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Alex Nicholls

Professor of Social Entrepreneurship


Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street
Oxford
OX1 1HP

Profile

Alex is the first tenured professor in social entrepreneurship appointed at the University of Oxford.

Alex Nicholls is the first tenured professor in social entrepreneurship appointed at the University of Oxford. He is also a Tutorial Fellow and Member of the Governing Body at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, and in 2004, he was the founder of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship for which he helped raise the core funding. 

Alex's research and teaching ranges across several key areas within social entrepreneurship and social innovation, including impact investment; impact measurement, materiality, accounting, and accountability; public policy contexts including impact bonds; and social movements and systems change.

To date, Alex has published over a hundred papers, working papers, book chapters and articles, and six books. Most appear in a wide range of peer-reviewed journals and books, including eight papers in Financial Times Top 30 journals. Alex’s papers have more than 11,500 academic citations. He is the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship.

Alex is the co-author of a major research book on Fair Trade (with Charlotte Opal, Sage, 2005) and the editor of the first scholarly collection of papers on social entrepreneurship (Oxford University Press, 2006, 2008). Both represent the best-selling and most cited academic books on their subjects in the world. In 2011, Alex published a co-edited volume on social innovation – again, the first scholarly book on the subject. In 2015, he published a further co-edited volume on social finance and a new book on social innovation with NESTA. In 2019, Alex published  co-edited a book examining the economic underpinnings of social innovation in the European Union (based upon a four year, 4 million Euro, EU funded research project for which he was the Principle Investigator: CRESSI).  His books have been translated into several languages and are the most cited works on each of their subjects.

Prior to joining the University of Oxford, Alex has held lectureships at a wide variety of academic institutions including the University of Toronto, Canada; Leeds Metropolitan University; the University of Surrey; and Aston Business School. He sat on the regional social enterprise expert group for the South-East of England and was a member of the Advisory Group for the ESRC Social Enterprise Capacity Building Cluster. He has been an Honorary Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, University of New South Wales. Prior to returning to academic life, Nicholls held senior management positions at the John Lewis Partnership, the largest mutual retailer in Europe, and he currently sits of the Board of several social enterprises.

Alex earned a BA (Hons), MA and PhD in English Language and Literature from King’s College, London and an MBA from Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.

Expertise: 

  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Impact investing
  • Impact measurement
  • Impact Bonds
  • Social movements and systems change
  • Public policy contexts
  • Fair Trade

Read Alex's CV.

Research

Alex's research focuses on key areas within social entrepreneurship and social innovation. These include the nexus of relationships between accounting, accountability and governance; public and social policy contexts of social entrepreneurship; impact investing; and Fair Trade.

He is also the director of the Oxford Impact Finance Initiative, which aims to be the premier research, teaching and practice hub on impact finance in the world.

Publications

  • Alex Nicholls,
  • Simon Teasdale
Strategy
Innovation

The Extended Social Grid Model

  • Chapter
  • A Nicholls,
  • R Ziegler
Strategy
Innovation

Social Innovation Policy in the European Union

  • Chapter
  • Policy design in the European union: an empire of shopkeepers in the making?
  • A Nicholls,
  • D Edmiston
Strategy
Innovation
  • Alex Nicholls
Strategy
Innovation

Social Innovation Policy in the European Union(opens in new window)

  • Chapter
  • POLICY DESIGN IN THE EUROPEAN UNION: AN EMPIRE OF SHOPKEEPERS IN THE MAKING?
  • Alex Nicholls,
  • Daniel Edmiston
Strategy
Innovation
See more publications

Engagement

Alex's research on social entrepreneurship and social innovation informs government decisions and policy.

As an advisor to the Office of the Third Sector (now the Office for Civil Society), Alex helped shape the UK‘s social enterprise policies. In 2006, Alex worked with the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to research three social enterprise pilots as part of a cultural shift programme within regional welfare services. In 2007, the Office commissioned Alex to develop a paper on the future of social enterprise in ethical markets, which explored a range of new opportunities for social enterprises to create and enlarge ethical market activity in the UK and beyond. From 2009-11, Alex evaluated the wider impacts of the Social Enterprise Investment Fund for the Department of Health. From 2010, Alex has served on the Technical Advisory Panel of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies. 

Alex has strong links with industry. He has conducted a range of commercial consultancy in the social sector, including work on fair trade new product development. He also provides consultancy support to impact investment funds, foundations, and other not-for-profits.

In 2004, Alex became the first staff member of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, and helped develop the Centre to become the leading academic entity for the advancement of social entrepreneurship worldwide.

Alex was the Principle Investigator for the 4-year European Union funded CRESSI project focussing on the economic underpinnings of social innovation. The policy findings from this research have been presented to, and discussed with, a number of Directorates within the EU.  Alex has done advisory work for the Hong Kong government on payment-by-results models as well as hosting research meetings with the UK Cabinet Office, Australian Efficiency Unit and Japanese of Finance.

He has also served as a co-organiser for the International Social Innovation Research Conference, the Research Colloquium on Social Entrepreneurship, the Social Enterprise Research Conference and the Oxford Fair Trade Research Conference. In addition, Alex frequently presents peer-reviewed papers at leading academic conferences.

Alex has been a member of the Advisory Group for the ESRC’s Social Enterprise Capacity Building Cluster and has served on the regional Social Enterprise Expert Group for the South East of England. From 2012-15, he held a visiting Fellowship at the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Social Impact and has been an Honorary Fellow of the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham. In addition, Alex serves on the editorial boards of the Social Enterprise Journal and Education, Knowledge, and Economy. In 2010, Alex launched the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship (Routledge) and currently serves as its Editor in Chief.

Teaching

Alex teaches a variety of courses on social entrepreneurship, social innovation, management and marketing.

He teaches undergraduates, MBA students, doctoral students and senior business executives.

Alex has developed numerous courses for the MBA and Executive MBA programmes as well as a suite of three impact focussed Executive Education courses: the Oxford Impact Investing Programme; the Oxford Impact Measurement Programme; the Oxford Social Finance Programme.

In his courses, Alex encourages students to learn and not just do, and to engage with theory and research. His interactive teaching style is well-received by his students and he mixes practice and scholarship to impart a deeper understanding of the subject matter.

Alex teaches:

  • Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation
  • Rethinking Business and Markets
  • Impact Investing
  • Social Finance
  • Impact Measuring and Management
  • Public Policy Innovation
  • Social Enterprise Design
  • Systems Thinking 
  • Ethical Consumption and Marketing
  • Impact Entrepreneurship

Oxford Answers

Thought-leadership and insights for business leaders written by our Faculty and Associate Fellows.

View articles by Alex.

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