Last Tuesday, we woke to the news that Ineos, one of the world’s largest manufacturing companies, had donated £100m to Oxford, creating a new institute to fight antimicrobial resistance. Antimicrobial resistance (or AMR) is a growing, slow-burn pandemic, causing an estimated 1.5 million excess deaths each year. Estimates suggest that if we fail to act, it could kill more than 10 million people per year by 2050.
This gift is a very significant vote of confidence in Oxford’s ability to address major global issues and in our academics, and I would like to thank them and those in my teams – particularly Development and PAD – who made it possible.
I joined Oxford as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Development and External Affairs in November, a few days before the second lockdown. I was previously Vice President (Innovation) at Imperial College London and Professor of Innovation and Technology Management. As well as Development and PAD, my portfolio includes the North American, Hong Kong and Japan Offices, Alumni Relations and International Engagement. We have an exciting agenda, working with teams across the collegiate University to secure a number of new extraordinary gifts, engage with our 350,000 alumni and share news from Oxford around the world.
Among the items at the top of my list is finalising a new strategy for Development – Oxford’s approach to fundraising – by the end of March 2021. This will build on the success of the Oxford Thinking Campaign and enhance working effectively in a post-COVID world, an approach which all the teams have shown themselves to be adaptable in embracing.
We also want to deepen and broaden our digital interactions with those interested in supporting Oxford, and sharpen our focus on a newer cadre of donors, particularly from the digital sector. This is part of a much larger project to move the portfolio to a ‘digital by default’ approach. Whilst COVID-19 has brought many severe challenges, I am excited by the opportunities of the emerging post-COVID world. The portfolio has already shown itself adept at harnessing this shift, with a 700% increase in attendance at alumni events last year, and internally with a 10-fold increase in staff attendance at online fora.
Most crucially, we want to build on the ‘halo’ effect of the Ineos gift and Oxford’s extraordinary work to develop a COVID-19 vaccine – delivered in less than 9 months after the World Health Organisation announced the global pandemic. That is why our refreshed strategy will concentrate on the ‘Big Conversations’, those areas which deliver solutions to global problems, such as climate change, pandemic preparedness and what it means to be human. We shall seek funding to support the academic foundations that create knowledge for social progress, opening opportunities for more people to share in and learn from Oxford, its unique collections and its new ideas.
Closely linked to Oxford’s people is the embedding of an entrepreneurial mindset in our approach to everything we do. This goes well beyond what we immediately think of as entrepreneurship, such as the excellent work of the Oxford Foundry, the BioEscalator and Oxford University Innovation. It is about how we engage in developing, challenging and using knowledge entrepreneurship, from humanities, such as at TORCH, to medical sciences, such as in creating the vaccine collaboration with Astra Zeneca.
I have already met many people, albeit mostly virtually, both across the University and externally. Just last week I ran a webinar for around 200 of our alumni in North America and I was impressed by their energy and commitment to Oxford. It has been a strange time to join a new organisation and I have been struck by just how friendly and welcoming colleagues have been, for which I thank you. I look forward to working with you to deliver on our ambitious agenda.