The learning curve of the DPhil

4 minute read

During the Masters degree that I did at Bocconi University, I remained fascinated by a handful of Italian social entrepreneurs that I interviewed for a voluntary project. Realising that what I had learnt in a business school could be put at the service of making the world a better place, instead of at the service of making profits, was a big eye opener. I considered whether to become an entrepreneur myself, but I did not think I would have what it takes – in particular, the networking and communication skills that are vital to attract the initial talent and funds. Therefore, I decided that the best I could do was to study social entrepreneurship. I had always been a sort of a book worm and I could see myself helping social entrepreneurs from the 'outside', producing valuable knowledge for them.

This is why and how I landed at Saïd Business School. I can’t claim that I had a clear idea or research question when I first joined the DPhil programme. In hindsight, there is a lot that I would change in my research and research approach if I could do that all over again, but this is part of the learning curve of a PhD programme. Nonetheless, the contacts and experiences I made during my DPhil, the organisations I was exposed to such as the Skoll Foundation, and all the 'wrong' questions I asked in the interviews I conducted for my research, played a key role in enhancing my understanding of social entrepreneurship. They also enhanced my communication skills, put me in touch with inspiring people and scholars, and helped me to explore the beauty and complexity of systems thinking.

All of this opened a whole new world of opportunities for me and took me into places and directions I would have never anticipated. First, I attempted to become a social entrepreneur myself, but that ended in a half disaster as, sadly, several start-ups do. That disaster, however, made me understand that a traditional academic career was not for me. I was craving too much for immediate 'impact' and for supporting the connection between academic knowledge and practice.

After a couple of years, various positions in academic institutions, and experiments at freelancing, I finally found what I was looking for – creating impact through teaching, consulting and training. With the help of the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, I managed to write a textbook on social entrepreneurship, aimed to support all the aspiring social entrepreneurs from all over the world that I have been teaching on the Social Entrepreneurship online course delivered by the Oxford Department of Continuing Education. Its publication in 2022 was a like a dream come true and, even more so, was discovering that the book was actually used by students around the world. Seeing the presentations of ideas for healthcare-focused social enterprises that US students developed with the help of my book was definitely a highlight of my career as professional educator.

Two years ago, I also ended up at the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, where I now get to develop courses and content on how to create sustainable businesses, and where I have had already several opportunities for impact. For example, I supervise research projects of working professionals, who leverage their academic assignments to understand how to best drive change in their own organisation or industry. Additionally, last month, in a first for the University of Cambridge, I was part of the team that launched a fully flexible route to obtaining a Master’s degree in Sustainability Leadership. This will make learning opportunities more accessible to students who need more flexibility to combine their studies with their work or who cannot afford to pay for the full cost of an MSt degree over the span of just two years.

These recent successes have helped me to be nominated Supernova of 2023 for Italy, topping a list of 111 top Italian talents under 35 created every year by the international talent agency Nova. Leveraging the confidence provided by these recent successes, I now look forward to keeping on growing my network and supporting more and more business leaders, through both teaching and advisory, in realising the sustainable businesses and social enterprises that are desperately needed for a better future.