Has the definition of a “good leader” changed?

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student boggers from around the UK.

By Classics Undergraduate at University of Oxford, Sanesh Mistry

The rhetoric proclaiming the importance of being a leader is overwhelming. Leadership programmes are all the rage, whether for individuals or organisations. Business schools in particular have jumped on the bandwagon by offering hundreds of different courses in “leadership”. But what is good leadership in today’s complex, constantly changing and vastly interconnected world?  John Elkington (Co-founder, Volans), David Grayson CBE (Professor of Corporate Responsibility and Director of the Doughty Centre for Corporate Responsibility) and Joanna Hafenmayer (Founder, My Impact) tried to find an answer to this and other questions at Emerge, with the support of Cliff Prior (CEO of Big Society Capital) who catalysed the discussion.

We are in the era of enforced extreme transparency and that creates a new set of challenges. not only does your business need to be more transparent, but you, as an individual and as a leader, have to be more authentic, and that partly means having a great story. Indeed, it’s a classic attribute of great leaders’ – ability to tell a compelling story.

Fundamentally, the description of what make a good leader probably hasn’t changed.  At the same time every theory on leadership is as correct as it is a multifactorial equation we are trying to solve.

Granted the fundamental description of what makes a good leader probably hasn’t changed much. But it’s wrapped up in a complex equation of inputs, outputs and context. If you were hoping for a one-size-fits-all persona to emulate you’ll be dissappointed. Leadership is happening in all ages, in all sectors, in all geographies and with that comes a need for variety of attributes. We don’t do ourselves any favours by measuring leadership by an ability to scale, the leader of a highly impactful community organisation is not diminished by its lacking scale.

The time is ripe to experiment. There is no excuse not to be a leader.

Before you take the plunge, here’s some key advice from Emerge:

Be Authentic

  • Don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you have to be the best at everything, leadership is about understanding your own strengths and weaknesses then finding people that naturally compliment your skills set.
  • Be clear on your purpose – both personal and as an organisation. This purpose will help guide who you are and what you do, but perhaps more importantly it will help you decide what you don’t do. You’ll be exposed to so many opportunities that the ability to say no, with a clear view of your priorities is absolutely crucial.
  • Lead with your own morals and standards rather than anyone else’s. These are the perspectives that make you who you are, and will outlive any temporary decisions.

Develop your Leadership

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.‘ – Gandhi

  • Reflect once in awhile and learn to understand yourself to find where you best fit
  • Become a ‘tri-sector athlete’ – the modern world needs people who are familar with the business sector, public sector (local or international) and third sector (civil society). Grab a  wide range of opportunities (experiential learning) in different sectors and have the confidence to try new things.
  • Find a mentor – it’s a brilliant opportunity to go through personal discovery with someone who is already been on this journey.
  • Throw yourself in the deep end – learn about leadership like you would an instrument, you can’t learn to play guitar without touching the strings.

Embrace the “Do It Yourself” Culture 

600,000 people in the UK have created their own companies. We are seeing people opting out of top leadership roles in favour of going it alone.

  • Think creatively about what you want to achieve – a new form of employment is emerging – you don’t have to work for just a big organisation or corporation. It’s a fast evolving world and it’s going to be explored and designed by people who are open for a journey.

Create Societal Change 

30 years ago if you wanted to create an impact on society the only route was by going to politics. Things are different today, there are now multiple very viable routes to bring about societal change.

  • The old economic and political order are going to be profoundly disrupted in the next 10 to 15 years, just as the current 20-somethings reach their leadership peak. Generation Y should be ready and prepared to do what is needed. Every generation is tested and it is going to be under intense, massive and structural reforms of systems and those periods are immensely disoriented, people feel lost, they tend to look out for leadership. Extraordinary times create extraordinary leaders.
  • Look ahead and see the bigger picture – there is a lovely concept on that: strategic leaders, visionary leaders who see second bounce of ball not a thing that`s about to happen but the one after always will be in advantage.

