On the subject of strong ties...

4 minute read
Students in class

I am writing this on the eve of A-Level results day, and I have an 18-year-old daughter who is anxious about tomorrow. What I am thinking about is how, whatever plan comes together tomorrow, she is about to embark on one of the most formative adventures of a lifetime. And having finished my Oxford Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation (final scores out last month), I can confirm that the university journey – my third, I confess – has been an amazing one.

Originally on a quest to undertake career development, I sought a stretching course that incorporated in-person networking. Oxford’s Executive Diploma in Strategy and Innovation had a creatively focused course structure and provided a rich source of diverse peer-to-peer networks beyond the immediate cohort.

As with such things, the executive diploma was hard work but worthwhile. The reading lists are extensive and to be completed in compressed periods of time ahead of each module. (I think we would all attest to the fact that reading time was further compressed by the previous course exam assignments and, well, our day jobs.) I’ll admit that I needed to retrain my brain slightly to read the more academic papers. But having the space and time to read these and, importantly, discuss them in the lecture theatre with others was brilliant both in terms of learning and enjoyment. The days were long and intense and, for most of us, included trying to fend off day job tasks in breaks, but it was easy to get carried through by the energy of the class and the stimulating content.

But let me take a step back. I knew investment beyond time would be required for the course, so availability of a Women’s Scholarship really influenced my decision to apply to Oxford over other institutions. The application process was straightforward forward and my experience in gender diversity work, as well as my day job, gave me the substance for the essays required.

An 18-year-old me did a little dance when I got the letter of the scholarship award from Oxford. Throughout the process, the Oxford team was helpful and supportive – a service level that was matched throughout my time (and many queries) on the course. I hope that, through my continued work in equality, diversity and inclusion, I can use my experience on the executive diploma to pay the award forward to others.

The course delivered in terms of breadth of topics on strategy and innovation and in building on what I already practise at work, with a wide range of new topics and leading-edge thinking. It has challenged me in my outlook and delivery. Importantly it has created a formal and structured vocabulary around markets emerging and established, and given me a new suite of practical frameworks. The final integrative assignment was an excellent opportunity to examine and apply the learnings for the benefit of the charitable trust I hold a non-executive director position for. I know I, and others, will use the learning with purpose for both non-profit and voluntary work as well as our corporate roles.

But the real gold of this course is in the people, to whom I send wholehearted thanks. The cohort. The lecturers. The support team. Through the excellent lectures augmented by thought-provoking and honest debate, I have learnt about the very real applications of new frameworks and tools in my own, adjacent and disparate industries. 

Discussing ideas with peers and academics brought the course alive. I don’t think I have ever met a group of people truer to the spirit of being collaborative and who were so inclusive, approachable and who lived the value that we are stronger together.

And what of working under Covid-19? The necessary transition of two of the four modules online was excellently handled by the team, lecturers and cohort alike. We made the best of it. To the lecturers and peers in AsiaPac and the US West Coast who participated while the sun rose behind them, hats off to you. To the class reps who worked tirelessly to make our voices heard – we are indebted to you.

So now we look forward to being reunited at graduation, where we can finally wear our sub fusc. I can’t believe how lucky I am to have met such an inspirational group of people. I’m looking forward to seeing what everyone does next.