Map the System is a global competition hosted by the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s Said Business School aimed at helping social entrepreneurship and innovation programs rethink their business plan competitions by incentivizing problem and systems understanding. Prior to launching Map the System, the Skoll Centre had been offering students the opportunity to apply for start up funding, but that funding was only available to leadership teams where at least one member was a current Oxford MBA student. Oxford’s MBA is a one year program, so that meant students were being asked to excel in their intense one-year course work while also developing an investment ready business model. As a result, only a small number of teams applied for the funding, many with business models that were not grounded in a deep understanding of the problem. These teams might have been better suited to receive research or learning funds. With the knowledge that this problem was happening at innovation programs globally, the Skoll team adjusted their social venture funding to include a systems orientation and wider applicant pool, while also launching Map the System, inviting global organizations to join in this shift.
Rather than pitching a solution to a problem, Map the System invites participants to pitch their understanding of a challenge, the landscape of current solution efforts, and the gaps or areas of possible future leverage for systems change. The competition now runs at about 40 global institutions, inviting undergraduates, graduates, and life-long learners to learn about their chosen challenge. The winners from these global partner institutions come to Oxford to compete in the global final. While funding for the winning teams is provided at the final, and by some host institutions (such as the McConnell and Trico Foundations that fund Map the System across Canada), the ethos is that truly “winning” is about using this systems research to find a path into a high-impact career.