The disrupting power of Intellectual Property (IP) tools: adjusting power imbalance to create sustainable and fair business in developing countries

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

By DPhil Student, Valerio Pereno

“Hey, wait a minute.” is what went through my mind while listening to Ron Layton, CEO of Light Years IP (@LightYearsIP) talking about protecting cultural brands using conventional intellectual property tools. Up until that moment, I associated intellectual property with copyright, patents and technological innovations – and inevitably with the financial incentives it aims to secure.

According to Light Years IP, a non-profit organisation that specialises in helping producers gaining ownership of their intellectual property, protecting a community’s products, culture and heritage has the potential to disrupt the whole supply chain. In Tanzania, Light Years IP estimates that only 3% of the final price of exported goods trickles down to the underrepresented producers, compared to 40% and 55% for importers and retailers, respectively. Protection of selected product brands could shift the balance towards the producers, leading to stronger incentives for quality, more stable prices, and higher returns.

Tanzania is a shining example. Its products, brands and culture are known all over the world. These include Zanzibar spices, peaberry coffee, Tanzanian tea, blackwood musical instruments and Maasai culture. Protecting these unique brands could yield over $350m combined, according to Light Years IP. In this respect, significant progress has been achieved: the Maasai elders united to form Maasai IP Initiative Trust Ltd to successfully recover trademarks from global corporations and use the licensing fees to support the community.

Another prime example is Ethiopian fine coffee. Although recognized as a superior product by coffee drinkers worldwide, the price paid to producers was set by large coffee importers, leaving only 5% for the coffee farmers. Ethiopia was able to file trademark registrations and establish licensing agreements, resulting in over $100 million increase in export income net of commodity price changes.

Shea butter is a premium cosmetic product that is sold for over $1000/Kg. The shea butter produced by rare Shea trees in South Sudan and Northern Uganda is often referred to as the ‘champagne of Shea butter’, however, local producers only received less than 1% of the generated revenue. After a locally owned retail brand was established, revenues increased from $6/Kg to 25-100$/Kg, allowing local communities to take control of the supply and distribution of the product.

While the long-term effects of this approach are still to be evaluated, there I was, scratching my head thinking about the social, economic and political implications of applying conventional legal and business tools to these new contexts. I was hit by more curiosity than excitement; after all, the phrase uttered by scientists preceding a major discovery is most probably not “Eureka!” as Archimede’s famous cry but, as Isaac Asimov noted, more along the lines of “Now, that’s interesting”.


Plant for Peace: James Brett, Keynote Speech

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student bloggers from around the UK. 

