The Changing Faces of Eco-Fashion

A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

What images do you conjure when you think of ecological clothing?

Perhaps a flashback to flimsy paper bags or oversized gear?  Or young travellers back from the streets of Kathmandu or Saigon in elephant-printed baggy pants, now folded away or discarded after the holiday period. Many others still view ecological products as a compromise.

This perception is slowly changing at last. From Piñatex™ pineapple leather to Matt and Nat vegan leather bags, the latest trend in sustainable fashion highlights quality and sophistication.

This change in attitude and perception permeated throughout this year’s Emerge Conference, organised by Skoll Centre at Oxford Saïd Business School last week.  Attendees raised concerns about the prevalence of cheap polyester plastics, the bedrock of fast fashion.  Speakers discussed circular economy and circular products, which will be equally convenient to use, if not more, than products newly replaced.

Kresse celebrates her firm’s success not with the financial health of quarter, but with the amount of “waste” gleaned from landfills

One such speaker was Kresse of Elvis & Kresse, the maker of high quality life-style products made from decommissioned fire hoses collected from a dozen waste streams. An Elvis & Kresse branded bag easily competes with luxury designer accessories, both in quality and design, but usually wins the heart of a consumer due to its unique story and because half of the profits are given away to the Fire Fighters Charity. Kresse celebrates her firm’s success not with the financial health of quarter, but with the amount of “waste” gleaned from landfills. Hers is clearly one way to soothe the growing consumerist pains of our modern society.


Nu. presenting at the Mustard Seed Pitch Competition. Photo by

Nu. offers a slightly different approach, to a similar effect. The founders Ali and Aisling aim to create a stylish public wardrobe, easily navigated on an online platform. They presented their startup business to the audience during the Emerge Mustard Seed Pitch Competition. The inspiration behind Nu. was a trip to India three years ago when Ali and Aisling met with garment workers and saw the environmental impacts of the fast fashion industry.

In the founders’ words, “We knew we were angry and passionate, but it took a while to get over the feeling of powerlessness and start channelling our frustration into something productive. We spent a lot of long days talking about different ways of tackling the issue, and many long nights doing research. Nu. as an idea has been an evolving process with a lot of collaboration with other individuals and advice from other organisations working in the ethical fashion world.”

This seems to be a prevailing theme of the weekend at Emerge Conference. If there is an issue, if there is a problem you are displeased with, do not wait around hoping someone else will fix it.  Get to work; Kresse started her own business when she was 22.  Start small; in fancy terms, start with a minimal viable product.  For Nu. the idea first materialized as successfully-run, brick-and-mortar clothing swap shops in Dublin.

Clothes you already have in your wardrobe are exponentially more sustainable than new clothes you will purchase, no matter the manufacturing process

Lastly, of course, there is only so much impact the sharing economy and circular products can achieve in terms of environmental benefits.  As long as we consume, we leave behind a footprint. These entrepreneurs and their customers recognise this.  Clothes you already have in your wardrobe are exponentially more sustainable than new clothes you will purchase, no matter the manufacturing process.  Reducing new purchases, repairing and extending the lifetime of your clothes, sharing your outfits, swapping with friends, and choosing well-made, thoughtful and durable products is the new trend in sustainable clothing.

Author Bio
May Thu Khine

Student by day, entrepreneur by night, May Thu is co-running a fashion startup catering to professional, modern women of Myanmar while completing MBA studies at London Business School. Her most recent role before starting school was as an aide to the Group’s Chair, Mr. Serge Pun, known regionally as the 38th richest man in Singapore as well as Myanmar’s “Mr. Clean” for his anti-corruption efforts.  May Thu was born and raised in Yangon, and enjoys talking about her city. She led more than 20 urban heritage walking tours in downtown Yangon as a volunteer for Yangon Heritage Trust.

May Thu Khine

May Thu Khine




Cleaner Teeth

A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

On the last rainy weekend in Oxford, I was indoors. So far indoors, in fact, that I was in a windowless room. But I had barely noticed. I was dashing about a lecture hall during the Emerge conference, snapping pictures madly.

I was picking my way through a packed room of attendees who were huddled in small groups, leaning over worksheets. There was a buzz of energy in the room, much of which came from the facilitator, Daniela Papi-Thornton.

