OPHI and Oxford University launch social enterprise to help business fight poverty

26 March, 2019

Researchers from the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (OPHI) at ODID have launched sOPHIa Oxford, the University’s first social enterprise spinout, to help businesses track and tackle multidimensional poverty among their employees and their families, their contractors and in their supply chains.

sOPHIa Oxford has an exclusive worldwide licence to the Business Multidimensional Poverty Index (bMPI), developed by OPHI in partnership with business association Horizonte Positivo. Drawing on the pioneering work on multidimensional measurement of poverty led by OPHI Director Professor Sabina Alkire, bMPI measures poverty in its many dimensions, analysing not just who is poor in the business but how poor they are and the multitude of factors keeping them in poverty.

Based on the Alkire Foster method developed in OPHI’s National MPI, the bMPI uses a multidimensional poverty survey approach that aligns with national measures, facilitating coordination with government efforts to end poverty. The approach enables companies to see what issues need tackling, how to prioritise a response and redirect resources for better impact and verify change in people’s lives. Both the National MPI and the business MPI use the same indicators of poverty, facilitating public-private partnerships.

According to the 2018 United Nations Development Programme/OPHI Global Multidimensional Index Report 2018, 1.3 billion people live in multidimensional poverty, the vast majority concentrated in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. In time, the business MPI could be a powerful tool, in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal One of ending poverty in all its dimensions.

sOPHIa’s goal is to provide businesses with tools to measure and respond to poverty amongst their employees and their families, contractors, and in their supply chain. In addition, sOPHIa plans to offer companies the ability to be audited to verify that they have met standards in implementing the bMPI and programs to impact the poverty of employees. Companies meeting the standards will receive a seal to demonstrate their commitment to ending poverty.

Since 2014, OPHI had partnered with Horizonte Positivo to help the Costa Rican Government develop its National MPI, with the bMPI following in 2017 with a launch in Costa Rica. The bMPI initiative began when the Chairman of BAC Credomatic Bank, Costa Rica, Ernesto Castegnaro, asked at a meeting of the Horizonte Positivo Board, if there might be any multidimensional poverty in his bank and an initial survey revealed more employee household poverty than expected. The same result was received in two other pilot companies, Purdy Motors, Costa Rica’s Toyota dealer and the public relations agency CCK Central America. Horizonte Positivo then tested and applied the bMPI in the private sector. Horizonte Positivo now provides assistance to 39 companies involved across business sectors of Costa Rica. 

sOPHIa is currently being funded from individuals in the UK and USA and in Costa Rica to date the bMPI is funded by fees from companies. The Costa Rica program expects to work with 100 companies in 2019.

'We are particularly proud of our initiatives to eradicate poverty within our staff and reduce it significantly in our country,' said Federico Odio, Country Manager of BAC Credomatic Costa Rica. 'BAC Credomatic was the first bank in the world to apply Oxford’s Multidimensional Poverty Index with its staff, identifying that 12 percent of them were living under poverty conditions. BAC Possibilities is a program designed by the bank to eradicate poverty within its staff. It consists of subsidised loans—supported by donations from its own managers; psychological support; financial coaching, and a care network for elderly, disabled or very young family members. The bank hopes that this program will be exported to its corporate clients so that they, in turn, can eradicate poverty within their staffs and have significant impacts on the financial wellbeing of the country’s population'.

'Corporate leaders pursuing purpose and profits want objective measures to be able to manage against and be efficient as they respond to poverty within their companies,' said Jamie Coats, President of sOPHIa Oxford. 'The Oxford University-developed Business Multidimensional Poverty Index is a new tool for company information systems to help align corporate values and operations. In Costa Rica we have seen it be both effective and inspiring for employees and managers'.

The creation of sOPHIa Oxford and its licence from Oxford were supported by the ODID and the University’s innovation arm, Oxford University Innovation (OUI). OUI launched the social enterprise option in September 2018 to offer Oxford’s academics the opportunity to create companies which put people before profit. Since the launch of the programme, OUI has rapidly built up a pipeline of 30 social enterprises which it intends to launch over the coming months and years.

sOPHIa Oxford is receiving probono legal support from the Boston based law firm Goulston & Storrs.

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