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 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 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

Disrupting the stillness: The Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar

It sounds very academic, a Moral Philosophy Seminar for Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholars on a Leadership program at the University of Oxford, but this was really four days of talking about home. We all come from developing countries and grapple with issues of crime, death, corruption and censorship on a daily basis.

Simonetta Spavieri (2019, Venezuela, MSc, Louis Dreyfus-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann), a young lawyer from Venezuela, struggled to bring herself to talk about politics in her country- the issues of populism and corruption impact her so deeply. Pashtoon Atif (2019, Afghanistan, MPP, Weidenfeld-Hoffmann and Annenberg) has seen the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan and lives in Kabul where the safety of his community is under constant threat. Alfredo Ortega Franco (2019, Guatemala, MPP, Oxford-Weidenfeld/Chevening) is a Human Rights lawyer from Guatemala- a self proclaimed cynic who yet hopes he can find in his law books and philosophy texts some basic argument that can generate universally acceptable understandings of rights and ethics. This is my second WHT Moral Philosophy Seminar, and I am again humbled by the stories that the scholars bring. Read more “Disrupting the stillness: The Robin Hambro Moral Philosophy Seminar”

About the Scholar

Saadia Gardezi

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

Deep Phenotyping from Photographs

What matters to me is “developing algorithms for good” (or something less cheesy!). Computer science and big data are fascinating disciplines, but I think it’s important that software developers keep in mind their obligation and responsibility towards society.

Read more “Deep Phenotyping from Photographs”

About the Scholar

Shiri Avni

Computer Science (MSc), 2018
Kellogg College, Oxford
Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Rausing/Abraham Scholar

A Mathematical Social Scientist

In the second of our series of Scholar profiles Eszter Kabos, an Oxford-Weidenfeld and Hoffmann-Sackler Scholar, describes her route to Oxford and what she gets from her studies and the WHT Leadership Programme. Eszter is currently studying for an MPhil in Economics.

“Economics gives me puzzles, and I try to solve them like a mathematician but also as an economist. At Oxford I am currently focusing on microeconomic theory while trying to find ways to apply it to real world problems within and outside of social sciences.

Read more “A Mathematical Social Scientist”

About the Scholar

Eszter Kabos

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