It took centuries for the University of Oxford to become one of the world’s premier universities. It only took the Saïd Business School two decades to do the same. That’s how the joke goes. It may sound counterintuitive, but if you want to find the most contemporary MBA program, your best bet is to travel through the rolling hills and cobblestone roads to reach Oxford University.
Dismiss the Oxford image of dawn rowing, afternoon rugby, and formal sunset dinners. Here, you’ll find students from 51 nations – with the 2018 class boasting 41% women. Elite, cosmopolitan, and mission-driven, Saïd MBA candidates come to Oxford with a clear mandate: Change the world.
Saïd may be a business school, but you’ll find business treated as a means to close gaps and increase access and opportunities – often on a global scale. One of the chief tools is entrepreneurship – with the goal to disrupt existing markets through lower costs and greater options – often through leveraging technology. Off Grid Electric, which launched in 2012, is an example. It offers discount solar energy on a pre-paid basis in Tanzania, a boon to the rural poor who often lack access to electricity.
Not surprisingly you’ll find many Saïd discussions tethered to a much larger picture, often involving large scale issues like poverty and climate change. “Businesses — and their resources that are often greater than government, nonprofit, and non-government organizations — can step up and fill spaces left by current organizations tackling society’s toughest issues,” explains Peter Drobac, who heads the school’s acclaimed Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. “Businesses have the resources, commitment to innovation, and practice of measurement and continuous improvement that are too often lacking in governments and nonprofits. Business is also uniquely positioned to scale and spread effective solutions across borders.”
If politics is personal, then entrepreneurship is social. At Saïd, it is an instrument to build community, identify solutions, marshal resources, and galvanize action. In fact, 20% of graduates, on average, enter the startup and social impact sectors. The Skoll Centre is a big part of that. Think of it as the gravitational pull that brings together students, faculty, and alumni from across Oxford to engage in interdisciplinary collaborations that often spin out new ventures. In 2017, the school doubled down on its entrepreneurial investment by opening the Oxford Foundry, an incubator that supports the growth of ventures designed to address “world scale challenges.”
It may sound like a tall order, but it is really just an extension of Oxford’s “Dominus illuminatio mea” mission to shine the light for others to follow. The kinds of investments that Saïd is making often take a generation to germinate. When they do, you can expect them to be spectacular indeed.