Daniela is the Deputy Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, the organisation that planned and hosted this conference. In some ways, she was a natural leader for this workshop, which was focused on zeroing in on a problem and building the right process to find the right solution. In other ways, it’s surprising to see her here. For one thing, this was the only conference session in which full-time Skoll Centre staff facilitated an event themselves. For another, Daniela was still on maternity leave. She took a break from her leave just to lead this event.

In fact, her baby, Skye, was casually sleeping, strapped to his mother’s shoulders, while she paced rapidly back and forth across the room. She was speaking.

“How many of you want to be social entrepreneurs?” Daniela asked the crowd. A number of hands went up. Daniela looked around the room, consternation on her face. “Stop that!” she said. “Don’t do that!”

People laughed a little and took their hands down tentatively.

“This is backwards,” she said. “My husband used to say it to me this way: ‘We don’t need more toothbrushes in the world; we need cleaner teeth.’ Same thing here: rather than jumping to the conclusion that a social enterprise is the best way to solve a problem, you first need to understand that problem really, really well. Maybe there’s a better way to solve your problem. And maybe a social enterprise is the best way to do that. But we can’t prejudge the outcome.”

Daniela has the rare talent in which everything she says seems both shocking and obvious at the same time. Her comments were simple, rational, self-evident, and yet, subversive. They were reminders that conventional wisdom is conventional partially because it gives us a convenient way to stroke our own egos. Her ideas came like surges of power, making everyone lean forward on their desks and listen more attentively. She called the desire to build new social enterprises, even when they weren’t necessary, as “heropreneurship.”

Daniela Papi-Thornton (center) paces around the lecture hall while attendees watch.

Daniela Papi-Thornton (center) paces around the lecture hall while attendees watch. Photo by Sagar Doshi

Daniela split the attendees into small groups and had them start analysing a social problem. Instead of jumping to likely solutions, she asked them to think about who they could speak with in the community who could teach them more about the nature of their problem. It was a humble, empathy-led way of thinking of social impact.

As I took pictures of these groups in action, my mind jumped back to a new word I had learned in a class this year. Have you heard of the term gemba? I certainly hadn’t before this year.

It came up first in my Technology & Operations lecture. That course is the most prototypically business one I take. It looks at the world and sees processes. Manufacturing a car? That’s a process. Triaging patients in an emergency room? A process. Responding to customer complaints for your digital product? Another process.

With that lens, you can’t help but want to improve processes. But when you try, your solution will almost always come up short unless you take the time to really, truly understand what’s actually happening. Japanese car manufacturers described this with the term gemba, meaning ‘to go and see what was happening’. Visualisation isn’t good enough. Diagrams, flowcharts, and spreadsheets aren’t sufficient. Under this philosophy, there is no substitute for talking to people, understanding a problem, and observing it in real life.

Could there be a better metaphor for the most important lessons of social impact? Like others at the conference, I had worked on social impact projects before. Most notably, I led one minor army of college students to a tropical village in Nicaragua and another to a desert town in Rajasthan, both times to work on local projects. Each time, my team came in with certain assumptions about how to make an impact. Each time, we worked on whatever let us feel the least bit helpful. And each time, it became clear that we were mostly just helping ourselves learn a little more about life in those communities.

At Emerge, this theme came up over and over. It came up when one of our keynote speakers, Paul Lindley, talked about his unstinting focus on the babies who ate the food that Ella’s Kitchen produced. It came up when another keynote speaker, Lily Lapenna, mentioned that the key inspiration to creating MyBnk arrived after she listened to her confused, indebted peers. It came up when Ola Suliman of Mayday Rescue, herself a political refugee from Syria, cautioned would-be refugee helpers to realise that Syrian refugees often need to feel useful through work more than they need new mobile apps.

Humility—of the actively observant sort that Daniela taught—must be the watchword of any aspiring social shaper. It was certainly the main lesson I took from Emerge. Opportunities to improve the world are typically complex, interlinked design challenges. Like any design challenge, you need to begin by grasping all facets of a problem. That means watching and learning, without making assumptions. This is not the easiest way to try to fix a problem, but it has the virtue of being one of the best.

Author Bio
Sagar Doshi

Sagar is fascinated by future-focused technologies that have the potential to deeply change society through new markets and new products. That same interest previously brought him to Google, where he worked on mobile partnership products, and later to the US Federal Communications Commission, where he helped craft modern public policy rules for the future of the Internet. Sagar can usually be found in the science fiction section of my local bookstore.

