Skoll Forum maps the future

Skoll Forum maps the future



By Tim West

Social Enterprise magazine



A major new agenda for the advancement of social entrepreneurship was set at the first Skoll World Forum, held in Oxford last month.


Leading practitioners and thinkers from around the globe converged at the Said Business School for the three-day event. Jeff Skoll, chair of the Skoll Foundation, said he wanted to convey the ‘critical importance of social entrepreneurs’ in solving global problems.


‘This is our time,’ he said. ‘There are many who believe that caring for society is best left to government. The problems remain unsolved. So it’s up to us to succeed to ensure the failures of the past don’t become the failures of the future.’


William Drayton, chair of the international social entrepreneurs’ network Ashoka, said social entrepreneurship was ‘the only way we are going to overcome the complexity and scale of the problems we have.’ He described the next five years as an ‘historic window of opportUnity’ .


As well as the inspirational speeches, there were highly practical recommendations about moving the sector forward.


Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank – itself a remarkable success story – called on Mr Skoll to use his influence to create a ‘social stockmarket’.


Geoff Mulgan, director of the Prime Minister’s strategy unit, outlined nine areas which he said needed more understanding, including the motivation behind social entrepreneurs, governance issues, the power of networks, and the need for innovation.


Michele Giddens, director of Bridges Community Ventures, highlighted the need to accept and understand failure. Charles Leadbeater, founder of think-tank Demos, and Martin Fisher, co-founder of social enterprise developer ApproTEC, emphasised the importance of ‘scaleable’ social enterprise.


Greg Dees, professor of social entrepreneurship at Fuqua School of Business, Duke University, USA, warned of the dangers of rhetoric – arguing, for example, that the drive for ‘self-sustainability’ ignored the importance of grants as an income source, especially for social business growth. He also suggested the axing of ineffective organisations – a process he described as ‘creative destruction’.


Said dean Anthony Hopwood said the forum had ‘allowed practitioners, academics, and executives to map out the future of social entrepreneurship for the first time’.


Sally Osberg, chief executive officer of the Skoll Foundation, said the event ‘marked a major watershed in the development of social entrepreneurship, enabling all those concerned with promoting social entrepreneurship as a discipline -whether it be practitioners, policy makers or social visionaries -to collectively take stock and look forward.’