Meet The Oxford Saïd MBA Skoll Scholars

CLAIRE MONGEAU: REIMAINIGING EDUCATION

Claire Mongeau, rising Oxford MBA

Claire Mongeau is a social entrepreneur whose curiosity has led her to co-found M-Shule, a mobile learning platform that combines artificial intelligence and SMS to support educators, parents, and African students.

“[In Africa] The classrooms are overcrowded, and teachers are undertrained. And so parents needed something better,” Mongeau tells Poets&Quants.

After living in India for a year through the IDEX Accelerator program, a fellowship that looked at social enterprise and education, and moving to Kenya to work in a chain of schools, she noticed the differences between the educational systems in the U.S. and other countries. After that, she spent time researching topics like adaptive learning, artificial intelligence, and education. Mongeau found that children don’t have access to smart devices, laptops, or connectivity. That’s how she idealized delivering quality education through text messages. “I was fortunate to [find] an incredible co-founder right at the beginning of the journey and get some initial support to build our prototype,” she says.

“I’m also coming from a lot of privilege being an American… and I think growing up in that environment, you just don’t have a lot of interaction direct interaction with how unjust, the world can be, honestly,” Mongeau contends.

Mongeau says that her time living in these countries allowed her to build an innovative mindset to improve and support low-income communities. Yet, there was some work to be done to expand her entrepreneurial impact project. That’s why she decided to apply to Saïd and become a Skoll Scholar.

“I realized that I needed to kind of put myself in a bit of a new environment while supporting my team here so that I could open myself to, you know, the bigger ideas and the big perspective and get the tools that I needed to continue to lead this company with my team in the right way.”

As someone who has lived in Kenya for seven years for Mongeau, being part of a university with a significant presence in Africa was a pivotal point when applying to business schools. “I wanted to make sure that the case studies or the context of what we’re learning in school were not just, like, just for the US, you know, or just were the UK that it was looking at what are these global problems and global solutions,” she says.

Now, as Mongeau joins the 2021 Saïd Business School class, she will continue to support and empower her team at M-Shule from afar. “[The time at Saïd] will unlock my ability to spend more time thinking about not just the three to six months but the three to five-year vision and coming up with the strategy and the support and resources that we need.”

ASHA SCARIA VETTOOR: ‘GROWTH COMES FROM EXPOSING ONESELF TO DIVERSE EXPERIENCES’

Asha Vettoor, rising Oxford MBA

It all started for Asha Vettoor right after college when she received her undergraduate degree from St. Xavier’s College in Statistics and immediately joined the Gandhi Fellowship looking to explore the social problems in rural areas of India to get out of her comfort zone.

Vettoor is an advocate of education, but she believes “growth comes from exposing oneself to diverse experiences.” That is precisely what she did through the Gandhi Fellowship; she spent two years in a tribal area where she was placed in government schools teaching English while figuring out the systemic problems affecting these communities.

Vettoor found a community of skilled women who focused on taking care of the house and their families. She then saw a growing opportunity for them to make a career without having to leave their home. She founded Swara, a fashion brand promoting sustainability and fighting back the fast fashion industry.

After the time living in these communities, she came up with Swara. This sustainable fashion brand employs women from villages in India, they tailor the garments, and the company provides them with creative autonomy and shorter work hours.

“Fashion is relatable because fashion is something we wear all the time. [There are] a lot of unethical things happening in the supply chain and affecting people badly.” Vettor said. “There are so many resources in rural areas to start a fashion brand.. you don’t need that much investment. Everyone has the skills.”

Victor wanted to provide a livable wage to these communities and creative space for the women she met at these villages.

“We want to be like a case study that it’s profitable to work with rural women and work with them ethically and provide for them,” says Vettooor.

Getting an MBA will provide her with enough tools to reach that goal and become a business model that other fashion brands can replicate. “We want to make sure that our social impact is not lost, as we scale up, that we have negotiated that we will transfer the money directly to the women’s account.”

Saïd Business School is the only MBA school Vettoor applied to since it felt that the Center for Social Entrepreneurship would give her enough tools to grow Swara. “Oxford gives you the lens or like the empathy, or the soft skills required to do it, scale things up, actually run a business, while also changing the world,” says Vettoor.

The operations at Swara is the first exposure Vettoor had to anything related to business as she specialized in a different field in college. “I’m very passionate about change, but I wasn’t sure if I qualify for it like with my limited experience.” But instead, Oxford also awarded her with the Laidlaw Scholarship to support funding while attending Saïd.

Vettoor hopes Swara will keep growing alongside her team while she obtains her MBA.

TAKEAWAYS FROM 4 LEADERS IN SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

As individuals who come from nontraditional business backgrounds, the four Skoll Scholars of the Oxford Saïd MBA Class of 2022 laid out a few things they’ve learned along the way.

For Ashraf Mizo, it has been all about trusting yourself and innovating. “I felt that it’s, it can be quite intimidating being in that sort of group of highly achieved individuals, and some of the smartest people in the world right, and you get a sense of that imposter syndrome creeping on you. But now, I am sort of embracing the journey and preparing for it. That aspect of it’s okay to fail, and it’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay not to know things,” Mizo tells Poets&Quants.

Taku Machirori’s message is: Never give up. “I didn’t have good grades. No employer would take me. Of course, no university would also take me. I try to figure out how to survive in a volatile economy. And so, at that time, it was a whirlwind of really having a suffocating feeling of not knowing what’s going to happen. When you look at that in contrast to going into Oxford, it’s like two different worlds,” Michirori reflects on his journey that led him to Saïd.

Having a mentor can ease the process; Claire Mongeneau looked up to female mentors when struggling with entrepreneurship insecurities. “Each of them could really give me some really good practical advice, and also relevant to being a woman in business…I think by being kind of open from the beginning and willing to you know to be told or not be told they’d be given feedback on your ideas from women who understand, I’m really allowed me to grow and build those connections really early on,” Mongeneau says – and which considers an essential piece to start a career in any area.

Asha Vettoor believes that you can do it if you want to develop an organization or initiative, even if you have no prior experience in business or management. “I realized that I like working with the community, and that’s how I ended up switching from this education impact space to livelihood, and fashion was a very, the idea [and] like one of the solutions came about.”

There are a handful of remarkable stories of social entrepreneurs creating innovative ways to fight adversity in their countries. While receiving proper training at a prestigious university and MBA program is a valuable foundation in their journey, the stories of these young entrepreneurs intersect in one aspect: creativity and motivation to improve and solve problems in their communities.

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