Sagar Doshi

Sagar Doshi

Feature image above by



Effective Leadership

A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

What are the key characteristics of effective leaders? This was a question that several speakers engaged with at Emerge 2016.

Keynote Paul Lindley referred to Simon Sinek’s work to emphasise the importance of starting with ‘Why?’ in any attempt to lead with impact. Knowing your purpose and communicating it clearly helps build trust and authenticity and will inspire others to follow you.

euforia are passionate about collaborating Photo by

The Art and Science of Building Great Teams. Photo by

As Rabbi Dr Naftali Brewer stressed, telling a story capable of drawing people in is absolutely vital. Obama and Trump, despite their stark political differences, both ran successful Presidential campaigns because they were able to tell vivid stories that engaged their audiences. The historical accuracy of stories is far less significant than their power to inspire emotional connection. When telling your story, make sure it is simple enough to communicate to a child or a crowd of friends down the pub. And ensure that everyone in your team or organisation can identify themselves in the story.

Successful leaders need to surround themselves with great people covering a range of skillsets.

Once you have your story, what next? Initial group discussions in a workshop facilitated by social innovation enterprise euforia threw up some basic principles. Successful leaders need to surround themselves with great people covering a range of skill sets. They need to set direction, mapping out the path to achieving the organisation’s purpose and making tough decisions when necessary. Because obstacles will inevitably materialise, good leaders need to have the resilience to confront and overcome challenges.

Yet trying to produce a catch-all list of ingredients for successful leadership can mask the extent to which different organisations and different circumstances call for different types of leadership. As one participant pointed out using the example of Elon Musk, the oratory abilities that are often critical to the success of political leaders may not always be so essential for business leaders.

Building on this, delegates highlighted that it may be important for great leaders to adapt their leadership style to changing conditions, both internal and external to their organisations.

For me, the best part of the workshop was the screening of a short TED talk by entrepreneur Derek Sivers on How to Start a Movement. Sivers shows a video of ‘a lone nut’ dancing fanatically in front of an unimpressed crowd. A ‘first follower’ has the guts to start dancing with him and the leader embraces the follower as his equal. A few others join in, and then a few more, and before you know it the tipping point is reached and a movement is born. Before long, everyone is joining the crowd because they would be ridiculed for not doing so. The crucial lesson is that while the leader is of course important, the first follower is the unsung hero. It is the first follower who transforms the ‘lone nut’ into a leader and makes it less risky for other followers to come on board.

less than half the audience members believed that the leader was the most important person in a team.

A shift away from excessive focus on the leader was reflected in a conversation on The Art and Science of Building Great Teams. There, less than half the audience members believed that the leader was the most important person in a team. Exploring less hierarchical, more inclusive ways of working was a key theme of the discussion. As euforia, who work in a radically consensual way, pithily put it during their workshop, “Collaboration is the new Competition”.


euforia are passionate about collaborating. Photo by

So maybe the question we started with – ‘What are the key characteristics of effective leaders?’ – is a misguided one on two counts: it assumes a greater homogeneity among effective leaders than actually exists and suggests that we should all be aspiring to be leaders.

Perhaps there are more fundamental questions to focus on answering, with the help of considered introspection as well as the inspiration and connections gained through Emerge: ‘What is the change I want to see in the world?’ and ‘What is the best way for me to help make that change happen?’ – whether that involves being a leader or not.

Author Bio
Julia Chen

Julia grew up in London and studied History at the University of Oxford. She currently works in renewable energy policy.


Author: Julia Chen

Feature image by













Tribute to an unreasonable woman.

With one week to go, we are putting the finishing touches to what will be the 8th annual Emerge conference at Saïd Business School, the University of Oxford. I would like to say it will be our best yet, but firstly, that’s for you to decide, and secondly, it will be the first Emerge we’ll hold without its inspirational founder and late Director of the Skoll Centre, Pamela Hartigan, who will be especially missed during this weekend.

Thanks to Pamela, we bring together a community of changemakers each year in Oxford, each one wanting to use their unique skills and passions to make a difference.