By London School of Economics student, Francisco Abad

It was Sunday, the last day of Emerge; we just finished watching a great pitch competition and were ready to see the keynote which promised to be great. Thirty minutes later, there I was, standing up, tearing a little, clapping like I’ve never clapped. The story I just heard was truly unique, powerful and inspiring.
Let’s start from the beginning. I arrived that morning a little sleepy and hungry. I realized there were some fruit bars for breakfast. As I approached the breakfast counter, I bumped into this tall big man. That’s when I met James Brett. I grabbed one of the bars being served and put it in my pocket for later. During the networking before the pitch competition, I talked a little to James, but he was a little awkward and didn’t want to share much from what he was going to talk about as he had this badge that said “Speaker.” Little did I know that the bar I grabbed was from his company and that I had just met the man with the most incredible story I’ve ever heard.
During the keynote, James shared a very well done video about how he is helping Afghanistan by bringing the communities together to plant more pomegranate (Afghanistan happens to have the best pomegranate in the world). This video seemed to encapsulate what Plant for Peace does, and James as its head, so after the video was over, I wondered, what is he going to talk about now?
Once the video finished James said, “I’m going to tell you the story of my life…” I didn’t know what to expect. This is his shocking story:
James’ mother was a foster mom, so he grew up with lots of children coming in and out of his home as his mother would take care of them. James’ grandfather sexually abused him several times, which traumatized his childhood, and when he told his father, after denying it once, his grandfather admitted it. He was angry and sad, and one day when the government came home to give his mom another child to care, she denied it saying she has not been able to take care of her own kid. His mom later killed herself.
James had to go to the police to sign a form that absolved his grandfather from guilt because they told him he was a good citizen. James just did it and became a troubled teen determined to “make the world pay.” James then shared how he got involved in crime and how all his friends died in that life.
James went to jail where he started doing jobs, like cleaning up the excrement from the cells to avoid working out. Eventually, his sentence was reduced and he was freed. He was so troubled that he asked them to put him back in jail. As they didn’t let him do that, he “borrowed” a book about nature from the library and went to live in the woods alone. Then he shared how he had his first date and lived in the woods for a while. He learned so much about nature and created a drink from pomegranate which he commercialized and started to have a more “normal” life despite all he went through.
Moreover, he led his story into how he ended up in Afghanistan, still a troubled man, to start putting signs about pomegranate being the solution. The community came to him to ask him who he was and what he was doing. He shared how he was just him trying to get farmers to plant and harvest more pomegranate as an alternative to opium poppy seeds (used in heroine). After meeting with them various times, they all stood behind his recommendations and decided to take action. James shared why: “… they told me that I was the first white person without a uniform or helmet that has tried to help them.”
James later was approached by aid agencies, governments, etc., to help and scale his vision. They helped him create Plant for Peace and now he is bringing innovation to Afghanistan based on sincerity, honesty, and purpose.
My thoughts: He tells his own story 1 million times better than me, but I left that auditorium blown away because after all he went through in his life from a very early age, he was able to come up on top! I am a social entrepreneur, and I have failed a couple of times, but thankfully, I’ve never been through anything like what James had to live… There are no excuses!
James reiterated that his life story was about finding meaning and purpose to his life! Today, there are millions of people just like James, going through hell in their lives… abused, beaten, feeling defeated, lonely, depressed, anxious, sick. Many of these people might be around us: friends, family, acquaintances, and maybe we don’t even know. After this, I just reflected how important is to, as leaders and social entrepreneurs, treat other so kindly that they never feel their lives are worthless and with no purpose. James Story is amazing, but most of the people that go through traumas like him don’t have a happy story to share at the end of their lives because people around them reject them, mistreat them, or don’t help. My call to action is for us to be conscious about this and to empower one another to find purpose in life. Finally, if you relate to James’ story, remember that your life matters, it has a purpose and you are the only one that can make it happen!

Human Centred Design: Ensuring Your Venture responds to real needs beyond your own

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student bloggers around the UK.

by Classics Undergraduate at University of Oxford, Sanesh Mistry

What – schools and communities across the world are filled with creative minds and innovative ideas, but often they fail to meet the real needs of a community. During this workshop, experts from global design and strategy firm frog taught us how to deliver the most positive impact by putting the end user first.

Why – if there’s one thing a social entrepreneur can learn from 20th century architecture, it’s that “form follows function.” In order to develop new answers to difficult problems, we need to start with a deep understanding of the context we are designing for, and more often than not this entails observing people and understanding how they behave.
How – what better way to put this into practice than to design a solution to improve Emerge for next year? First off, we built empathy with a certain profile – Karim, a recent graduate, NGO worker and Emerge first-timer, who wants to pursue a career in social enterprise. Then we covered his journey from beginning to end. Reams of post it notes later, we realised that above all, Karim needed to find the delegates and speakers who shared his interests and could help him on his journey, both during and after the conference, so in the end our solution was an app. Simple, but (hopefully) effective.


Emerge 2015 & Mustard Seed Pitch Competition

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student bloggers from around the UK.

By Doctoral Researcher Theodor Cojoianu from the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.

