Professor of Social Entrepreneurship
Saïd Business School
University of Oxford
Park End Street
Alex is the first tenured professor in social entrepreneurship appointed at the University of Oxford.
He is also a Tutorial Fellow and Member of the Governing Body at Harris Manchester College, University of Oxford, and in 2004, he was the first staff member of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship for which he helped raise the funding.
Alex's research interests range across several key areas within social entrepreneurship and social innovation, including: social and impact investment; the nexus of relationships between accounting, accountability, and governance; public and social policy contexts including impact bonds; and Fair Trade.
To date, Nicholls has published over a hundred papers, working papers, book chapters and articles, and six books. Most appear in a wide range of peer reviewed journals and books, including seven papers in Financial Times Top 30 journals. His 2009 paper on social investment won the Best Paper Award (Entrepreneurship) at the British Academy of Management. In 2010, Nicholls edited a Special Edition of Entrepreneurship, Theory and Practice on social entrepreneurship – the first time a top tier management journal had recognised the topic in this way. He is the Editor in Chief of the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship.
Nicholls is the co-author of a major research book on Fair Trade (with Charlotte Opal, Sage, 2005) and the editor of the first scholarly collection of papers on social entrepreneurship (Oxford University Press, 2006, 2008). Both represent the best selling and most cited academic books on their subjects in the world. In 2011, Nicholls published a co-edited volume on social innovation – again, the first scholarly book on the subject. In 2015, he published a further co-edited volume on social finance and a new book on social innovation with NESTA. In 2019, Nicholls will publish a book examining the economic underpinnings of social innovation in the European Union (based upon a four year, 4 million Euro, EU funded research project for which he was the Principle Investigator: CRESSI). Nicholl's next book project will be a monograph on the politics of social entrepreneurship and innovation globally. His books have been translated into several languages and are the most cited works on each of their subjects.
Nicholls has held lectureships at a wide variety of academic institutions including: University of Toronto, Canada; Leeds Metropolitan University; University of Surrey; Aston Business School and the University of Oxford. He has been a Fellow of the Academy of Marketing Science and a Member of the Institute of Learning and Teaching. Nicholls also sat on the regional social enterprise expert group for the South East of England and is a member of the Advisory Group for the ESRC Social Enterprise Capacity Building Cluster. He has been an Honorary Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Impact, University of New South Wales. Prior to returning to academic life, Nicholls held senior management positions at the John Lewis Partnership, the largest mutual retailer in Europe, and he currently sits of the Board of several social enterprises.
Alex earned a BA (Hons), MA and PhD in English Language and Literature from King’s College, London and an MBA from Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford.
- Social entrepreneurship
- Social innovation
- Impact Investing
- Social Impact Bonds
- Social accounting
- Public and social policy contexts of social innovation
- Fair Trade
Read Alex's CV.
Alex's research focuses on key areas within social entrepreneurship and social innovation.
These include the nexus of relationships between accounting, accountability and governance; public and social policy contexts of social entrepreneurship; impact investing; and Fair Trade.
A General Theory of Social Impact Accounting: Materiality, Uncertainty and Empowerment(opens in new window)
Social Impact Bonds in Context
Social Innovation Policy in the European Union
Social Impact Bonds: The Role of Private Capital in Outcome-Based Commissioning(opens in new window)
Alex's research on social entrepreneurship and social innovation informs government decisions and policy.
As an advisor to the Office of the Third Sector (now the Office for Civil Society), Alex helped shape the UK‘s social enterprise policies. In 2006, Alex worked with the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA) and the UK’s Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to research three social enterprise pilots as part of a cultural shift programme within regional welfare services. In 2007, the Office commissioned Alex to develop a paper on the future of social enterprise in ethical markets, which explored a range of new opportunities for social enterprises to create and enlarge ethical market activity in the UK and beyond. From 2009-11, Alex evaluated the wider impacts of the Social Enterprise Investment Fund for the Department of Health. From 2010, Alex has served on the Technical Advisory Panel of the Regulator of Community Interest Companies.
Alex has strong links with industry. He has conducted a range of commercial consultancy in the social sector, including work on fair trade new product development. He also provides consultancy support to impact investment funds, foundations, and other not-for-profits.
In 2004, Alex became the first staff member of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School, and helped develop the Centre to become the leading academic entity for the advancement of social entrepreneurship worldwide.
Alex was the Principle Investigator for the 4-year European Union funded CRESSI project focussing on the economic underpinnings of social innovation. The policy findings from this research have been presented to, and discussed with, a number of Directorates within the EU. Alex has done advisory work for the Hong Kong government on payment-by-results models as well as hosting research meetings with the UK Cabinet Office, Australian Efficiency Unit and Japanese of Finance.
He has also served as a co-organiser for the International Social Innovation Research Conference, the Research Colloquium on Social Entrepreneurship, the Social Enterprise Research Conference and the Oxford Fair Trade Research Conference. In addition, Alex frequently presents peer-reviewed papers at leading academic conferences.
Alex has been a member of the Advisory Group for the ESRC’s Social Enterprise Capacity Building Cluster and has served on the regional Social Enterprise Expert Group for the South East of England. From 2012-15, he held a visiting Fellowship at the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Social Impact and has been an Honorary Fellow of the Third Sector Research Centre at the University of Birmingham. In addition, Alex serves on the editorial boards of the Social Enterprise Journal and Education, Knowledge, and Economy. In 2010, Alex launched the Journal of Social Entrepreneurship (Routledge) and currently serves as its Editor in Chief.
Alex teaches a variety of courses on social entrepreneurship, social innovation, management and marketing.
He teaches undergraduates, MBA students, doctoral students and senior business executives.
Alex has developed numerous courses for the MBA and Executive MBA programmes as well as a suite of three impact focussed Executive Education courses: the Oxford Impact Investing Programme; the Oxford Impact Measurement Programme; the Oxford Social Finance Programme.
In his courses, Alex encourages students to learn and not just do, and to engage with theory and research. His interactive teaching style is well-received by his students and he mixes practice and scholarship to impart a deeper understanding of the subject matter.
- Social Entrepreneurship and Social Innovation
- Rethinking Business and Markets
- Impact Investing
- Social Finance
- Impact Measuring and Management
- Public Policy Innovation
- Social Enterprise Design
- Systems Thinking
- Ethical Consumption and Marketing
- Impact Entrepreneurship