Partner Sites

Logo BusinessBecause - The business school voice
mobile search icon

Why Social Entrepreneurship Is Key To Global Change

The University of Oxford Saïd’s Skoll Centre is leading the way in a groundbreaking field, combining entrepreneurship with positive social change


Tue May 1 2018

Can social innovation directed by market forces bring about positive global change?

The World Inequality Report for 2018 indicates that inequality is on the rise in almost every region of the world, with the global top 1% of earners capturing twice as much of growth since 1980 as the 50% of poorest individuals in the world.

The World Bank's most recent estimates show that one in 10 people in the world live under the $1.90 international poverty line. Around 83 million people across 45 countries require emergency food assistance, expected to rise by at least 20% over the next 15 years.

Healthy labor markets are important for economic development, yet today 60% of young people aged 15-to-24 are without a job. If social problems don't convey a bleak enough state of affairs, figures from 2017 show that after three years of levelling off, CO2 emissions are increasing once more.

Overwhelming, right?

In these circumstances, one can justifiably expect international bodies to mobilize resources and...

s these pressing global issues. Many, however, have argued that development aid negatively impacts recipient countries' economies due to fragmented delivery systems and reduction of state policy space.

In this disarray, one concept has felt like the eureka moment of many of the brightest minds in the development field—social enterprise.

Innovation & Social Change

Social enterprise places a social mission at the heart of ventures competing in the market. It aims to interlock the characteristic innovativeness of the market and its profit-making drive, with concrete problems holding back society today.

The Skoll Foundation, established in 1999, is one of the leading organizations in the social entrepreneurship space. It has invested $400 million dollars worldwide in social ventures; in 2011, one-third of Forbes's 'Top Social Entrepreneurs' were Skoll awardees.

In 2003, the Skoll Foundation partnered with Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford to establish the school’s social impact center, The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

"One of the central tenets of social entrepreneurship is system change, or disrupting a status-quo that is unfair or unjust and leads to marginalization,” explains Peter Drobac, the new director of the Skoll Centre.


“A loss of trust in leaders has been fostered today by increasing inequality and social divisions. There is a real opportunity for this leadership vacuum to be met by innovators coming from the private sector bringing new ideas and solutions."

Macarena Hernández de Obeso—Oxford Saïd MBA, Skoll scholarship recipient, and social entrepreneur from Mexico—is co-founder of Language Amigo, a social venture that connects university students learning Spanish with Latin American youth in search of employment.

"All social problems are systemic problems," Macarena says. "They are inter-related. As an entrepreneur, you are used to reacting fast to changing conditions. That adaptable mindset is very important for solving complex social problems."

Charity Vs. Social Enterprise

Ahmed Abu Bakr, a graduate of Saïd Business School, co-founded Jeeon—a company that seeks to deliver quality healthcare to the rural poor in Bangladesh. He explains that aid volatility creates an unsustainable environment for many social impact driven organizations.

"We always wanted to solve a social problem, and we could do that by either depending on donor funding or in a more sustainable way.

“Why choose the sustainable way? There are hypes around social issues which influence the flow of donor funding. Resources become available at certain periods of time for particular issues, and eventually are redirected to others.

“It doesn't make sense to start something new and not have funds a few years down the line when you've actually started creating impact on a large-scale. It's important to make sure that social problems are being solved independently of the priorities of global aid."


Macarena, on a previous project helping disadvantaged women become entrepreneurs, faced issues attracting funding. “We weren't a market need,” she says. “We were solving a social problem without a market force and so we found it difficult to scale.

“On the other hand, in the case of Language Amigo there is a clear market problem we are solving while also addressing a social issue. Tapping into these market opportunities that help solve a social problem make an enterprise scalable."

The Skoll Centre & Oxford Saïd

The Skoll Centre’s partnership with Oxford Saïd provides a training ground for MBA students, preparing them to become game-changers in the social impact space. Students test out their ideas and are connected with NGOs, policy-makers, fellow entrepreneurs, and potential investors.

James Dickson, an Oxford Saïd student heavily involved in the Skoll Centre, says an MBA is all about experiential learning. "We have courses where we bring very academic ideas to life,” he says.

“That kind of 'living through' the problem and being 'inside the idea' is something that the school really emphasizes."

Peter agrees: "MBAs are about doing. The course equips young leaders with the tools to build high performing organizations."

While the idea of social entrepreneurship might still be nascent in international development discourse, its essence presents a powerful challenge to how we view business and society today.

In the meantime, institutions such as the Skoll Centre are connecting passionate and sharp minds in the field to pave the way.