Posts in Emerge 2016

Exploring the potential of social media in alleviating conflicts

A series of blogs written by 2016 Emerge Communication Champions.

Social media is widely used nowadays, and public opinion is divided among sceptics and supporters. On one side social media can empower citizens to have a say in their country, help connect people and share resources, provide information to reduce tensions, contribute to a better understanding of facts and provide informed decision making, build bridges across boundaries, and demolishing prejudices. However, on the other side, social media can also be used to polarise society, convey inaccurate information, manipulate opinions, stagnate people’s beliefs, contribute to division, isolate, and hinder or even stop dialogue, especially with people who may have opposing opinions.


Jem Thomas. Photo by

Jem Thomas – Director Training and Innovation at Albany Associate – ex-military and expert in strategic communications, crisis management and conflict resolution – spoke at Emerge 2016. During his Masterclass session on Using Social Impact Media to Alleviate Conflict, Jem explained how social media can help alleviate conflicts and focussed on these key areas:

Conflict mapping – In order to address conflicts, it’s important to understand the current situation and what contributes to build the bigger picture. We need to map the issues, sources of conflicts, linkages, networks, and dependencies. The ultimate question to answer is “Where is the common ground?”

Reliable information – Information doesn’t necessarily give us knowledge. We need to choose reliable sources of information that people can trust. An interesting website providing facts-checking is StopFake.

Data Visualisation – We need to move from text based communications to more effective visual and interactive communications, using video and infographics. Information needs to be attractive for people to stimulate interest and engagement. A fascinating example of visual communication can be found at OurWordInData by Max Roser, economist at University of Oxford who also spoke at Emerge 2016. He provides a living publication of social, economic, and environmental history of our world. Another great resource is Ushahidi which provides a map of physical conflicts.

Communications – Social media offers an online platform to share information and resources. By sharing resources we actually connect with people from different backgrounds, values, and opinions, all of which we may realise are closer than we think! To share some useful resource: PeaceTube has a new Facebook app to foster digital dialogue. Yerdle and Canzaa are good online platforms to swap resources. Frontlinesms is a messaging platform for positive change.

Participation – Social media can also empower people by providing us with an opportunity to have a say in the future of the country (or locally) by signing a petition. Avaaz and are some of the most popular petition website.

However there are some key challenges that we need to be aware of such as the so called “filter bubble” effect and confirmation bias for which we look for and retweet information we’d like to see reflecting our beliefs, opinion and knowledge, thus reinforcing our own thinking. As a result there is a risk that we become separated from information or people that disagree with our own beliefs, making it more difficult to find the “common ground”.

So what is the solution? Jem Thomas thinks education is the answer. It’s important to balance truth and facts in order to judge soundly. To enable an informed decision-making process, we need to be aware of the “filter bubble” influence, develop a critical thinking approach and champion trusted sources of information, such as the work of a freelancer. Perhaps we need to go back to basics, take time to gather information and think, invest in talking to people to better understand the real roots of the issues.

My personal conclusion is to focus more on building trust between people to break down walls and prejudices. To do so, there are two main elements: physical and digital space. I believe that physical interaction still remains at the foundation of the trust building process, following the “old school” of meetings, coffee, and exchange programmes like volunteering. However I think social media can support digital dialogue on a wider scale. It can be a very powerful source to promote good information, share resources and empower citizen participation.

Thank you Jem for the inspiring and energetic Masterclass at Emerge 2016.

Author Bio
Sara Cocomazzi

Sara has a broad business background having worked in the public and private sector across Europe and in the UK. Sara currently works for the NHS NEL CSU (North East London Commissioning Support Unit) as Business Development Lead. She joined the wider organisation as Consultant in the NEL Healthcare Team in September 2014, initially as part of an On Purpose programme, and then joined on a more substantive role. Sara worked across a number of projects in Primary Care, ICT, mental health, community services, and providers’ performance with multiple stakeholders providing Project and Programme Management, Stakeholder engagement, Presentation skills & infographics design and Data analysis. Sara is currently leading the PMO support to the South London ICT transition to transfer IT services for seven commissioning CCGs. Prior to joining the NHS Sara was the communications and marketing manager for a company in the private sector. Based in Italy and Germany Sara worked with a wide range of internal and external stakeholders to create a new brand identity.


Sara Cocomazzi




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: