What if an MBA degree came with a real understanding of how to make social impact and support social entrepreneurship? The Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford puts this idea to work. Parvati Magazine spoke with Kathy Harvey, Associate Dean, MBA and Executive Degrees at Saïd, and Antonio Potenza, MBA, BBA, Executive Director at Aston Blackstone International LLC and a recent graduate of Saïd Business School.
Parvati Magazine: Social impact, social awareness and social entrepreneurship are not the first words one might associate with MBA programs. But they are key concepts for many Oxford MBA and Executive MBA (EMBA) alumni. What is the Oxford Saïd Business School doing differently and why?
Kathy Harvey: We see ourselves as part of a wider university community committed to investigating and solving world-scale challenges, and our students are partners in this. All our EMBA and MBA students take part in a project (Global Opportunities and Threats, Oxford – otherwise known as GOTO) which focuses on big issues such as climate change, the future of healthcare, demographic change, big data and the future of work. But this is just one example of how sustainability and the need for a responsible approach to business is part of our DNA. We teach a series of electives focusing on everything from the circular economy to inclusive business models and impact investing, and encourage our whole community to think about what it means to be a responsible leader in an age of global uncertainty and increased complexity.
Parvati Magazine: How does the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd influence students and faculty?
Kathy Harvey: The Skoll Centre is deeply embedded in the School and, as well as nurturing our Skoll scholars, conducts a number of conferences and workshops for students, giving them access to some of the world’s most impressive social entrepreneurs (through the Skoll Forum) and to the tools used by leading figures in this field to map ecosystems and drive change. We are fortunate to have the Skoll Centre based at Oxford Saïd, and its initiatives, such as the student-focused Emerge conference, add to our rich tapestry of conversations about business and society.
Parvati Magazine: After a successful career in investment banking and international corporate finance, you are now focused on social impact in emerging markets and fighting social injustice. Can you tell us about the moment when you realized you needed to make a change?
Antonio Potenza: Call me a person that “has the mind of an investment banker and the heart of a social worker”. I asked myself one day, “what’s your why?” I looked for more purposeful investments that had not just economic returns in their focus but also an environmental and social good.
Parvati Magazine: How has completing the Oxford Saïd EMBA changed your perspectives?
Antonio Potenza: I like to think that it has changed my, the planet’s and people’s perspectives! I can support them with my skills to implement projects that have people, planet and profits on their agenda. It helped me access a whole new universe of resources inside and outside the Oxford ecosystem.
Parvati Magazine: I understand you are planning a new project to support social enterprise. Can you tell us about that and how your EMBA prepared you to take on this challenge?
Antonio Potenza: Together with some classmates and other Oxford MBAs we are working to create an accelerator exclusively for social enterprises. We are planning our own Social Impact Fund and the creation of a media channel that will showcase these enterprises. Oxford has given us additional toolkits to assist those enterprises.
Antonio Potenza, MBA, BBA, Executive Director at AstonBlackstone International LLC has experience in sustainable investments in natural resources, investment banking, impact investments, social entrepreneurship, and organizational and business development. He is now focused on bridging the missing middle, devising social change in emerging markets and fighting social injustice.
Kathy Harvey is the Associate Dean, MBA and Executive Degrees at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. She is responsible for the School’s graduate management programmes, including academic partnerships, and the professional development of women students at Oxford Saïd. She also leads the Entrepreneurship Project for Saïd’s Executive MBA.