“Entrepreneurs are people who do mDoctoral Researcher at the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, University of Oxford.ore than anyone thinks it is possible, with less than anyone thinks possible” are the words of John Doerr, which perfectly describe the 8 social entrepreneurs which the Emerge 2015 conference welcomed to pitch for consideration for investment from Mustard Seed. The judging panel was comprised of Henry Wigan and Alex Pitt, co-founders of Mustard Seed, Fran Perrin – founder of The Indigo Trust and Marc Zornes, co-founder of Winnow Solutions who is looking to cut food waste in restaurants in half.

So who are the entrepreneurs? While the below descriptions clearly do not make them justice, check out their websites to find out their latest news!

Accomable is the Airbnb for people with mobility difficulties. Srin Madipalli and Martyn Sibley set on the Accomable journey inspired by both their work with tourist boards in the UK and abroad, as well as the online magazine which the two founded in 2011 – Disability Horizons Group, which gathers over 40,000 regular readers.

ConnectMed looks to enrich and disrupt healthcare service in South Africa (where they are just starting) through connecting patients with expert doctors via online video & text based consultations.

HeadStart plans on revolutionizing student recruitment through an app which is matches company job description and skill requirements, with the candidate’s interest levels and qualification for the job. The edge of headstart is in its algorithm analyzing users’ behaviors and profiles to provide the match between opportunity and job seeker.

Libromat is addressing the educational challenges in the African continent through an innovative angle. Libromat recognized that hand-washing clothes is a tedious chore that consumes parents an immense amount of time, which could be spent otherwise assisting their children to learn and develop. Libromat offers an evidence-based training programme in early childhood education for parents and other carers in ‘dialogic picture book sharing’ with young children while they wait for their washing to be done.

Opan Material is a data platform for 3D printing materials. An potential enabler of the circular economy, they provide digital fabrication communities with tools to generate materials data locally and share it globally.

SimPrints is a nonprofit tech company committed to improving the lives of the poor. Accurately linking people to their digital records is a critical bottleneck in the delivery of mobile services in healthcare, microfinance, and aid distribution. They are currently building a mobile biometric scanner and open-source software to empower the mobile tools used by researchers, NGOs and governments around the world.

Workmatch addresses the inefficiencies in finding short-term, temporary and part-time jobs. end-to-end solution that is specifically designed to handle every stage of the employer-employee relationship. From profile creation and job and candidate matching through hiring, secure payment and ratings, their seamless marketplace app makes the short term, part time and shift work market more efficient and gets it working for the people in it.

Work4Good seeks to provide employment opportunities for refugees. More details about their plans to follow! Meanwhile – sign up to their facebook page.

After a full day of pitches, with much anticipation, the winners were announced. Many congratulations to Libromat and Accomable who won the heart of both judges and the audience. For all of us there, it was simply inspiring to watch and speak to these amazing entrepreneurs who are addressing today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. We wish all every success in your journey to building successful companies!


The best kind of debate

A series of highlights from Emerge 2015 by student bloggers from around the UK.

By Karen Ng, MBA Student at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford
The best kind of debate is one that starts with a controversial motion, convinces the floor participants to swing from one side to another then back, and provides everyone in the room with a new perspective that is applicable to their lives. The best kind of debate informs as well as inspires.

To conclude the first day of Emerge Conference, the crowd of 500+ participants and organisers moved over to the Oxford Union for a debate on “This House believes you should work for a mainstream financial institution to achieve greatest social impact”. The Oxford Union was formed in 1823 and has invited numerous head of states, politicians, scientists, celebrities and other high-profile guest speakers to share and debate on important issues. In the historical chamber this evening, we had speakers from non-profits (OXFAM and Nature Conservancy), a bank (Barclays), think tanks (Meteos and 80,000 hours) and a crowdfunding platform (Seedrs), occupying the two sides of the benches.

Before the debate, a couple of classmates asked about my thoughts on the motion. After all, I left my job in investment banking to join a non-profit that supports social ventures. It seems pretty safe to assume that I am against the proposition. But the truth is, I don’t know for sure – especially with the growing interests on impact investing and responsible investment from banks and investment firms. Personally, I also felt incredibly fortunate to receive the training from working in a mainstream financial institution, which enabled me to manage an investment portfolio of social ventures. I was really on the fence.

