By Saxton Bampfylde


Stephan Chambers talks about the founding principles of the Marshall Institute at LSE, why there is a need for greater channelling of private resources and philanthropic activity to deliver more public benefits, and the role of universities in taking this forward. 

Could you please tell us more about the origins of the Marshall Institute and why and how it began at LSE?

Our two founders, Paul Marshall and Tom Hughes-Hallett, really developed the idea about three years ago. Each had a slightly different perspective on the same set of questions. Both were interested in how we improve the state of the world using private resources – that is time, ideas and money, and private-sector techniques.

Paul was particularly interested in the role of entrepreneurs and what might be classed as ‘venture based’ philanthropic activity and Tom was particularly interested in the role of philanthropy - how foundations, individuals and charities make a difference in the world. Both were struck by how little understood this area is and how peripheral it is to the mainstream research agendas at major universities.

The questioning and considerations which led to the establishment of the Marshall Institute included: ‘What would happen if we thought a bit harder about market failures and state failures? What would happen if we tilted the way we teach really clever people to engage with the world? How would this benefit society if we tilted this teaching and thinking more in favour of creating, measuring and sustaining social purpose as well as financial return?’

They approached LSE, as they considered it to be the world’s best social science institution, with these thoughts and founding questions. The LSE responded with ‘Yes, great! We like that.’ The result was the Marshall Institute.


As the inaugural Director can you outline some of your goals, aims and hopes that you have within this role, and more widely for the Institute?

I want the Institute to be the leading group in the world thinking about, teaching about and convening around private investments for public benefit. By private I mean non-state funded, and by public benefit I mean measurable, sustainable return for the world in the form of equity, justice, eradication of poverty, disease, and ultimately improvement in the quality of life for all.

It is an extraordinary privilege to be given a platform by an institution like the LSE and a donor like Paul Marshall to establish this Institute. Being able to bring together groups of very clever people to think really hard about some of the world’s toughest problems and to help advance some of these questions and, eventually, the answers, is a challenge I am delighted to take on.

It is a privilege given to very few people, and this is the second time in my life that I have attempted to do something a bit like this. Most people don’t even get one run at it, so I consider myself to be enormously fortunate to do work at the LSE that builds on work which I carried out at Oxford over the last 20 years.


Can you outline why you believe that philanthropy and social entrepreneurship are such important areas of focus for academic study. Can you provide examples of how the Institute’s work could impact in the UK and beyond?

We live in a world where the state and markets are both manifestly failing. The two big bets for the developed world have proved themselves inadequate to many of the challenges of globalisation and global justice.

The Institute’s core theme ‘private action for public benefit’ reflects the thinking that markets are about capital, risk and innovation for private benefit, and states are about mobilising public resources for public benefit. The question of what private resources for public benefit would look like becomes extremely interesting if you start from the premise that there is market failure and state failure and we need to think differently about how we address this.

Quite honestly, there has to be some way for rejigging the relationship between those two things. We believe this can be done by taking the very best of market thinking, incentives, competition and innovation, and harnessing them to some of the biggest questions we need to answer.

I think if you try to define philanthropy and social entrepreneurship as the allocation of people, ideas and capital at risk and how we can work through that to solve social problems then we have a fairly crucial set of questions that we are asking.

Do you believe that the connection between business and commerce and the Higher Education sector is intrinsic? Have they become more important to each other in recent history, and if so, do you believe this will continue?

I think there are two or three areas to highlight here. One is that universities are attempting to diversify their funding resources so they are more interested in the commercialisation of work that goes on internally within their institutions.

However, the real answer to this question is that the most important threats we currently face are incredibly complicated. They either involve very, very complex levels of technology; engineering; or health innovations; or they are so over-determined as to be not understandable or solvable by single agencies. This does mean that universities are now most definitely places where smart people thinking, researching and teaching in and between disciplines on the hardest topics have become indispensable to acting in the world.

It is impossible to imagine modern financial services without modern finance theory. It is impossible to imagine modern manufacturing without modern engineering. It is impossible to understand modern medicine without the research base which sits underneath it. Ultimately, universities have moved from being places where research is relatively discrete to places where research matters for the state of the world and that has happened very fast.
The Institute has three specific areas of focus – Research, Teaching and Convening. Can you explain a bit about why each of these is important? Is one more important than the others?

One is not more important than the others. You can’t teach without an underlying base of research, as you would not be honouring your students teaching them something which is baseless. You can’t do meaningful research about the world without being in the world.

