Professor Alex Nicholls MBA is the first tenured professor in social entrepreneurship appointed at the University of Oxford and was the first staff member of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in 2004. His research interests range across several key areas within social entrepreneurship and social innovation, including: social and impact investment; the nexus of relationships between accounting, accountability, and governance; public and social policy contexts; and Fair Trade.
To date Nicholls has published more than ninety papers, working papers, book chapters and articles and six books. Most appear in a wide range of peer reviewed journals and books, including five papers in Financial Times Top 30 journals. His 2009 paper on social investment won the Best Paper Award (Entrepreneurship) at the British Academy of Management. In 2010, Nicholls edited a Special Edition of Entrepreneurship, Theory and Practice on social entrepreneurship – the first time a top tier management journal had recognised the topic in this way. He is the General Editor of the Skoll Working Papers Series and the Editor of the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship.
Nicholls is also the co-author of a major research book on Fair Trade (with Charlotte Opal, Sage, 2005) and the editor of a collection of key 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, Nicholls published a co-edited volume on social innovation – the first scholarly book on the subject. In 2015, he published a co-edited volume on social finance (again, the first academic collection on the subject) and a new book on social innovation with NESTA. In 2018, Nicholls will publish a book examining the economics underpinnings of social innovation in the European Union (based upon a four year, 3 million Euro, EU funded research project for which he was the Principle Investigator: CRESSI). Nicholls next book project will be a monograph on the politics of social entrepreneurship and innovation globally.
Nicholls has held lectureships at a wide variety of academic institutions including: University of Toronto, Canada; Leeds Metropolitan University; University of Surrey; Aston Business School and the University of Oxford. He has been a Fellow of the Academy of Marketing Science and a Member of the Institute of Learning and Teaching. Nicholls also sat on the regional social enterprise expert group for the South East of England and is 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. He also 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.
Alex's research focuses on several key areas within social entrepreneurship and social innovation, including: the nexus of relationships between accounting, accountability and governance; public and social policy contexts of social entrepreneurship; impact investing; and Fair Trade.
Alex is the first researcher to provide a theoretical and empirical analysis of social impact reporting in social entrepreneurship. His research in this area suggests that social entrepreneurs use social impact reporting in a number of strategic ways to enhance their performance, access resources, and build organisational legitimacy. This work led to Alex’s development of a new conceptual model of social impact reporting– ‘Blended Value Accounting’ – that constitutes a spectrum of disclosure logics used by social entrepreneurs to access resources and realise organisational mission objectives with key stakeholders.
Alex is interested in the development of social impact investment as a market. His research explores how meaning is formed in this market and how this is reflected in emerging practice. Alex is a particular expert on Social Impact Bonds – co-authoring the first detailed case study on the subject in 2013. His 2015 book on Social Finance is the first scholarly book published specifically on this subject.
Alex has co-authored two reports entitled 'The Landscape of Social Impact Investment Research: Trends and Opportunities' and 'Universities, Research, and Building the Social Impact Investment Market: A Guide For Practice'
For the past decade, Alex has researched and written extensively on all aspects of Fair Trade. He is an internationally renowned scholar in the field and his work has furthered the industry’s understanding of the history, operational challenges and impacts of Fair Trade. Nicholls is the co-author of Fair Trade: Market Driven Ethical Consumption, the most cited and best-selling academic book on the subject globally.
Public and social policy contexts of social entrepreneurship
Alex is currently working on a new book via field research in Australia, Japan, South Korea, India and elsewhere comparing political processes of social entrepreneurship at multiple socio-structural levels within each country and by fields and across different country settings.
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 the Principle Investigator for the 4 year European Union funded CRESSI project focussing on the economic underpinnings of social innovation. 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 and is the General Editor of the Skoll Working Paper Series. In 2010, Alex launched the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship (Routledge) and currently serves as its Editor in Chief.
Alex teaches a variety of courses on social entrepreneurship, social innovation, management and marketing to undergraduates, MBA students, doctoral students and senior business executives. He 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 Program; the Oxford Impact Measurement Program; the Oxford Social Finance Program.
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.
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street