The opposition did a great job in highlighting the unethical practices of mainstream financial institutions and the challenges to make changes “from within”. On the other hand (or bench?), the proposition illustrated examples of mainstream financial institutions nurturing talent for the social sector, as well as recent examples of commitments to drive large-scale social change through corporate philanthropy and responsible investments. My mind was swinging back and forth until the powerful closing argument made by Sophia Tickell on the proposition side. In the capitalistic world we are living in, capital owners no doubt have great power in generating social impact. Financial institutions have huge influences on how capital owners behave and we often focus on the negative incentives they represent. However, the more socially and ethically conscious individuals join these institutions, the higher the chance that we have in changing the status quo and creating a more inclusive economy. Hence I chose to walk out through the “aye” side of the doors.

The motion of this debate is controversial for an audience comprising of mainly business school students, who are often perceived as money-driven. It is also relevant as we are participants in a conference that asked the question “Is it completely ridiculous to think you can change the world?” – if so then, how? I walked out more informed about the social and environmental initiatives by mainstream financial institutions, as well as more inspired to include people (regardless of their background and jobs) in conversations to redefine the world we live in.

Image source: Oxford Union Website.

The three critical ingredients of the “Collaborative Economy”

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

By Sara Cocomazzi

AirBnB, BlaBlaCar, Taskrabbit. Do any of those names sound familiar? I’m talking about new ways of sharing, consuming and owning our possessions. As resources become increasingly limited, we are required to optimise consumption if we want to be sustainable in the long run. The main question is how to create value from existing assets? The Collaborative Economy is the answer.

AirBnB is a peer-to-peer accommodation marketplace, BlaBlaCar is a ride-sharing network and Taskrabbit is a network of trusted people in your community to outsource household errands and skilled tasks. Those are some of the most successful examples of the Collaborative Economy.

Rachel Botsman – Global Expert on the Collaborative Economy spoke at Emerge 2015. During her Masterclass session on “The Collaborative Economy”, Rachel explained the three critical ingredients of the Collaborative Economy:

  1. Build critical mass: in order to do so, your service should be searchable and sizeable, be supplied in a creative way which provides a value-added experience to customers who access the network, be peer-led, and offer a limited number of options to ease the selection process.
  2. Build communities: to build a successful community it is important to deeply understand the needs of the different groups in your community; clearly define your core value so that your members will develop a strong sense of identification; and finally to empower your community so that members feel ownership and reward. AirBnB is an excellent example of belonging to a wider community of like-minded people.
  3. Build trust: there has been a paradigm shift in trust, moving from institutional to peers. Trust can be defined as the relationship with the unknown, it is to give your community credibility and sustainability in the long run. Trust can imply different meaning depending on the culture. Online ratings and reviews are very important in building trust within a community.

This is what Rachel explained during her Masterclass at Emerge 2015. As she said, “the Collaborative Economy is not a technological trend. It is a transformational lens on the future of value and trust.” She thinks there is a great potential of development for the Collaborative Economy in social sectors like health, food and learning. So, watch this space!


Storytelling: The Art and the Science

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

By Sarfaraz Hussain

The session was introduced by John Simmons of Dark Angels – an independent writer, storyteller and consultant, and was run by Jake Harriman of Nuru International. Jake is a former marine and now runs Nuru International an organisation which aims to end extreme poverty by holistically empowering communities to achieve self-sufficiency & to inspire people to confront crisis.

Jake told about his life as a marine how this influenced a sense that the world’s problems would not be solved on the battlefield alone, another approach was required. Jake told the story of how he came to start Nuru International and how the organisations work supports communities living in extreme poverty. By doing so, he became a living example of how storytelling can be used as an effective tool to describe situations and involve the listener in your work.

