My memories of Hilary term will be with me for a long time. Yes, there was a nationwide lockdown. And between the lockdown and the cold, dark winter, it was hard to say which was more depressing. But there were happy moments, serene moments and 'aha!' moments. And these are the memories I will remember, even when the memories of walking through ghost-like Oxford have faded.
One memory stands out clearly: exchanging baby pictures with my GOTO (Global Opportunities and Threats: Oxford) team. There’s something about seeing your teammates as children that raises empathy; not an easy emotion to transmit via Zoom. But it was there. We were a motley crew (from Italy, China, Nigeria, the United States and England) and we tried our very best to make the best of the situation.
For our project, we mapped the systems driving air pollution in Lagos. I remember telling my interviewer how much I was looking forward to GOTO, and it was such a privilege to have some of the cleverest people I’ve met work on a problem affecting my home city. We took advantage of our proximity to the Oxford Martin School (perks of being a business school embedded in a world-class University!) to test our solutions with professors of sustainable urban planning.
At the end of term, we presented our recommendations to the leadership team of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency and I’m excited that our work will actually improve the living conditions of the state. I could never have imagined having that level of impact before now.
Another highlight was completing the virtual eight-week ‘School of Climate Change’ delivered by the Oxford Climate Society. I learned, for instance, that climate change had reduced the population of tsetse flies in parts of Africa, and that had reduced the mortality of cattle in the region (good news for the farmers!) It felt like the perfect complement to the ‘Capitalism in Debate’ classes we took on the MBA, where we debated the legitimacy of corporations to self-report their ESG outcomes.
I also spent the better part of the term collaborating with another team (all Nigerians) studying at the Blavatnik School of Government and the Department of Engineering Sciences. As part of the Map the System competition, we applied systems thinking tools to understand the factors inhibiting electricity supply to SMEs in Aba, a major hub for textile and leather manufacturing in South-East Nigeria. Our hypothesis was: SMEs employ the majority of Nigeria’s workforce and business owners often complain that a lack of electricity hampers their growth. How might we improve energy access for those businesses so that we could reduce Nigeria’s unemployment rate?
I tried to shift gears a bit, and focus on something unrelated to climate or energy for the Creative Destruction Lab. I collaborated with my teammate to complete market research, carry out customer segmentation and develop a go-to-market strategy for a startup focused on democratising access to digital twin technology. But even that work took a sustainability angle, when the founder team decided to focus on applying their technology to help cities meet their net-zero targets. The alignment with my GOTO project was uncanny; and it was a reminder that the line between business and social impact is blurring out.
When I reflect on why I came to Oxford, I realise that this really was my ambition. I wanted to improve my pattern recognition abilities, and the mental models through which I make sense of the world.
Do I have all the answers? No. Do I have better questions? Yes. Do I have a toolkit to begin to make sense of the questions? You bet. And it is this realisation I take with me from Hilary. There was a physical lockdown, yes. But there was also a mental opening up.