Skoll Forum (part 1…)

First missive from here at the Skoll Forum; just thought I’d give a run down on yesterday afternoon’s opening proceedings.

Opening ceremony was in the Sheldonian Theatre, which is beautiful and old…but also pretty uncomfortable after a couple of hours. Nevertheless, pretty impressive surroundings to kick off in.

First up, after Stephan Chambers (Chair, Skoll Centre) welcomed us in his engaging, wry manner, Jeff Skoll spoke, and was very entertaining, noting that Al Gore and Muhammad Yunus both won the Nobel Prize after they had been keynote speaker at the Forum ("coincidence? I don’t think so…"). His theme was that this movement was now entering the mainstream: a case of "here we are" rather than "here we come" (he backed this up with examples from Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey: an alternative trinity to conjur with).

Next up was Lord Giddens who had an engaging style, no notes…and some half decent jokes. With the theme being "culture", though, it seemed strange to have him talk on climate change…it also felt a bit like a beginner’s guide to climate change. With a room of people who know those issues inside out, this seemed strange….and it kind of felt like he’d been booked for his speaking credentials, rather than his relevance to social entrepreneurship (occasionally, he’d seem to remember and say something like "…which why we need you, the social entrepreneurs"). His three key issues, for the record, that we need to tackle are: freeriding, hyperbolic discounting (not taking the future seriously), and "spending" the energy we save.

Phil Hope, the Minister for the Third Sector was next, and gave a pretty rousing speech. It was nicely structured, using Beveridge / welfare state / "stalking giants" as a frame for what is needed, and what has changed, 60 years on. He talked encouragingly of the need to "mobilise social entrepreneurs" who have a "vital and catalytic role", and also of the need to work with an engaged government, rather than ignoring the state altogether. With 700 people from 40 different countries, it did feel a bit domestically-focused (people near me were glazing over at the mention of social clauses, and other elements of government activity; as well as asking me who Harold Wilson was…).

The example he used of a social entrepreneur creating an opportunity and movement seized by government also seemed strange: the anti-plastic bag movement started in a town in Devon, then picked up in the media, then rolled out by government. The Irish government didn’t need the Daily Mail et al to pick the issue up to ban them 5 years ago, and was government taken by the idea…or by the media coverage?….Overall, though, I was fairly impressed, and he had some nice lines ("real change cannot be financed by small change") and powerful delivery.

The final part was a panel of women who’d worked in cross-cultural projects and initiatives. The one who stood out for me was Jody Williams, who I confess to never having heard of before. She won the Nobel Peace Prize for pulling off the treaty banning landines in 95 countries, and was just outstanding: on respect and trust for partners, on communication and sharing of information, on not worrying who gets the credit: "nobody was more important than anybody else". Really inspired by her, particularly given our international initiatives.

Finally, Stephan Chambers wrapped up, reminding us of the forum theme of culture: shared experience, behaviour, habits… and that "behaviour isn’t geology" (i.e. it keeps changing). But he was brief because, as he pointed out, "I’m the only thing standing between you feeling your legs again and getting a drink". Nice touch.


Then we all packed off to Trinity College for drinks in a marquee (the heavens opened as we left the theatre, ensuring that I networked heavily with people with umbrellas); all good stuff, and met some interesting people from Israel, Latvia, Russia, China, as well as some more familiar faces from the UK and Ireland. Dinner followed on with the Social Entrepreneurs Ireland team, Nigel Kershaw, Yasmin from Lovells et al….

All of which made getting up to deliver our presentation at 8am a little challenging. But it went well, and have just missed the first scheduled session because of the continuing conversations afterwards (which I think is a good sign: all the good stuff happens off the programme!)….but will try and get back on track with one of the new ‘consultancy clinics’ (dreadful name, but good people by the look of it) this afternoon.

Over and out.

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