So, our position is very straightforward. There is a necessary and very virtuous circle between research where people investigate the causes of things, practice or convening together where the causes of things are manifest, and teaching where the results of that interaction between the world and research get crystallised into evidence.

Can you tell us more about the key programmes that have been launched by the Institute, including what and why they are focusing on certain areas?

We believe very strongly that the second half of the 20th century was dominated by the need to produce people who could run large complex international organisations with complicated balance sheets. We believe that the needs of the 21st century are radically different.

We need to produce generations of people who are comfortable with globalisation, across cultures with technology and, in particular, with the question of social return on investment as well as financial return on investment. We are committed to building a graduate programme that will educate the leaders of the future addressing those complex sets of questions. 
We are trying to create a revolution in higher education to deliver this. Very specifically we will launch an executive masters programme in autumn 2018 which is aimed at inspiring and educating mid-career professionals to understand and demonstrate leadership roles in those circumstances.


What other countries or institutions are we able to learn more from in the field of social philanthropy and entrepreneurship?

There are distinguished institutions looking at the area of social entrepreneurship and thinking hard about philanthropy. I would make special mention of the work done at Stanford in philanthropy or the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford as inspiring examples of people thinking hard about these questions already.

We have spent too long operating in a system which believes the ‘centre’ knows all the answers, and the customer or the beneficiary does not. Wisdom in these things is normally distributed and certainly doesn’t exist only at the centre.

In society we are seemingly committed to a kind of institutional modesty that says that the answer is almost always better internalised by the people who are dealing with the problem than the people who sit away from the problem.

Anyone or anything that claims to be the only source of the answers can be guaranteed not to have the answers. Collaboration, communication and exploring of solutions through partnership is our founding philosophy.


Are there sectors or particular industries which you and the Institute are looking to for inspiration and opportunities to collaborate with?

It remains to be seen whether we have vertical concentrations, for example in professional services, public health or education. However, it is clearly the case that we will have expertise in generic positions.

We are very interested in risk capital for public benefit and the world of social investment. We are very interested in the shape, direction, practice and governance of large organised philanthropic capital. We are focused on the governance question of public benefit returns and the reporting around double and triple bottom lines. We are also very interested in the philosophical and political economic questions about whether hybrid structures (mutual being a good example) that sit somewhere between a straight market and state solutions work better.

While we are less interested across verticals there may be some sectors with exceptions, for example around data and the use of private data for public benefit.

And finally, you have talked about the changing motivations of executives in leadership positions. Do you think there is a greater influence in this area around the question and meaning of leadership and its relationship with social purpose?

If I had been talking to you 20 years ago, money, status and good opinion of one’s peers would have been the most likely driving factors in the desire and success of leadership. However, today I would predict that close to 100 % of those at senior level would include priorities such as the state of the world, the need for meaning in their own private lives, and something more closely aligned to a philosophical justification for their activities.

What is happening at the Marshall Institute is just one indication that these questions of purpose, justice, altruism, common humanity and threat are now profoundly embedded in most people’s thinking.


Stephan Chambers is the inaugural director of the Marshall Institute at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He was previously Chair of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, a co-founder of the Skoll World Forum, Director of International Strategy at Sa—ód Business School, and Senior Research Fellow at Lincoln College Oxford. He sits on the advisory board of Princeton University Press and is a director of the Britdoc Foundation, the Dartington Trust, the University of the People, and the Dragon School. He writes a regular column on entrepreneurship for the Financial Times. In 2014 he was special advisor to Larry Brilliant and Jeff Skoll at the Skoll Global Threats Fund in California.

He teaches entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, venture capital, and entrepreneurial finance. From 2000 to 2014 he directed Oxford’s MBA, overseeing its rise in international influence and rankings. In addition he was the founding director of Oxford’s Executive MBA and helped to found Oxford’s Man Institute for Quantitative Finance. He also established the University’s advisory board for the National Audit Office and currently serves as a reviewer of NAO reports. He chaired the inaugural ‘Shaping Davos’ panel (on public-private partnerships) at the World Economic Forum in January 2015 and initiated the Global Shapers Oxford collaboration.

Stephan served as Chairman and as an independent director of IWA Publishing from November 2006 to September 2013. From 1985 to 2000 he worked at Blackwell Publishing as, variously, the firm’s philosophy editor, humanities and social sciences publisher, and editorial director. He served on the firm’s board until 2000 and was chief executive of its US operation from 1992 to 1995.

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