Annual review introduction

Title banner with profile image of Peter Drobac, with quote "Treat the systems, not the symptoms"

Welcome to the Skoll Centre’s annual review.

A letter from the Director

Dear friends,

Welcome to the Skoll Centre’s annual review. Over the next ten articles, we share some of the work we are most proud of during the 2018-19 academic year, including the extraordinary people we are thankful for, and a few of the things we look forward to.

The past academic year at the Skoll Centre has been one of change and growth, but also focus. I want to highlight two key priorities that are building the foundation for the Centre’s future. First, build a world-beating portfolio of social impact education programmes to train the next generation of entrepreneurial change leaders globally. Second, advance the field by deepening our practical understanding of how to shift the systems underlying the world’s most pressing problems. To accomplish this, we have enjoyed a substantial influx of talent this past year and continued to leverage the extraordinary expertise from across the Oxford and Skoll communities.

In social impact education, we’ve been busy: the successful launch of Impact Lab, a one-year impact leadership programme for Oxford MBAs; an ambitious redesign and reframing of Oxford Saïd’s signature MBA and EMBA course, Global Threats and Opportunities, Oxford (GOTO); and a dramatic increase in our global impact through Map the System; and of course, continuing to support social entrepreneurs through our longer standing initiatives like the Skoll Scholarship.  

The inaugural Impact Lab was successful with 34 students participating, each learning the core competencies and knowledge required to be forces for change. And recently, following a competitive application process, 50 MBA students were inducted into the second Impact Lab cohort this past September. Several alumni from the first cohort will continue to engage with the Lab this year. Student co-creation is an important part of the Impact Lab, making sure that each cohort and participant gets the most out of the programme.  

Meanwhile, we laid the foundation for the Centre’s first major research programme, the Systems Change Observatory (SCO). Among those of us working to confront entrenched social and environmental challenges, there is a widespread recognition that incremental change is not enough. We need to address the root causes of the problem. As a medical doctor, I like to think of this as a move from treating the symptoms to treating the system. In our view, shifting systems is at the heart of what differentiates the social entrepreneur. Unfortunately, there’s no roadmap for systems change.

With the Systems Change Observatory, we aim to analyse the landscape of systems change drivers, to find commonalities in process and practices, and ultimately making systems change a more tangible concept for practitioners to learn from and replicate. It represents a unique collaboration with our friends at the Skoll Foundation and its extraordinary network of social entrepreneurs and is just the first step in building a knowledge hub around systems change. So stay tuned. 

It was a busy year and there are no signs of slowing down for 2019-20, but I couldn’t be more thankful to my hardworking and dedicated team, and to all those who help make our programmes possible.  We are, as ever, deeply grateful to our strategic partner, The Skoll Foundation, and our colleagues at Saïd Business School for their generous support, thought partnership and solidarity in service to our shared mission.

I hope you enjoy our reflections on a year in impact.

Peter Drobac 


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