A handful of Royal Holloway Management students were presented with the opportunity to attend the Emerge Conference in November 2017 courtesy of the School of Management. Emerge is an annual conference which brings like-minded people together to discuss creative solutions to achieve a sustainable future. Hosted by The Skoll Centre at the University of Oxford Said Business School, the conference was undoubtedly one to remember. Early Saturday morning we made our way to Said Business School for the first day of the two-day conference.
Following the registration and the opening plenary, we branched off to our chosen seminars for some eye-opening discussions. This year’s conference focused heavily on the need for disruptive innovation and collaborative action towards the future we want to see. There were plenty of seminars to choose from with different themes such as the Circular Economy, Universal Basic Income and Virtual reality to name a few.
What I found most interesting was the concept of the Universal Basic Income (UBI). I had heard of it before but never paid much attention as it seemed rather ambitious, given the current global disparities between the rich and the poor. The UBI is an unconditional sum of money that is sufficient for one’s basic needs. Attending the session opened my eyes to the possibility of a functional UBI system. The UBI is not a fancy term for welfare but rather, a ‘fundamental basis from which people can build on’. The panelists suggested that providing everyone with a UBI would act as a security system for people during periods of unemployment, therefore resulting in reduced stress caused by lack of income. We further discussed how the UBI could catalyse entrepreneurialism as UBIs could be put towards startups. Although an ‘incremental approach’ was suggested when discussing ways to implement the UBI, I still don’t think it is a miracle solution for bridging the gap between the rich and the poor, however it is a step in the right direction towards poverty alleviation.
The evening of the first day ended in a heated debate about whether “Business is the best vehicle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals”. The convincing arguments made it difficult to stick our initial stances on the statement. One argument that stuck with us was Gib Bulloch’s argument that businesses cannot achieve SDGs because they act as ‘corporate sponsors of SDGs’ and that ‘a re-emergent and repurposed sector needs to be established’ (to achieve SDGs), perhaps a ‘4th sector’.
The next morning, we eagerly made our way back to Oxford for the second day of the conference. Hundreds of people spilled into the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre for the highly anticipated Emerge Pitch Competition. The competition invited social entrepreneurs to pitch sustainable business solutions to pressing issues we face today. Ape2O, Language Amigo and SafetyNet Technologies were amongst the collective of amazing social enterprises going for the cash prize.
Like Saturday, we grabbed our cups of coffee and headed for our chosen panel discussions for the day.
‘I think I enjoyed finding about the daily life of a venture capitalist and seeing businesses go head to head to raise capital and win the £2500 prize for their business. Alongside this, it was great to visit the University of Oxford Said Business School and explore Oxford during our lunch break at the emerge conference. Finally, it was great to meet others attendees and spend time with a great group of Royal Holloway students.’
The conference also provided us with ample opportunities to network and connect with attendees during coffee and lunch breaks. We often found ourselves standing in small circles discussing future project ideas and ways to apply the knowledge we’d gained from the panel discussions to our ideas.
‘Emerge was both academically and professionally stimulating. I thoroughly enjoyed the programme and found it very insightful and inspirational. Because of emerge I now have a better understanding of the career in management I want to pursue and how I might use to better society’
‘The Conference was a great event and surprised me above expectations. A real eye opening on new strategy and models for sustainable development. I met interesting people which I am still in contact with. I believe that Emerge is an event that students should participate in even if they are not part of the sustainability pathway.’
‘I found myself making connections with people from all over the world and from different career paths. I met students like myself, journalists and entrepreneurs, all buzzing to make a contribution towards a sustainable future. The topics we discussed were quite relevant and applicable to my final year modules that focus on sustainability and innovation!’
We would like to thank the School of Management for kindly sponsoring our trip to Emerge Conference!
Kamo Majingo, Tandza Simelane and Jonathan Zola