Photo: Jeff Skoll giving welcome remarks on April 10, 2013.
“We meet this year under the rubric ‘disruption’ – that restless search for discontinuities and sustainable innovations that improves our world, and makes us wonder how we lived before,” said Stephan Chambers, Chairman of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and MBA Director at Saïd Business School, in the opening plenary.
The Skoll World Forum kicked off yesterday in Oxford. For the last ten years, it has brought social entrepreneurs and people from all walks of life together in one city where radical ideas, vision, and passion for a better world fill the air.
What would the world look like in 50 years?
Although it is in its 10th year, Chambers, who reprises his role as master of ceremony, begins speaking not about the last decade, but about the next 50 years.
“In the spirit of disruption, we thought we’d dwell not on the last ten years – tempting as that is – but on the next 50,” Chambers said. “We asked some of you to speculate, and we think you may be interested in the result.”
Ten achievements signaling progress
Jeff Skoll, founder of the Skoll Foundation, took to the stage next and highlighted ten achievements from the world of social entrepreneurship that he believes represents progress over the last decade.
“We are nowhere near the finish line, but we can and should celebrate the progress of your work in recent years,” Skoll said.
#10 – Technology drives social/social drives technology
From sending money to a family member overseas to medical diagnosis and access to information, social entrepreneurs capitalize on technology to drive change.
#9 – Global commitments to scaling up innovation
Skoll mentions that the US, UK, and Canadian governments recognize the effectiveness of social entrepreneurship and empower social entrepreneurs in their own communities, which sends a strong signal around the world about government commitment.
#8 – Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank win the Nobel Peace Prize
“It doesn’t get more impressive than this. The ultimate recognition for Muhammad Yunus – the ultimate social entrepreneur,” said Skoll.
#7 – Al Gore and IPCC win the Nobel Peace Prize
The year after Yunus wins the Nobel Peace Prize, Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) received the Nobel Peace Prize, testifying a growing wave of social entrepreneurship worldwide.
#6 – Deforestation rates decline
Less carbon is released into the atmosphere, and while there is still much more that can be done, it is a testament to progress.
#5 – Billions of people gained access to clean water
The 2015 Millennium Develop Goal of halving the number of people without access to improved water sources was met five years ahead of schedule in 2010.
#4 – ‘Social enterprise’ goes mainstream
Skoll contrasts the current state to the beginning of the last decade when there were relatively fewer players in the field. Today, around 40 million people have careers in and 200 million volunteers work in social entrepreneurship.
#3 – Markets shift toward sustainability
No longer is profitability and sustainability thought as mutually exclusive, and they do not have to sacrifice humanity.
#2 – Progress in global health
There has been significant progress made against killer diseases. For example, 8 million lives had been saved from HIV/AIDS and polio is on route to disappearing as well.
#1 – Fewer people live in poverty than ever before
“Fewer people live in poverty than 10 years ago,” said Skoll. “If we continue, we could end poverty in one generation.”
Passion and perseverance of social entrepreneurs
Passionate conversations are a key part of the three-day program at the Skoll World Forum. In the opening plenary, a panel moderated by Mabel van Oranje, Chair of Girls Not Brides, exemplifies this with a conversation about that exact passion and perseverance needed to be a social entrepreneur.
Talking about failure
The reality is that despite all its glory and successes, the field of social entrepreneurship has its fair share of failures.
“We’re not very good at discussing failure, so could you share some of your experiences with failure?” van Oranje asked the panel.
Gro Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway, begins by sharing that she holds a long-term vision about success when looking at failure. “I look at my life as a kind of long-term success story. So I don’t notice the failures,” she said, adding that “I was following my values, my convictions, my vision about how I could help create a better Norway and a better international community. On the way, there were obstacles, there were difficulties, and there were enormous criticisms.”
Brundtland had lost the 1989 election but came back as Prime Minister in 1990.
“When you are following your passions and are aware that it may take a long time, then you can take setbacks and be happy about the success that comes after,” Brundtland said.
Bill Strickland, President and CEO of Manchester Bidwell Corporation, agrees. “Don’t assume that just because you’re in a particular situation that that is the only way it can be forever. Sometimes there is a lot of darkness before you see light.”
The Skoll World Forum is live streamed on the Skoll World Forum website until April 12. You can also follow updates via Twitter with hashtag #SkollWF.
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