Emerge was created to bring people together to learn about the pressing global challenges we face and how each of us can take action to make a positive impact on those challenges. Pamela was passionate about positive social change and she made it her life’s work to inspire and accelerate young innovators. Thanks to Pamela, we bring together a community of changemakers each year in Oxford, each one wanting to use their unique skills and passions to make a difference.
To celebrate her legacy, we will honour Pamela at this year’s Emerge with a tribute wall called “Thank you, Pamela” in the Entrance Hall. What are you grateful to Emerge and Pamela for? Perhaps you made some meaningful connections at Emerge, perhaps you learnt something new, or perhaps you are creating a shift in a critical social or environmental issue because of something that sparked from a session you attended in a previous year. Whatever you are grateful for, write your note and pin it to our “Thank you, Pamela” wall. Each note will be added to her book of condolence, which will be going to her family after the event.
Thanks to Pamela’s unreasonable passion and courage, we are very excited to present the Emerge Conference on 12 – 13 November. We’ll see you there!

How to get the best out of Emerge 2016

Emerge is energetic, dynamic, and jam-packed with sessions, workshops, lunchtime activities and more – not to mention the opportunity to connect with +500 impact leaders over the course of two-days!

So, how do you make the most of it?

If you have a ticket for the weekend or just Saturday or Sunday – here are our top-tips on getting the best out of Emerge 2016!

Before Emerge

Check it out! Read the programme. Find out who’s talking, and decide who you might want to try to meet.

You and your goals. What do you have to offer? What do you need to learn? Emerge is your oyster; to make the most of it come prepared with knowledge of yourself and what you need to make the next move on your impact journey.

During the Event

Arrive in time to have a coffee! Registration opens at 09:15 on Saturday and 09:30 on Sunday. Make sure to check in when you arrive. This is the optimal time to scout out the event before the sessions start, check out the marketplace stalls in the Entrance Hall, or network over a coffee from the Marquee.

Take note. Remember to bring a notebook, or whatever you need to capture your learnings, words of wisdom, and someone’s email address if they’ve run out of business cards!

Bring a bottle. Let’s face it; we all feel a slight bit of guilt when we buy water in a plastic bottle. We want to decrease the number of water bottles used this year to help reduce our environmental ‘footprint’, so we are only offering one bottle per person each day (plus hiring in reusable mugs). So if you have an eco-friendly re-usable water bottle, then bring it! We have a number of water stations at the event; it’s literally on-tap!

Get social. Remember to tweet your experience live during the event using #Emerge16! Share your bite-size insights, photos or shout outs and join the conversation.

Time out. If you need to take some time to get away from the hustle and bustle, retreat to our “Zen Zone” for some quiet time. And if it’s not just you that needs to recharge, then each of our Zen Zone pods also have plug sockets for your device.

Network. There are so many opportunities to network at Emerge. Whether it’s during coffee breaks, lunchtime sessions, the Collaboration Clothesline, or even our dedicated Speed Networking session on Saturday or Drinks Reception on Sunday, make sure you come armed with your elevator pitch and trusty business cards!

After the Event

Keep the fire burning. We hope you’ll leave Emerge feeling inspired and ready to set out on your impact endeavours, so don’t let this fire burnout! Follow up on the connections you made and carry on learning by attending more of the Skoll Centre’s events and talks throughout the academic year.

See you soon!

Capturing the head and the heart using video

Emerge 2016 official Video Partner, Be Inspired Films shares their insights into social impact storytelling.

Being able to demonstrate your social impact as an organisation is so important. It’s not enough to just state your outputs or outcomes, you have to be able to show the results of your work and how that benefits society in a very tangible way. More and more people want to know what impact a company is having before they will commit, whether as an investor, donor, a volunteer, an employee, or even as a customer.

So, how can you demonstrate your social impact effectively?

Very often the best examples of an organisation’s impact will be anecdotal, rather than being fully quantifiable in clear hard facts. Both are important but emotion is what will move people.

Be Inspired Films at Emerge 2015There has been a marked increase in the power of storytelling to get to the heart of what an organisation is about. Every organisation has stories that capture the essence of the social impact they deliver and it is those stories that often encapsulate the culture, the passion and the unique nature of the work and what motivates it. Lengthy explanations of technical models and pages and pages of numbers do not lend themselves well to communicating social impact, particularly on the web or social media channels.

