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March 28, 2008

Skoll Day 3: Get On The Bus

Well, readers, another year of the Skoll World Forum has past, and delegates departed today full of energy, optimism, and hope. In the closing plenary, Chairman of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship Stephan Chambers commented on the mood, saying “to feel the energy this week, all of it positive, all of it sustainable has been astonishing.”

The closing plenary speakers were so celebrated that they were escorted in from a side entrance rather than mixing with the greater crowd, particularly former Vice President and Nobel Laureate Al Gore, who addressed the group today (and received two standing ovations for doing so).

Gore spoke with passion and conviction about the need for, what he called, a “unified earth theory.” He spoke of a movement where environmentalists and social justice activists banded together, aware of the interconnectedness of massive global problems of climate change and poverty. His message was one of urgency, yet of hope as well, saying that new global challenges “offer the opportunity to find a purpose that will bring us together,” much as the world came together to support the rebuilding of Europe after the Second World War. Gore also announced today a large-scale launch by the Alliance for Climate Protection of a mass influence campaign to convey this sense of urgency and opportunity to the American public. Look in upcoming weeks for the beginnings of this three year effort which will feature tv, radio, print ads, billboards and other forms of media to get the message through.

Although Gore was the big-name draw of the closing plenary, I’d like to finish my Skoll posting series with the words of the man who got me on that early train to Oxford this morning – Dr. Paul Farmer (who also received a standing ovation!). As I mentioned earlier, I’ve read Mountains Beyond Mountains and followed the work of Partners In Health, but had never had the good fortune to hear Farmer speak in person and let me just tell you – if he doesn’t make you want to jump out of your seat and hop on the next plane to Kigali (while off-setting your emissions, of course) to try and help him change the world, no one will.

Farmer was humorous at times, thanking the Skoll Foundation (who, as mentioned earlier, bestowed one of its $1 million grants to Partners In Health this year) for “diagnosing” him as a social entrepreneur, and saying “we may soon see a global pandemic of social entrepreneurship.”  Yet his speech was also critical of the social entrepreneurship movement, which he challenged as “a loyalist,” telling the room:

    “It’s our culture that needs to change. Look around you – there are people of all hues, but no poor people. We need to include poor people in our movement and allow them to be social entrepreneurs.”

It was a statement that was met with a round of boisterous applause.

Farmer finished his talk by charging the environmentalists and conservationists to get on the social justice bus, and vice versa, because it’s only one bus, going to the same place. He finished by telling the audience, “I’ll see you on the bus.” Here’s to hoping there’s room for me on there too.

Skoll Day 3: Recognizing the Great

 Last night was the ceremony recognizing the 2008 winners of the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. Winners receive a generous $1 million from the Skoll Foundation to use over three years as they please - for general operating support, capacity building, or whatever organizational priorities much be.

I can't tell you how strongly I feel that these awards do amazing things, not just for the field of social entrepreneurship, but for the world in general. Partners In Health, one of the winners and a favorite organization of many OnPhilanthropy staffers took home an award. Anyone who read Tracy Kidder's biography of Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, knows what that man has the potential to do.

This type of funding Skoll distributes is so critical to an organization's growth and success and yet so rare...too rare. So today I would like to congratulate and commend not only last night's award winners, but the Skoll Foundation as well, for putting their money where their mouth is and making (annually!) a significant financial contribution to high-performing organizations.

For a full list of this year's winners, click here

March 27, 2008

Skoll Day 2: Confusing Culture and Context

The second day of the Skoll World Forum began with sunny skies over Oxford and the hundreds of delegates refreshed and ready to begin the day with the first round of panel discussions. Attendees were able to choose from topics ranging from “Innovation and Change in Government Culture” to “Hybrid and For-Profit Business Models.”

I chose a subject that I am (as mentioned in my previous post) quite passionate about “Women, Culture, and Social Change.” The panel of activists, NGO leaders, and social entrepreneurs discussed the increased focus on women and girls within social entrepreneurship and the ways culture and help or hurt their empowerment.

Each panelist started with a personal story and for this post, I’d like to leave you with one, particularly pointed one from panelist Fiona Muchembere:

Fiona, currently the Programme Manager for Institutional Development with CAMFED (an organization that, laudably, is a recent recipient of Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Women Initiative), told us about her childhood in Zimbabwe, where her family struggled through poverty. She went on to become the first woman in her family to receive higher education, but only after her family sacrificed for years to afford her school fees. After performing extremely well on her exams, it was only financial resources limiting her potential – she sought university funding from CAMFED and got it, afterward going back to work for the organizations that supported her upward rise. Muchembere told us how not only did her life completely change, but the lives of her family and community as well – “there’s a ripple effect of sending one woman to school.” On the point of cultural barriers, she was quick to point out that:

    “In Africa, in rural communities we do value education – it’s the context of chronic poverty and HIV/AIDS that make this difficult. It is important that we do not confuse culture with context.”

Skoll Day 2: The Science and Art of Partnership Development

My afternoon session today was an interactive workshop lead by IDEO, SustainAbility, and the International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF) on effective models for partnership.

We broke out into discussions with our tables, learning about partnership development from individuals who had built successful (and occasionally, unsuccessful) partnerships in various countries around the world. My table was filled with mainly representatives from NGOs or social enterprises, so as someone who works on the corporate side of partnership building, I found their perspective very refreshing.

Our group, moderated by Sofia Tickell, Chairperson of SustainAbility, focused on the “building” and “planning” stages of the IBLF’s 12-step Partnership Framework. I want to share here with you the outcome of our fantastic discussion:

Question: What are the critical moments in these stages?

