I was lucky enough to spend some of last week up in Oxford while the Skoll World Forum and OxfordJam were going on. Alastair Wilson, SSE's CEO, was on the panel over at Skoll (you can check out the video of his session, Government + Social Entrepreneurs, over at the Skoll site along with the videos of all the other sessions), while I was over at the free 'fringe' event, OxfordJam, expertly organised on a shoestring budget and a whole load of effort by Ben Metz, Alise Kirtley and Amanda Jones (and friends!). You can find a lot of stuff on Twitter, Flickr and the rest by searching #swf10 and #oxfordjam
I was a bit in and out of the events, as I had to head back to London for meetings on a couple of days, but thought I'd chip in some thoughts from the few days:
1) After hours matters: I've talked about this before, but it is the conversations in bars, over dinners and so on where the 'whole person' comes out and trusted / new relationships are built. OxfordJam had dinners + an open mic session as really the flagship parts of the event, not the add-on. And it worked: I listened to a long podcast recently about Jim Fruchterman of Benetech (which was fascinating), but felt more able to have a conversation with him after seeing him sing Gilbert + Sullivan :0)
2) Honesty repays: The session I facilitated was about lessons learned from the replication of SSE; it always feels risky to open up about mistakes we made, whether that be about our first misfiring effort at codification (capturing what made SSE unique + special), moving from reactive to proactive in how we expanded, the robustness of the franchise package now (as opposed to then…) and so on. But the session went well: countless questions, and it felt like genuine learning shared, positive and negative. And, though it sometimes feels counter-intuitive, it helps build organisational credibility.
3) Action!: The sessions and workshops that appealed to me most over the few days were those that focused on practice: on transactions, deals, partnerships and action. Where people talked theoretically or ethereally about more conversations, more visiting and chatting, it just seemed like a nice way of perpetuating the status quo. Increasingly, I feel that things change through practice and action, and that effective policy and strategy and markets are created out of those..
4) Relationships and networks come through: This goes back to Ben and OxfordJam, but also to Nathaniel Whittemore (over at http://socialentrepreneurship.change.org) and team who organised a spontaneous TEDxVolcano in London for all the 'volcano refugees' from Skoll. Both relied heavily on personal relationships (the person's own 'brand', if you like) and also the ability to network effectively, via Facebook, e-mail, mobiles and, yes, Twitter. I'm not sure if I'd go as far as Peter Deitz to coin a new term (see this discussion about Social Interpreneurship), but I certainly think the nature of events has. And there are lessons for social entrepreneurs in building networks and relationships in an authentic way here as well.
5) No more heroes…: We've written here before about the myth of the heroic individual social entrepreneur, and critiqued Skoll, Ashoka, Schwab and others for perpetuating that myth in the past (as opposed to successful social entrepreneurs building effective teams, groups, networks and movements that support and sustain and scale their change). And, indeed, been critiqued for it ourselves at times. But I think that rhetoric did start to shift more at this event; yes, there were still awards for individuals (and there's no denying that there were some extraordinary people at both events), but the focus was much more predominantly on collaboration, partnerships and teams. Which, from the feedback I heard, made for a more thoughtful, real and mature series of outcomes.