This post is part of our Social Enterprise Initiative 25th anniversary blog series, which highlights some of the faculty, staff, students, and alumni who have been a part of SEI throughout the years. In this post, Laura Oller (MBA/MPP 2019) describes the social impact she seeks to have in the world and shares her vision for the future of social enterprise at HBS.
How would you describe the social impact you seek to have in the world?
I hope to help improve our ability to respond to the global challenges of our times. We live in an inescapably interconnected world. Our fates are intertwined. Poverty, international development, conflict, terrorism, migration, and climate change are products of dynamics that go far beyond national borders. Nevertheless, our current global governance mechanisms were mainly designed in a post-Second World War context and are unable to provide satisfactory solutions to the collective challenges of our times. We need to update global governance mechanisms to the reality of the 21st century.
In this ever-changing world, with higher urbanization rates than ever and more mobile devices than people, technology and innovation can be powerful allies in responding to global challenges. Nevertheless, the promise of unlocking the power of tech for good at scale is still to be fulfilled, and access to technology is very unevenly distributed. Furthermore, it is important to recognize the importance of the private sector and of civil society as enablers of solutions. Instead of solely relying on governments, having people and organizations from different sectors working together towards a common goal can make previously impossible solutions accessible. Leveraging the potential of technology and partnerships, I hope to help reimagine how we can work together to tackle the complex challenges of our times, building a more sustainable, prosperous, inclusive, and peaceful global society.
What has your connection been to SEI?
SEI has been an essential part of my HBS experience. It has enabled me to explore two different channels for making progress towards global challenges: multilateral organizations and start-ups.
First, thanks to the Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship, I had two internships internship at the United Nations. I worked with UN Development Programme’s innovation team in New York, and the human rights team of the peacebuilding mission to Guinea-Bissau. Those experiences were critical to better understand different dimensions of the UN. I witnessed at the same time the major challenges of coordination and implementation of solutions, and the enormous potential of catalyzing change and promoting development and peace.
Second, the HBS New Venture Competition was an incredible source of support and inspiration to launch Dignify, a start-up I co-founded with colleagues in response to the refugee crisis. Dignify is a managed freelance platform that connects the displaced and their economically marginalized hosts to the global economy through outsourced digital work, enabling access to income and skills development. Participating in the New Venture Competition helped us structure our pitch, gather valuable feedback, and contact mentors and experts in the social enterprise space.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for social enterprise at HBS?
I see a great opportunity for HBS to be ahead of the curve on making social enterprise mainstream. The social challenges of our times are urgent, and governments won’t be able to tackle them on their own. As signalized by Larry Fink’s letter to CEOs, the private sector is progressively stepping up and understanding that “to prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.” HBS has been playing a critical role in educating leaders who make a difference in the world, and SEI is a wonderful asset to prepare managers for this new context.
Engaging with SEI, their incredible resources and inspiring people, has been a true privilege. For me, it not only opened doors but opened new horizons. It inspired and challenged me at the same time. Moving forward, I truly hope this opportunity reaches not only those already interested in social enterprise, but all students.