The FINANCIAL -- The sixth Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, currently taking place at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, started with a bang.
During such a seismic shift in the global economic order one could be expected to hear a few whimpers but the dramatic drum sequence signaling the beginning of the opening plenary, performed by the three-man group Taiko Meantime, set the tone for the rest of the Forum.
The battery of Japanese rhythms that rebounded definitely off the gilded walls of the Sheldonian Theatre was a call to arms for the vast community of social entrepreneurs gathered here from across the world. Opening speaker Jeff Skoll, founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation, put is simply: "Nothing can stop a social entrepreneur. The world needs you more than ever."
The Forum, organised by the Saïd Business School, the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and the Skoll Foundation, focused this year on the theme of “Shifting Power Dynamics” and was attended by record numbers. Some 800 social entrepreneurs, academics, financiers, politicians, policy makers and others from over 60 countries around the world assembled in Oxford to look at new ways to tackle the complex challenges that face humanity: poverty, climate change, disease and more.
Roger L. Martin, Dean of the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto spoke about the “power paradox.” He quoted what he considered to be the most inspirational part of Barack Obama’s inauguration speech (“as for our common defence, we regret as false the choice between our safety and our ideals”) as a way to see the role for social entrepreneurs. Successful social entrepreneurs, he maintained, such as one of last year’s Skoll award winners, Victoria Hale, didn’t choose either a rock or a hard place but looked for the tension between these two to find seeds for change.
The topic “Power to the People: Citizen Engagement and Social Transformation" was discussed by a panel comprising Kailash Satyarthi (Chairman, Global March on Child Labour; President, Global Campaign for Education), Daniel Lubetzky, Founder and President, PeaceWorks Group) and the Honourable Mary Robinson (President, Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalisation Initiative). Here we heard how it is possible for the seemingly “powerless” to talk to the “powerful” and how social entrepreneurs are vital in bridging the gap between the powerful and wealthy worlds that have been responsible for such devastating economic and environmental changes and the impoverished people they affect the most.
The opening plenary finished with a standing ovation for a truly inspirational story, entitled Unfinished Portraits of Powerful Ideas, presented by Kenneth S. Brecher, Executive Director, Sundance Institute. Capturing ideas from poets and philosophers who have been awarded honorary degrees in the Sheldonian over its decades of existence, Brecher sought to remind us that single individuals can stand up to the march of history and in times of hardship often this is when they are most needed, and most effective.