Video is a great way to capture the stories that demonstrate your social impact and bring it to life, in an easily accessible format.

Video is THE fastest growing medium for consuming information on social media channels. One of its key strengths is that it can convey emotion and build a strong connection with the audience. This brings it above many other channels for building relationships and demonstrating your impact effectively.

Nearly a million minutes of video will be shared every second

According to a report by Cisco, video will account for 80% of global internet traffic by 2019. Nearly a million minutes of video will be shared every second and it would take someone 5 million years to watch all the video that will be shared each month. According to Facebook, more than 50% of people who visit Facebook watch at least one video every day. These may be quite large, scary statistics, but what it shows is the continuing upward trend of video on the internet.

By visualising your social impact via video, you can get the best of both worlds. You can incorporate statistics and figures (for the head) alongside the more anecdotal stories (for the heart) together in one place. Combining statistics, text and live footage will make for a really engaging, informative video and work well across all digital and social media platforms.

The beautiful thing is you can get so much more use out of the content, such as audio podcasts, blog posts, and other smaller bite-sized pieces. Thus you would be re-purposing for different learning styles, attention spans, and platforms.

If you would like to know more about how you can use video to bring your social impact to life – you can see examples of Be Inspired Film’s work at or get in touch at

BiF web logo









Story of a social start-up

The Mustard Seed Pitching Competition is a long-standing favourite on the Emerge Conference programme – but what happen’s to the winners after? Carrie Babcock of Mustard Seed Impact looks at a winner of last year’s competition.

Many good business ideas spark from a founder’s personal experience, and this certainly holds true for Accomable’s Srin Madipalli. Srin is a travel nut, having spent four months traversing the world, flying planes, trekking mountains and scuba diving. While none of these activities are for the faint of heart, Srin had an additional challenge to overcome: accessibility. Srin and Accomable’s then co-founder, Martyn Sibley, have spinal muscular atrophy, necessitating the use of wheelchairs. He wondered: How could I encourage more people with mobility problems access the excitement of travel?

And hence, Accomable was born. After attaining an MBA at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, Srin started thinking of how to solve the difficulties he encountered while traveling. Having received initial seed funding from the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship’s Skoll Venture Awards, Srin and Martyn launched Accomable in the summer of 2015.

accomable_logoAs the company geared up for serious seed investment, Srin and Martyn entered Accomable into the Mustard Seed Competition at Emerge. Srin would encourage all entrepreneurs to practice pitching in front of a live audience as much as possible, and loved having the chance to do so in front of Mustard Seed at Emerge last year. “[Pitching] is key to refining your value proposition,” says Srin, who pitched to a judging panel of Mustard Seed’s two co-founders, Alex Pitt and Henry Wigan, Mustard Seed investor Paola Broyd, and CEO of Mustard Seed portfolio company Winnow, Marc Zornes.

Srin continued that the Emerge Conference is a great way to network and connect with others looking to launch a social enterprise. In fact, he found a key employee for Accomable’s property recruitment role through last year’s Emerge event.

Mustard Seed Competition 2015

Srin and Martyn pitching at the Emerge 2015 Mustard Seed Competition

Upon winning the competition, Accomable were invited down to Mustard Seed’s offices in London for a half day of acceleration, including workshops with industry experts, financial projection feedback, and to experience the firing round of questions a typical venture capital firm will get into when beginning to consider a company for investment. “The mentors provided great domain specific feedback, and good advice on what to focus on moving forward.”

Ultimately, Accomable closed a £300,000 seed funding round with another investor group in May 2016 to continue building its team, expanding its user base and signing on more properties properly fitted for adventure seekers needing enhance mobility options.

Lessons learned from this success story? Work on a big problem, the closer to home, the better. Welcome counsel from varied sources. And get out there as much as you can!

If you have a start-up venture and are looking for investment support, apply to the Emerge 2016 Mustard Seed Competition here.

Image source:





Communicating Passion or Communicating Expertise: Which goes further with investors?

A series of highlights written by students of the University of Oxford, from Emerge 2015.

