Notes from the Skoll World Forum

I’m tempted to just micro-blog (through NaijaPulse, Twitter and FaceBook) from the ongoing (March 24-27) Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship but I hope to also leave some notes (that are more than 140 characters) here. The break-out session on Careers with Social Impact has some interesting people doing amazing things — including folks who’ve seen the need to move away from the “cage of 9 to 5” so they can apply their knowledge and skills towards making a difference based on their passion. Working in various countries (New Zealand, India, US, UK, Brazil, Lebanon, etc), the group members seem to agree that the ongoing global meltdown presents the opportunity for corporations to learn a few lessons from the social entrepreneurship model by placing the second (social impact) bottomline alongside returns on investment.

Muhammad Yunus’ recent statement, “[t]he real issue is not whether the poor are credit-worthy but whether banks are people worthy” says a lot about what *may* happen to the world’s economy during this crisis-opportunity. The social entrepreneurs here have mentioned the various models (non-profit, for-profit and hybrids) they’re adopting but a clear common ground is the fact that these institutions’ (and even individual’s) decisions are driven by values and a strong sense of social impact. After a short break, I shed some light on PIN’s planned project (that explores the opportunities that mobile phones can provide) at the Collaboration Marketplace session, and guess who spoke after me? A Desmond Tutu Fellow (2007)! I hadn’t seen Lisa Kropman since 2007, so it was great to hear her talk about how she’s improved on her work in South Africa.

This session has further proved the power of networking — through events like this and other channels — as I’ve had extremely interesting discussions (with huge potential for PIN’s work) even though I’ve only spent 4 hours at this forum. No matter how hard you work, you must be able to package your idea properly and get out there to connect with resources. Keeping quiet or staying away from places where similar minds can appreciate and possibly support your work is like winking in the dark. At least, PIN now has a 15-minute TV interview (planned for 6pm) to show for the act of speaking up (saying the right thing to the right audience).

When did yesterday end? It’s been one of those moments when a day eases into another, even though I had some great family time (Temi‘s here with me in Oxford!), and this morning’s breakfast-in-bed (the Marlborough treat) rocked. Today’s first session discussed Re-Envisioning Social Entrepreneurship Education and had Bill Drayton (Founder & CEO of Ashoka) on the panel! I took the opportunity to meet with him after the session even though there was a long queue (as expected). It was great discussing PIN’s work with the grandfather of social entrepreneurship and I’ll always remember the picture (below) with a smile. I look forward to the breakfast meeting with other fellows tomorrow morning!

The Day I Met Bill Drayton!

The afternoon session started with New Partnerships, an “immediate opportunity to meet new and essential partners”. Facilitated by IDEO, we discussed tools that would help build enduring partnerships: empathy, prototyping and storytelling. I discussed with Tegy (SuperNova7 Productions), Al (International Development Enterprises) and Stephanie (P&G Prestige Products); and I won’t be surprised if one or two of the ideas we discussed — in the few minutes we had — grow into some form of collaboration. The formal opening ceremony of the forum held at the famous Sheldonian Theatre where Jeff Skoll shed some light on the role of social entrepreneurs in the midst of the global crisis, Roger L. Martin (Dean, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto) explained the The Power Paradox, a high-level panel discussed Citizen Engagement and Social Transformation, and Kenneth S. Brecher (Executive Director, Sundance Institute) gave an awesome speech (which explains the near-endless standing ovation at the end) by connecting the story of a famous German poet with the work of social entrepreneurs.

The evening ended with dinner at the Harris Manchester College (one of the four locations for dinner) where I had interesting conversations with Nino (Institute of Cultural Affairs, USA), Matt (co-founder and CEO of Kiva) who also happens to be a new Ashoka Fellow, Janet (MIT) with whom I discussed an MIT opportunity for young change agents and Tom (Pencil) the inventor!

Thursday morning started (for Ashoka staff and fellows) with breakfast, and it was great to hear the work that Ashoka Fellows across the world are doing. From Canada to Ecuador, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Montenegro & Serbia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Peru, Singapoer, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States, these change agents are proving the power of deliberate sustainable action. I’m writing from the Pathways to Scale: From Prototyping to System Change session at the moment and it’s great to do some personal analysis (on the Eureka / Innovation > Experiment / Prospecting > Enterprise / Prototyping > Ecosystem / Networked Solutions > Economy / System Change scale) while listening to examples of projects that have actually achieved system change (some many times and many locations over). I’m at the Community Development: Transforming What is Possible session right now, listening to Martin Burt of Fundación Paraguaya (where my friend, Claudia, works) as he discusses how to defy the popular statement, poor people can’t pay, based on his work in Paraguay.

It’s the final day and I’m at the closing ceremony. Just saw a short video on Junior Achievement’s work in the Middle East, and I’m very proud (again, as always) for spending the first six years of my career (well, the only years I spent working for anyone after college) at Junior Achievement Nigeria. Soraya Salti (JA’s Senior Vice President for Middle East/North Africa and a 2009 Skoll Fellow) eloquently described the impact of JA’s work in the Middle East and I can only imagine how much more work is being done by the many social entrepreneurs that I met over the last few days at the Skoll World Forum — and those I meet each day as I try to hard my own little drops to the ocean of change across the world. I told Temi a few minutes ago that having spent the last few days thinking about my work, I am convinced that I chose to walk the right path and I’m all excited about the opportunity to shine light in the dark areas that fall within my sphere of work.

As Jeff Skoll (a man who must be proud of his contributions to the work of social entrepreneurs even in the face of the global crisis) brings the forum closer to its end with his speech on Collective Power: A Call for Urgency, my mind searches for what will be a central take-away from this Forum. I sighed deeply when Jeff re-echoed the words of Economist Paul Romer who said, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.” If we (and by that, I have the developing economies on the top of my chart) don’t use this opportunity to recognize that the space occupied by social entrepreneurs needs to be strengthened, we would have created a hole in the history of our evolution. From Ajegunle to Zanzibar, there are young (in age and heart) people who have taken the risk of ignoring opportunities to focus on connecting underserved people-groups with socio-economic opportunities, many of them doing what governments should have been responsible for in the first place! Social entrepreneurs do not seek recognition or reward because what we do is not a job or even a career, it’s a calling. What we ask for is cooperation, the opportunity to work with relevant stakeholders in order to effect system changes.

Inspired by Bill Drayton’s popular words that “social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish, or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry“, I look forward to the revolution our work at PIN will help bring to the world. Now I know what my take-away thought is: “Live your life deliberately, regardless of the many excuses you may have the opportunity to give!“.