In Jake’s words ‘Stories enable personal expression’ which allows the listener to experience what you are saying through many different forms. When telling a story you must know the message you wish to convey. For any organisation the company’s purpose is the fundamental point of any business, thus the centerpoint of the story. You must be clear but expressive and allow the listener to feel the passion you have for the message you are delivering.
You don’t need to be a storyteller – but you do need a story to tell: ‘think what it is’ pressed Jake. We all have a story to tell, but we need to know what that story is. The same story or situation could have a different meaning or focus. You have to be able to pick out the points you wish to express to convince the audience in what you wish to tell them. Once this is honed, you can shed light and emphasise the strongest parts of a story. For instance, your career journey might have taken a while, but if you summarise it and focus on the key and interesting parts it can engage the audience and have a stronger impact on their thoughts then a story which is of great length and touches on key points without emphasis. The key is to keep the audience engaged and focused on the key message you wish to deliver.

Opportunity for Inspiration, Reflection and Learning

Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship reflects on Emerge 2015. 

On November 7-8th, the Skoll Centre held the seventh annual Emerge conference, an event that started in 2009 with around 100 participants and today has become one of the leading gatherings of approximately 700 aspiring entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs in Europe, increasingly attracting participants of all ages from around the world.  As one of the UK’s leaders in entrepreneurship wrote, “I can say without hesitation that Emerge has by far the best energy and programming of all the numerous conferences in the sector”.

While the majority of participants at Emerge are what we call “Millennials”, a growing number of seasoned business leaders are among the participants.  This reflects a general growing concern with the state of the world in general – from poverty and continued human rights abuses to environmental deterioration and climate change. Such concerns are not felt only by young people but by an increasing cross-section of corporate executives who realise that social and environmental causes are too important to be sidelined.  People no longer want to separate how they make their money and how they find meaning in their lives – they seek to combine markets and human values.

And that is what Emerge is all about.  This year’s inspiring speakers included Sir Tim Smit, founder of the Eden Project, now leading its adaptation as a result of demand from countries, most importantly China.  James Brett, founder of Plant for Peace, brought the audience to its feet on conclusion of his moving life story and his amazing achievements.  The closing speaker, Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for UNHCR, broke out of the usual “UN speak” to share her experience with men and women, risking their lives to flee their war-torn countries to seek a better life for their families.

But such plenaries are few at Emerge and are meant to inspire.  The format at Emerge is about conversations, engaging master classes and learning through hands-on workshops.  Participants hear from seasoned and renowned thought leaders in a wide variety topics about key issues and trends.  This year’s master class highlights included the Collaborative Economy given by Rachel Botsman, a recognized global thought leader in mapping and describing this fascinating and disruptive business model; Laughter vs Crying: Using Emotion to generate transformational social change delivered by the inspirational and provocative Jack Sim, founder and CEO of the WTO (the World Toilet Organization, that is); and Cracking the Code on Impact Investing, an ever-popular master class subject taught by Henry Gonzalez, Skoll Scholar alum and head of research at impact investing firm responsAbility, and Karen Wilson, a lead author on the subject at OPEC.

Conversations such as “The Big Me” explored how we might rethink our priorities and strive to build rich inner lives as well as rewarding careers; “The Circular Economy” inspired and engaged participants to rethink their relationship to goods and services. Workshops provided participants with hands-on opportunities in a variety of areas.  For example, one focused on understanding how 3D printing can be used to create new products, new services, even whole new businesses all of which can have a social impact directly or indirectly. Another workshop focused on human centred design and provided participants with an understanding of how design thinking can be applied to address social challenges.

Emerge is just one event in the year. Yet its underlying philosophy, orientation and methodologies permeate the Skoll Centre’s year long approach to engaging students in particular to develop an ‘entrepreneuring’ mindset, one which seeks to challenge their assumptions, expose them to new experiences, and stimulate them to delve deeply into one or more of the major and ever-changing challenges that we confront as a global community.