Pamela Hartigan

A pioneer in the global social entrepreneur movement

Dr Pamela Hartigan was a force of nature whose tenacious and brilliant contributions to social entrepreneurship bettered both the approach, as well as the lives of those she touched as she went about her work as a leader in the movement. She died August 12th at her home in France with her family. She was 68.

Most recently in her series of ground-breaking roles, Pamela was the Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. There, she became a sought-after professor and mentor to scores of the bright and ambitious students eager to make a mark on history by pursuing the path of social entrepreneurship. 

Watch the Video of her Lecture on "Future Proofing" Business at Oxford.

Hartigan was one of the world’s leading proponents of social entrepreneurship and was actively engaged in a range of international initiatives to promote it. As Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, she focused on advancing social entrepreneurship through leveraging top academic research, rising leadership talent and opportunities for targeted engagement with the global community of innovators to drive large scale impact on the world’s most pressing problems. She was a driving force in supporting initiatives to encourage students from Oxford and elsewhere who want to apply their talents to improving the state of the world, in identifying academics involved in relevant research, and developing case studies and creating tailored programmes for social entrepreneurs.

Watch an interview with Pamela shortly after her arrival at Skoll on her work, her vision for the Centre, and the importance of social entrepreneurship.

Before joining the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Hartigan was the first managing director of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, an organisation that engages its community of social entrepreneurs in shaping global, regional and industry agendas that address pressing problems in close collaboration with the other stakeholders of the World Economic Forum.

She described herself as an optimist who sees opportunities in the current state of global flux. She considered this the perfect time to rethink business, with entrepreneurship playing a major role. Yet despite her passion for social entrepreneurship, she did not find the term itself helpful. ‘Entrepreneurs,’ she said, ‘whether primarily commercial or social in orientation, are cut from the same cloth: resourceful, pragmatic, innovative and opportunity-oriented. All entrepreneurs need to keep in mind social and financial goals. Social entrepreneurs prioritize social gain and pursue financial gain to sustain and expand their social mission and its growth.’

Entrepreneurs, she said, are unreasonable: they never accept the status quo, see opportunities in almost everything, learn from failure, and change systems from within. But they also need partners to achieve success – team members, corporates and governments – and it is important to build bridges to enable these partnerships to flourish. For business education, she believed the challenge is to develop business courses that are more attuned to stimulate solutions to the complex challenges that face us. She was excited by the extent to which MBA students are seeking to apply their business talents to creating or working for companies that pursue financial health without compromising social and environmental objectives.

Read this interview with Pamela about the importance of "Unreasonable People."

Hartigan was a non-executive director at Volans, an organization she co-founded in 2008. Volans is focused on scaling entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s biggest problems. It develops partnerships with corporations and social enterprises to create opportunities for sharing talent; spark new business models; and facilitates investment in innovative solutions.

She was also a Trustee or on the Board of Advisors of the following social enterprises:  Bamboo Finance (Switzerland), CAMBIA (Australia), Fair Trade USA, INDEX (Denmark), Lex Mundi Pro Bono Foundation (USA), Mobile Metrix (Brazil), Royal DSM (The Netherlands), SafePoint UK), SocialKapital Fund (Denmark), The Story Museum (UK) and Waste Ventures (India). 

Hartigan’s work examined global, social and institutional entrepreneurship, including mainstreaming social entrepreneurship into the business school curriculum, models of scaling entrepreneurial ventures that seek systemic social change, and innovative business models to increase access to services and products for disadvantaged populations. Her interests also included corporate citizenship, public/private partnerships, international public health, gender and development and her primary geographical focus was Latin America.

Hartigan was a frequent lecturer on social entrepreneurship and innovation at graduate schools of business in the USA, Europe and Asia, and an Adjunct Professor at the Columbia Business School. Her book, co-authored with John Elkington, co-founder of SustainAbility (UK) and entitled The Power of Unreasonable People: How Entrepreneurs Create Markets to Change the World was published by Harvard Business Press in February 2008. The book is used as a reference guide in the field and has been translated into 11 languages.

Hartigan obtained a PhD in Human Developmental Psychology from Catholic University Washington DC, an MA in Education from America University, Washington DC, an MA in International Economics from Institut d’Etudes Europeénes Université Libre de Bruxelles and a Bachelor of Science and International Economics from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University, Washington DC.  Born and raised in Latin America, she published in both English and Spanish. She is survived by her husband of 43 years, Martin, her children, Jesse and Emilie, and grandchildren, Nathaniel and Oliver.

Pamela was a beloved mother, grandmother and friend. 

Here are some initial responses from friends, colleagues and loved ones to the news of Pamela's passing:

Chris Raine, former student

The Skoll Centre Blog

From Daniela Papi-Thornton: 

My heart is broken today... our fearless leader, Pamela Hartigan passed away this morning after a battle with cancer. I have never met anyone with her combination of feistiness, optimism, stubbornness, and grit. Those qualities fuelled her battle with cancer, as she continued to work up until the end, but also fuelled the incredible impact she has had in her career. What a woman! The Skoll Centre team and wider community can all work to live up to her legacy by putting love into our work, committing our careers to work we believe in, and ploughing through, over, or around bureaucracy, as she did so well. She will be missed.

From Emilie Abbissher daughter:

Mom passed away peacefully early this morning. Dad had woken me up around midnight saying I should come upstairs because something was different, and so I was able to sit with her and stroke her head, and Dad and I told her a lot of stories about her. We laughed and cried and were together. Eventually she closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. I went back to bed and when I awoke later, she was gone. It was a peaceful passing for a woman who fought this with every fibre of her being. She was, is and always will be, my hero. It goes without saying that we will all miss her every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.

Please join this tribute to Pamela by adding your contribution below. 

Pamela Hartigan
Sean Cleary
Pamela was committed, dedicated, irrepressible - a true life force who has left the world a better place than she found it.
Teri Schwartz
It is with a heavy heart that I share my condolences with Pamela’s family and friends. Pamela was an inspirational leader in the community of social entrepreneurship. She changed the way we think about creating good on a global scale. Her work with the Skoll Centre was unparalleled, leading us by example to address the world’s most pressing problems. Her knowledge informed, her heart embraced, her spirit motivated. Her loss is deeply felt, and her legacy will shape our world for generations to come.
Greg Coussa
I remember reading The Power of Unreasonable People before coming to Oxford, in awe that I was going to have the opportunity to learn and get to know this titan of our sector. I had dinner with a few MBAs last week and we reflected on Pamela and her impact. Its incredible, that one person, could have the type of impact she did, on so many other people. And I guess that is the point, or one of the points, she was trying to make: every person has the potential to drive really large scale change. Pamela was a fearless leader, thoughtful teacher, boundless energizer, and creative connector. Above all else, she deeply gave of herself to her students and colleagues. I remember stealing 15-20 minutes of her time every month or so to speak about my passions, and each conversation left me in awe in two ways: 1. her ability to be present, to make you the focus of her attention and 2. her ability to connect you to relevant leaders in the respective area discussed, almost immediately.
Patricia Perkins
I had the good fortune of meeting Pamela on 4 occasions. The first we discovered we were both Virginia borne-gals; the second was on a badly oversold flight back to the US; the third was at a satellite meeting for the Skoll World Forum; and then yet another airport in Europe 2 years ago. What a life she had, what a joy to have known her, however briefly. May her legacy live on among all the students she trained and mentored.
Patsian Low
Godspeed. May your light continue to shine on changemakers and unreasonable people who want to better the world.
Guido Verona
Pamela, it has been an honor to serve you. God speed.
Pamela Hartigan