    * Negotiate and identify next steps up front with your partners.
    * Level-set and manage expectations on both sides; need to be transparent up front and ask all partners, “what is it that you want?”
    * Determining up front what the deal breakers are – and make sure you’re clear on your values as well as your partners.
    * Put it in writing – all partnerships should have some kind of formal contract (but as Mel Young, founder of the Homeless World Cup put it, you have to have one, but you should only be using it as a last resort).

Question: What are some key considerations and challenges when building and planning a partnership?

    * Find a way to fit in your partner’s existing strategic plan and positioning yourself to strengthen those gaps.
    * Make sure your counterpart at the partner organization is empowered to make decisions and at the appropriate level – they need to have some sort of stake in the partnership that’s relevant to their performance evaluation as well.
    * Valuing and protecting any intellectual property brought into the relationship is critical.
    * Setting the agenda is not always easy for an NGO to do, particularly when asking for money.
    * Recall all stakeholders: even in a partnership between an NGO and a company, there needs to be an eye toward government, staff at both partners, affected communities and other relevant parties.

Question: How have you addressed these challenges? What are the keys to success?

    * Communicate your partnership objectives throughout the entire organization, from senior management down to the bottom. For an NGO, the staff and the community need to buy-in to the process.
    * Don’t forget the community you’re addressing – even if they’re not at the partnership building table, their opinion matters.
    * Be patient: keep long-term goals in mind and remember the process is iterative.

March 26, 2008

Skoll Day 1: "Here we are: Social entrepreneurs have arrived."

Those were the words of Jeff Skoll, Founder and Chairman of the Skoll Foundation (and probably one of the most well-known social entrepreneurs kicking off the fifth annual Skoll World Forum earlier this afternoon. Social entrepreneurship is already huge, Skoll said, citing recent of it by Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, and Barack Obama. There are “more headlines, more awards, more adjectives, more allies than ever,” he said. “But there’s one thing we don’t have more of that we desperately need: time.”

Here’s one thing they do have: a group of global delegates who are all motivated and committed to using innovative ideas to create real, potent social change. This year’s conference is about culture, and there was no lack of it as representatives from over 40 countries filled Oxford’s Sheldonian Theater for the opening plenary session that featured calls to action (like Skoll’s), a few laughs (including hearty applause for Lord Anthony Giddens when he told this joke: “George Bush finally decided to take climate change seriously…so he’s sending 10,000 troops to the sun.”) and stimulating ideas and speeches.

Culture, on first glance, is perhaps an interesting choice for a conference on social entrepreneurship, but frankly, couldn’t be more relevant to today’s critical issues.  Chairman of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, Stephen Chambers said:

    “We chose this theme because we understand that sometimes the problems we face aren’t about cash, or the supply chain, or incentives. Often the solutions we seek…are about behaviors, or habits – our focus will be on the human reality, the complications of culture – unpredictable and sometimes perverse truth of who we are, what we do, and what we make.”

The conference organizers understand the idea that cultural norms can disadvantage not just cultural/ethnic minorities, but women – it’s a key group that becomes oppressed, and interestingly one large target of social entrepreneurship programs (for instance, you see many successful microfinance programs with 80%+ women borrowers). This focus is welcome, as was the representation of women panelists today. One of the most lively panels was all women: moderated by Pat Mitchell of the Paley Center and featuring Karen Tse (International Bridges to Justice), Jody Williams (Nobel Laureate), and Nafis Sadik, MD (of the UN).

The three women who spoke – all tireless activists and entrepreneurs in their own right – discussed their varied experiences (from debating reproductive health issues with the Pope to training police officers in Cambodia to respect human rights) with an eye to culture and the barriers and opportunities to social change it can create. Their messages were ones to me that, as a long-time student of gender studies, were commonplace, but somewhat revolutionary in a room of public and private sector actors, many from mainstream organizations. Preaching about “a culture of shared experience,” Tse dismissed “superficial notions of culture” that pit nationalities against nationalities and that don’t understand that, for example, a public defender in Cambodia may have more in common with a public defender in Afghanistan that with a person in a vastly different location within their own culture. And Sadik was bold as well, telling the audience that, of course, you have to take culture into account, but at the same time, “can’t allow traditional values to be used to justify actions that discriminate against women or don’t allow them to have rights.”

As the first day comes to a close, I’m struck by the tenor of this conference, and take the train back to London as a believer in Chambers’ opening mandate: that we should leave here inspired, infused, and invigorated. At the drinks reception, held at the gorgeous Trinity College after the opening plenary, I found myself in conversation with (at the same time), a social entrepreneur from Beirut (via California), a student and professor from California (via Spain), and a family foundation representative from India (where funding comes from a London company). We were doing exactly what the Skoll Conference has asked: examining and indeed embracing our cultures as a way to create long-term social change. I can’t wait to see what we can do tomorrow.

And So It Begins: The 2008 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

For the second year in a row, OnPhilanthropy will be blogging throughout the 2008 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, held at Oxford University. This year's theme and line-up of speakers promises to top even last year's amazing event. For the next three days, I'll be reporting on the discussions and debate surrounding "Culture, Context, and Social Change" and lectures and speeches from social entrepreneurship rockstars including Al Gore, Paul Farmer, Jeff Skoll, and many other luminaries in the field.

Check back often for updates from the front lines at Skoll as we explore the relationships between philanthropy and social entrepreneurship from a global perspective.

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