By Talisa Jane Du Bois (Oxford MBA 2015-16)

Entrepreneurs list ‘limited access to capital’ as a key constraint to business growth more than any other indicator. While traditional finance mechanisms remain expensive and relatively unsupportive for new business, the rise of alternative funding mechanisms are changing this reality for many start-ups. The rise of the angel investor, venture capital firms, peer to peer lending platforms, and crowdfunding opportunities have reached unprecedented levels. Through alternative and traditional channels, UK tech companies have raised more venture capital in the first nine months of 2015 than the $2.1 billion raised in the whole of 2014.

However, as the options for start-up finance and venture capital broaden, entrepreneurs have to navigate an increasingly diverse capital application process. Long gone are the days of forms, credit checks, and simple cash flow forecasts. The rise of online platforms, pitch competitions, and funds expect more than the traditional institutions, looking for an exciting story, a compelling business idea, and an exceptional entrepreneur. Despite the fact that studies of business success show little or no correlation with business owner charisma, without this passion most entrepreneurs will struggle to attract the right finance. Data form Indiegogo (the largest global fundraising site) shows that enthusiastic entrepreneurs were three times as likely to meet their fundraising goals. Whereas, controversially, adequate displays of preparedness and expertise had little or no effect.

Greg Davies, behavioral finance guru of Barclays Bank, brought together a team of fundraising experts to discuss and deliberate this phenomenon. Advice revealed that while preparedness was a major contingency to securing capital, passion was more likely to get an entrepreneur through the door the first time. Online crowdfunding platform expert, Dawn Bebe revealed that a businesses ability to ‘articulate a moving and exciting story’ was key to attracting supporters. In contrast, VC director from Mustard Seed, Henry Wigan, asserted that preparedness, solid financial forecasts, and deep industry understanding were more crucial when it came to making a final venture decision. Nigel Kershaw, social entrepreneurship expert, echoed these points, but assured that his personal success was largely due to passion and persistence.

Nigal Kershaw Henry Wigan
Nigel Kershaw is Executive Chair of The Big Issue Group. Since 1974 Nigel has started, built and run social enterprises. He joined The Big Issue (TBI) in 1994, becoming its MD and then Executive Chairman. Henry Wigan is co-founder of Mustard Seed Investments, where he is currently Director of Investments. He has extensive experience in portfolio management, as well as investments in early-stage ventures.
Greg Davies Dawn Bebe
Greg Davies is Head of Behavioral-Quant Finance at Barclays, joining in 2006 to build the financial world’s first commercial behavioral finance team. His first book, Behavioral Investment Management, was published in 2012. Dawn Bebe is s co-founder of Crowdfunder, Seachange and energyshare, and has 20 years senior experience at National level in media and communications, creating and developing some of the UK’s most innovative media brands.


Giving away money is harder than making it

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by University of Oxford Students. 

By Catherine You

Fran Perrin started off the Emerge session ‘Giving away money is harder than making it’ by admitting to the group that when she was started her journey as philanthropist at the age of 18, she was so overwhelmed by the responsibility that she asked Google how to become a better philanthropist – “I wish more philanthropists did that” she joked.

Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre facilitated the session, which looked at how giving away money to create positive change in the world is not without skill. It’s not hard to think of examples of problems which have received significant funding but are still not ‘solved’. The thinking surrounding grant funding is starting to become more mature and sophisticated, but it’s still not an easy path.

Fran has clearly come a long way since her search-engine powered philanthropy. Her foundation, The Indigo Trust now has a number of practices to ensure that they are making grants in an effective way. This includes a focus on technology-based projects (leveraging her knowledge and expertise), making the process as simple as possible for applicants (so they can focus on what their work, rather than getting money in), publishing information about all they grants they make, and encouraging other grant providers to be more transparent by championing the 360 Giving platform.

However, even with a robust model of grant funding is in place challenges still exist. Indeed, two panellists from very different industries, spoke about the inherent tension and complexity within corporate foundations as they try and align the goals, vision and culture of their organisation to philanthropic causes.

Mirjam Schöning, Global Head of Programmes and Partnerships for The LEGO Foundation, spoke about how LEGO wrestled with this tension and successfully embedded philanthropic goals within the company mission. Indeed, LEGO comes from the Danish leg godt, meaning “play well” and this mantra still drives the vision and culture of the company. A good example of this is that, unlike most companies, The LEGO group calculates success by the number of children they reach and inspire rather than purely based on sales figures (although these naturally align).

