I had the pleasure of spending my weekend at Emerge 2017. A conference created by the Skoll Centre and the Saïd Business School at University of Oxford, focused on exploring big ideas that are disrupting and challenging unjust systems and practices.

Opening Plenary: Andy Middleton

Opening Plenary: Andy Middleton, Project Slipstream

Each session I attended has laid out a blueprint of what is needed to ‘invent’ the future. Although, we cannot say for sure which particular idea or business will eventually become the status quo, these principles should still be universally applicable. The four themes which stood out most to me are:

  1. Leveling the playing field
  2. Useful innovations
  3. Measuring Impact
  4. Building relationships
Going beyond measuring financial returns with Karim Harji

Going beyond measuring financial returns with Karim Harji

Leveling the playing field

We don’t have to look very far to see just how unfair life can be. Unfortunately, the success of many has come at the expense of others. However, there is a growing awareness of the privileges enjoyed by some which give them unfair advantages, as well as conscious effort to want things to change. This was most powerfully demonstrated through the conversations around Universal Basic Income (UBI). Listening to the speakers share their thoughts both for and against UBI was thought provoking and insightful; however, what was more surprising was seeing what was unfolding online. As tweets sharing the ideas from the speakers began to show up on Twitter, it didn’t take long to see just how passionate people are on the topic. There is an undercurrent of deep desire for change, and although we can’t yet agree on how to bring it about, it’s a conversation which can’t be ignored.

Useful Innovations

Sometimes scientists and entrepreneurs can get carried away with cool ideas that don’t actually bring about much value to society. This was not a problem amongst the community at Emerge 2017. I was blown away by the volume of people who are creating new technologies that not only have great economic potential but also great social impact. This was demonstrated through the pitch competition. The eventual of the competition winner of SafetyNet Technologies blew me away. They have invented a device for fishermen which attracts the fish they hope to capture and repels any other species. While listening in awe of the pitch, I couldn’t help but to calculate just how huge the environmental implication of the startup really could be.

Nadia Laabs from SafetyNet Technologies, pitching at the Emerge Pitch Competition

Nadia Laabs from SafetyNet Technologies, pitching at the Emerge Pitch Competition. (Photo by Fisher Studios)

Measuring Impact

I’ve always been taught that “what we measure, we improve” and my experience in business and nonprofits has proved this to be true. The operating system of society seems to geared towards measuring money and influence. There are so many reasons why this is the case, however, I believe that part of the explanation is easy both are to measure. All that is required is to check our social media follower count or look at our bank balances. However, a constant conversation throughout Emerge was being aware of what impact a company or programme is having, followed with the thoughtful scrutiny on how valuable those impact metrics truly are. The session lead by Purpose Capital’s Karim Harji was extremely useful to me, where he introduce the “Theory of Change” concept as way to work out how to measure less obvious social impact metrics.

Panel for Show me my money: How to take ownership of the effects of your pension

Show me my money: How to take ownership of the effects of your pension

Building Relationships

Probably one of the oldest clichés in business is the saying “your network is your net worth”, although there is truth in the statement. Huge amounts of value can be gained from building a network; however, the key isn’t just about the quantity of the relationships but also the quality. I loved that one of the keynotes of the conference was focused exclusively on teaching us how to build stronger relationships. If we are going to create meaning change in society, than relationships with every stakeholder is going to need to be at the centre of our work.

As a whole Emerge 2017 was an amazing experience. I’ve been challenge to think about my life and business in new ways. I’ve also been inspired to not limit the ambitions and to work to the largest scale I can regarding the impact I can make. Hopefully with these new tools and ideas, I can play my part in inventing the future we all want to see.


Claud Williams Claud Williams is a brand consultant, public speaker, and social entrepreneur. He currently serves as the Executive Chairman of the social enterprise Dream Nation, which is re-inventing personal development for millennials.