Oxford, March 28-30, 2012 – Movie has the Oscars. Music has the Grammys. Social enterprise has the Skolls. Each year for the past eight, 900 delegates from the social, finance, private, and public sectors come together at Oxford University for the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, dubbed as the premier international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues. Delegates come to explore what is happening in the world of social enterprise and debate, discuss, and work on solutions to social challenges. The Skoll World Forum recognizes those who are creating a peaceful, prosperous, and sustainable world with the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. If the previous years are any indication of what will happen this year, the conference is nothing short of an emotional and exciting roller coaster.
“I congratulate you for caring about important things,” said Stephan Chambers, Director of the MBA, Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford in his opening speech.
“Your theme this year is Flux – the paradoxical shifting constant that ensures we never step in the same stream twice.”
Chambers describes the present time as one of “unparalleled potential” – with more capital, more processing power, better connections, and more understanding – as well as one of “unparalleled risk” – the world that we inhabit is unfair and unstable. The state of flux has troubled and motivated thinkers, artists, and entrepreneurs for thousands of years and is exactly where social entrepreneurs are working today among the hard, necessary, and continuous struggle to fit present ideas into future realities.
“There are people who suffer and who suffer needlessly. The suffering world is an ideology, not a reality. And it is for you to defeat this ideology. My guess is you’ll defeat it by embracing flux.”
In this year’s opening remarks, Jeff Skoll, Founder of the Skoll Foundation, draws inspiration from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London and makes mentions of the similarities between Olympic athletes and social entrepreneurs, stating the need for social entrepreneurs to pursue “gold medals” as athletes would.
“When we think of the Olympics we think of the pageantry, the competition, and the gold medals. But what really define the Olympics are those inspirational moments that dramatize the power of the human spirit.”
Unforgettable moments at the Olympic Games, such as the participants from North and South Korea marching under the same flag and Gabriela Andersen’s determination to finish her race amidst extreme dehydration, demonstrate the power of the human spirit.
“In Ancient Greece, an Olympic Truce was declared before and during the games so that spectators and athletes could travel back and forth safely. During the Truce period, wars were suspended and soldiers had to lay down their arms. But can we really afford to wait until this summer to declare an Olympic Truce? Are sixteen days of peace really the best we can do?”
“Today, the drumbeats of war are getting louder in the Middle East. Within months, or perhaps sooner, we are drawing ever closer to conflict between Israel, the West, and Iran.”
“We need an Olympic Truce now to pursue diplomatic solutions as urgently as we will pursue gold medals this summer.”
The energetic Professor of International Health Hans Rosling took the stage next and made a strong case that the world has misunderstood population growth.
He explains the general understanding that there is a limit of how many people can live on this planet and with the peak population growth in the past decades, people are getting nervous about the overall size of population.
He illustrates that in the Medieval times, families had six children of which only two survive. Then in the 1800-1850s, families continued to have six children of which four survive instead and through to the 1970s, four-child families were the average norm. This is where there was a spike in population growth. Rosling explains that since then, something has happened to population growth in which he calls the new balance. The new balance is when families have two children each of which both survive and at this new growth rate, we will achieve a steady 9-10 billion people in the world. We are close to achieving this ideal state as families all over the world are increasingly becoming two-child families.
Given the current population sizes and that the world continues to achieve the new balance, in 40 years, Africa will have more people than the entire Americas and Europe together. In Asia, where the population growth of children in places such as Hong Kong, Japan, and Korea have stopped, a small percentage of their share in the world population will be given to Africa over the next decades. Yet the future of steady world population will depend on when Africa gets out of poverty and has two-child families, as most families are still at the old balance.
“I hear people who say ‘If you save the poor children you kill the planet’. It’s the most common comment we get when we work for global health,” said Rosling.
“Because nowhere in the world do we have these families where you get six children and four die. This doesn’t exist. The countries that have the fastest population growth today in the world are Afghanistan and Congo. Afghanistan and Congo have four surviving children.”
“There is no way we can stop population growth [like this]. On the contrary if we save the poor children, we will speed up two-child families. Saving children is stopping population growth. Letting children die is increasing population growth.”
“Others tell me if they get rich then they get few children. It’s the other way around.”
Visit the Skoll World Forum to view the complete opening plenary.
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