By contrast, Isabel Kelly, constantly navigates the intensively competitive, aggressive culture at Salesforce within her role as international director of their foundation. This fast-paced culture at first seems at odds with their partner charities and social enterprises who needed significant support to even implement Salesforce products within their company. However, despite the dizzying number of initial barriers in supporting such organisations, it could be argued that the company culture enabled the Foundation to push forward and award $96million in grants and work with more than 26,000 non-profits to date.

Perhaps most aware of the challenges and opportunities presented by the involvement of corporates in philanthropy is Peter Wheeler, who spoke of founding New Philanthropy Capital after a long career in banking. New Philanthropy Capital is a charity think tank that works with charities and funders to be more impactful. He spoke candidly about making mistakes along the way. However, he also shared lessons from working to learn from the mistakes, pivoting and challenging the status quo.

Each of the panellists spoke at length about making mistakes. One of the biggest lessons was that grant-making is fraught with missteps, the important thing is to face the mistakes square in the face, learn and change how things are done. It takes humility to admit a mistake, but it takes courage to turn those mistakes into changing the world for the better.

Author’s bio:

Catherine You works as a consultant at Firetail, a consulting firm that works around the world to help ambitious organisations achieve positive social change. Catherine is currently providing technical support to a range of agricultural development grantees of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help strengthen their monitoring and evaluation. Catherine is a Fellow of On Purpose, the Social Enterprise leadership programme. Prior to that, Catherine worked at Project Ploughshares, a non-governmental organisation that works to advance policies to prevent war and armed violence, where she worked on research and public outreach.





Inter Cultural Communication

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by University of Oxford Students. 

By London School of Economics student, Francisco Abad

EMERGE 2015 was an incredible experience to be part of! A weekend full of learning, connecting, and innovating. I had the privilege to be a social media champion for Emerge this time, and I was able to attend some great sessions that I’d like to share with you. Some of the sessions I enjoyed the most were about intercultural cultural communication, and the keynote speech from Plant for Peace.

Inter Cultural Communication:

The very first session I attended during Emerge was about intercultural communication as a key skill to have in social entrepreneurship. This session was led by Daniela Papi-Thornton from the Skoll Centre and Rouven Steinfield from the DO School.

Intercultural communication is something I had already studied in my undergraduate in a very good class that mixed communication with anthropology to help us learn the different ways people communicate in various cultures. This session was a good practical way to refresh that knowledge and be more aware of culture in my day to day communications as a student leader living in London and attending LSE, one of the most multicultural places I’ve ever been to.

During the session, the facilitators asked us to step into a fictional square they had drawn on the floor with some tape with four quadrants. The first part was to determine if we were people that like to talk directly or beat around the bush (indirect). This goes to the concept of high vs low context culture. For example, the USA is a low context culture and therefore people are more direct in their communication, sharing their feelings, thoughts and even frustration. On the other hand, countries in other parts of the world are more high context – Asia, Africa and Latin America present good examples. For instance, in Ecuador, where I’m from, people don’t tell you when they’re mad or disagree, they send indirect messages to let you know about it. This is always an interesting exercise for me to do because even though I am from Ecuador, living in the US for 5 years changed my communication style (which was not very high context in the first place), but I have to always be aware that people from my country act and communicate indirectly; it’s not wrong, just different, and it has to be addressed properly. You see, the point of this is not to determine which communication style is right or wrong, but to figure out how others communicate and by being aware of it, communicate better with them. In this way we can become good leaders and adapt our behavior to the situation in order to effectively manage people.

The second part involved moving to a corner of the quadrant. So if we chose direct, we stayed in that side of the square and now move left or right based on the way we express our feelings during conflicts. One side was about the emotional expression of the feelings (raising the voice, moving hands around, etc.), while the other one was more about not showing too much emotion while arguing.

In summary, the combinations are:

  • Direct + Emotion = Engagement
  • Direct + Restrain = Discussion
  • Indirect + Emotion = Dynamic
  • Indirect + Restrain = Accommodation.

At the end of sharing why we chose our quadrant, Daniela and Rouven had us write down a wish list of how each group like others to communicate to them. This is a brilliant way to help us understand why some people react differently to what we say.

Lessons: When you lead or work in a team, do this exercise to figure out what the communication culture of each member is. It’s important for you to know how each person works more effectively so that by being aware, you can lead and work better.