-Hoffmann), who has worked in the government for the past six years, pointed out that having exposure to the Enterprise Challenge gave him new tools to address social challenges. Design thinking helped him think about citizen centred policies to better deliver public services.
A very popular Korean saying says that you can only see as much as you know. The Enterprise Challenge gave us new tools to face challenges that demand a comprehensive understanding of the world. I am very grateful for this opportunity, since I feel that I have learnt a whole new language.