Keynote Speakers

Ben Nelson. Minerva (USA)

Rethinking Higher Education

Ben Nelson

Universities today are under an enormous amount of criticism and pressure -- and much of it is justified.  The educational system we have come to accept is one with a more lackadaisical approach than those in the past. Many educational institutions still adhere to the structures and models developed in the 17th and 18th centuries, instead of evolving in response to new challenges and changing needs. With the accelerating costs of higher education and the rising demands for an educated work force, our educational models must adapt and advance if we are to secure a brighter future.

Ben Nelson’s frustration with his own undergraduate experience led to a determination to reform and develop a new approach to higher education. How can we hold accountable all educational institutions to fulfill their responsibility to prepare students with the intellectual foundation and practical skills that will serve them as graduates and in the jobs of the future? How might we ensure higher education nurtures critical wisdom, so that graduates are prepared to make the decisions of consequence needed to create a better world for us all?


About Ben Nelson

Ben Nelson is Founder, Chairman, and CEO of Minerva, a visionary with a passion to reinvent higher education. In 2011, while building the Minerva concept, Nelson was the Executive Chairman of RedBeacon until its sale to Home Depot in 2012. Prior to RedBeacon, Nelson spent more than 10 years at Snapfish, where he helped build the company from a startup to the world’s largest personal publishing service. Serving as CEO from 2005 through 2010, Nelson began his tenure at Snapfish by leading the company’s sale to Hewlett Packard for $300 million. With over 42 million transactions across 22 countries, nearly five times greater than its closest competitor, Snapfish is among the top e-commerce services in the world. 

Prior to joining Snapfish, Nelson was President and CEO of Community Ventures, a network of locally branded portals for American communities.

Nelson’s passion for reforming undergraduate education was first sparked at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, where he received a B.S. in Economics. After creating a blueprint for curricular reform in his first year of school, Nelson went on to become the chair of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education (SCUE), a pedagogical think tank that is the oldest and only non-elected student government body at the University of Pennsylvania.


Ann Cotton. Camfed (UK)

The imperative and practice of girls' education in Africa

Ann Cotto

Girls' education has gained significant ground as an international priority over the past 20 years. This has largely occurred because of the recognition of what educated women deliver in terms of social and economic progress; the justice of girls' education has received far less attention. However, the international development sector continues to address this issue in a fragmented way, looking for the single intervention that will develop change, whether school uniforms, educational fees, girls' toilets at schools or incentives for poor parents. Additionally, poor parents are blamed for the exclusion of girls from school as though the costs of education were immaterial to family decision-making. Camfed has developed a model that is holistic in approach, supporting girls through primary and secondary school and onto higher education or employment pathways. More crucially, the model is driven by community activism. The forms of capital owned by communities in terms of knowledge, institutional bodies and social networks are recognised and respected as critical resources for the sustainable transformation of impoverished rural communities in Africa.

About Ann Cotton

Ann Cotton OBE is Founder and President of Camfed, an international non-profit organisation tackling poverty and inequality in sub-Saharan Africa by supporting girls to go to school and succeed, and empowering young women to step up as leaders of change.

Camfed’s goal is to replace the existing cycle of poverty and inequality with a new cycle of empowerment and opportunity. The organisation’s unique approach is to not only support girls and young women through school, but also on to new lives as entrepreneurs and community leaders. To complete the “virtuous cycle”, graduating students become alumnae and many train and mentor new generations of students. More than 3.5 million children have already benefited from Camfed’s programmes in a network of 5,270 partner schools across Zimbabwe, Zambia, Ghana, Tanzania and Malawi. In 2014, Camfed was recognised by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development for best practice in taking development innovation to scale.

Ann is an Honorary Fellow at Homerton College, and Social Entrepreneur in Residence at the Cambridge University Judge Business School. She is a noted speaker on international platforms, including the World Economic Forum, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Skoll World Forum. In 2014, she addressed the U.S.-Africa Summit hosted by the White House, George W. Bush Institute and U.S. State Department. Ann has won numerous awards for her work, including an Honorary Doctorate in Law from Cambridge University; an OBE in honour of her advocacy of girls’ education in Africa; the Skoll and Schwab Awards for Social Entrepreneurship; Woman of the Year in the UK; and UK Social Entrepreneur of the Year. In 2014, Ann received the 2014 WISE Prize as Education Laureate.