A 28 year-old Vancouver man has started an online campaign asking people to donate $3 each towards his Oxford degree.

Brendan Baker, who has recently studied at Cambridge University, has been offered a place on the Said Business School’s social entrepreneurship MBA program but has estimated that his studies will cost $90,000. He hopes that if 30,000 people donate the suggested three dollars he will be able to take the course in the next academic year.

At the time of writing, Baker’s blog states that he has raised $9875 so far, approximately 1% of his proposed total. He has said that if he does not raise enough money to take the MBA, he will donate what he has been given to two charities. He has also said that if he takes the course and completes it successfully, he will cut up his degree and send each piece to people who helped fund his studies.

The Canadian man has garnered a lot of media interest in his home country, with articles appearing in local newspapers and interviews on radio stations in the area where he lives.

Baker spoke to Cherwell about his campaign in the following interview:

Cherwell: Explain your concept to us

Brendan Baker: My concept is simple – I’ve asked 30,000 people to help me get to Oxford, by donating $3 each. To do this I’ve set up a website (www.3bucksforbrendan.com) that helps people understand my background, philosophy and goals, and enables easy donations through paypal.

Cherwell: Why do you want to come to Oxford so much?

BB: I am fascinated in the way business can be used as a tool for social change. Throughout my brief career I’ve seen many opportunities to address some of our social challenges (and have worked directly to do this, including projects in West Africa with Engineers Without Borders and EnterpriseWorks). But personally, I see business (as opposed to NGOs or government/policy) as my avenue for impact. An MBA, particularly an intensive one-year program, is the best possible place to get effective tools to be successful in business. An MBA which focuses on social entrepreneurship, using these tools to address social goals, is even better and exactly what I need to be able to effect the change I want to during my career. Oxford’s Said Business School has very quickly built a strong lead in teaching social entrepreneurship in their MBA program. So the choice was easy, really.

Cherwell: How did you come up with the idea?

BB: Honestly, I was just throwing a Frisbee around. I had been accepted into Oxford’s MBA program, and had just learned that all 5 scholarships (for social entrepreneurs) had been allocated in the first two rounds (I applied in the third). So I was wondering how to fund it, without the expectation of a large paycheck afterwards. It just hit me (the idea, not the Frisbee!): why not ask a very large number of people for a very small amount of money. The opposite to what people are used to. And why not, at the same time, draw some attention to those organizations acting as social entrepreneurs everyday, that I have so much respect for (and which include Engineers Without Borders Canada, Doctors Without Border, Kiva.org and One Water).

Cherwell: Do you think it will work?

BB: It’s too early to tell whether it will get me to Oxford in October, but I think it might. That said, if I don’t make it, the money will go to two fantastic charities, so there’s really no downside. If I get to Oxford, then it has worked for me. If I don’t, then it was worked for many other people. So yes, it will.

Cherwell: Quite a large number of people have donated already – how does that make you feel? Does it reassure you about people’s generosity?

The fact that so many people have helped me out, with both donations and spreading the word, has been very humbling. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do this alone. But every time a notification of donation email arrives in my inbox, I am reminded of this again. With every donation has come the weight of expectation. Every 3, 10 or 100 dollars has reminded me that people expect me to do something very positive with the MBA afterwards. Donations from developing countries have come with notes of reminder that $3, while not a lot in Canada, is a lot of money in Malaysia, Zimbabwe or Nepal. It’s an interesting feeling I haven’t had so strongly before: the combination of gratitude, humility and massive expectation I feel from so many people. It’s powerful, and will help shape my future plans, at Oxford and afterwards.

Cherwell: What happens if you don’t raise the right amount? (What will you do with the money and will you get a job or do a course somewhere else?)

BB: If I don’t get to Oxford, the money will go to Engineers Without Borders (which I have been involved with for 5 years, and has shaped how I view and approach the world) and Medecins Sans Frontieres (which does as much as any organisation to convert people’s donations to help people truly need). One of the positive aspects of this campaign, hopefully, is that organisations like this can get a little more exposure, and maybe a few dollars. I strongly urge people, $3 to me or not, to check these organizations out and help them accomplish more great things, by opening up your pocketbook.

Whether I get to Oxford will not change my ultimate plans. I am still looking for a highly entrepreneurial atmosphere that seeks to blur the lines between business and nonprofits. I know of a few organisations doing this already, and have a handful of ideas of my own. If I get to Oxford, it will be my plan to explore this afterward. If not, then I’ll explore it in the next few months. I’ll also likely widen my applications a little next year if I don’t get to Oxford. I’m sold on Said Business School, but there are a handful of other good, socially-minded MBA programs elsewhere as well, mostly in the U.S.

Cherwell: You seem to be a very ethically-minded person – do you think the view you take on things should be adopted by more people?

BB: I’m not particularly interested in imposing my views on others. When asked whether Canadians (and British, to be sure) have a responsibility to be socially-minded or address developing world challenges, I don’t have an answer. I think it’s a personal decision. I feel I have accepted this responsibility, to an extent, but don’t feel the desire to impose this on others.
What I do think we have is the opportunity to address social challenges much more powerfully than we do now. Nowhere is this more true than in my own country of Canada. We have all the wealth and reputation to do much better, within our own borders and on the world stage. We have the opportunity to make much more of a difference, but now it is being largely wasted. I’m very thankful that I am Canadian, with the resources for an education to this point, health, stable and solid parents, and a world that largely embraces me based on my passport. Not everyone has this. So I have the opportunity to use these gifts for positive change. And I think, given a powerful vision and the right tools many others can see it as an opportunity as well, and contribute to changing their world for the better.

Cherwell: Fees for international students at Oxford are very high – students from the UK pay a fraction of the amount oversees students do – do you think that’s fair?

BB:In Canada we have disproportionately high tuition for international students as well. Is it fair? I don’t know that fair matters. I suppose it boils down to the mission of Oxford and Cambridge. If it is to spread knowledge among British and EU students, then why shouldn’t the fees be higher for me? If these schools see themselves as global educators, as seems increasingly to be the case, then maybe this disparity of fees should be reconsidered. I’m currently an MPhil student at Cambridge, where I have largely paid my fees out of pocket. Am I subsidising other students with my obnoxiously high fees? Of course. Did I know that as I signed up? Of course. Has the year been worthwhile? Without question. I do think an Oxford MBA will be worth the massive price tag, and have strived to convince many people of this in order to fundraise to get to Oxford, but in the end. If the donations don’t come through, the high cost will prevent me from attending, which I feel is both my loss and Oxford’s.

I know MBAs are also a huge moneymaker for the University. Oxford has its own challenges in managing its finances, so I can understand. I also know that, with the Skoll Scholarships at Said Business School and Cambridge Trusts at Cambridge, there are attempts to diffuse the costs for those that don’t necessarily expect a large salary afterwards. These are steps in the right direction.

Cherwell: Will you really cut up your degree and post bits of it to everyone who donated if you manage to get in?

BB: I will absolutely cut it up and send it to anyone who has helped me and wants a piece.