The Balancing Act: just about right
This is my third Skoll Forum, and I definitely think that it was the best. And that's saying something, since I got my award last year and that was pretty exciting. The challenge here has been the balancing act between the business school home of the Forum and the practitioner community. A couple of years ago, the focus was too academic and much of the material was not interesting to the social entrepreneurs. And, I know that academics need this kind of interaction: it's their career and passion. This year I think they got it right. Most of the plenaries were focused on inspiration and building the field as a whole. As usual (based on last year), we got to see four Sundance-created short films on Skoll entrepreneurs. The researchers got two days of focused seminars and content, while the practitioners and non-academic attendees were happily engaged in workshops and what I dubbed "master classes:" where Skoll Award winners would sit down and talk about their challenges. Their real challenges, not the ones they talk about when they are selling their organization!
Closing Plenary Speech by Larry BrilliantLarry Brilliant did a great job inspiring us with a speech I've never heard him give before, because I've only heard him speak post-Google about Google.org. And, it wasn't your typical inspirational speech: Larry went dark before he put forth the light. He gave us all of the reasons to be pessimistic, before he started to open the door to the possibility we might solve the problems. And then he went for the jugular in the core part of his talk: he talked about the appalling suffering that smallpox inflicted, with graphic pictures of smallpox victims. As someone who helped lead the successful effort to eradicate smallpox, Larry talked about looking at hell on earth: the faces of people dying from smallpox. It's easy now to forget how terrible a disease this was. His core message: if we successfully got rid of this pestilence, human beings can be up to the challenges facing us today.
Jeff SkollJeff was quite accessible this week. He spent over an hour giving a talk to the Skoll social entrepreneurs on Tuesday before the event. He was very open to questions about his life and future directions. As someone who has already done some incredible things (eBay and Participant Productions being the two most notable examples), we're all interested to see what's next as Jeff considers his next moves. I felt Jeff did a great job speaking: he's really settling into this role as one of the tech/business communty's leading drivers of social progress. He also hung out with the social entrepreneurs at least three of the nights this week. And the best of those nights was the final party for the Skoll team and awardees. See below for pix!
SundanceAfter the conference concluded, the social entrepreneurs got together for two topics. The first was to discuss some issues in small groups we had set the topics for (I was in the group talking about a bigger vision for the movement beyond our individual organizations). The second was all about story-telling. Sundance had sent two senior executives and four director/producers to spend time with us. We were in a story-telling workshop and each had to talk about what motivated us, what kept us up at night and what got us up in the morning. That was the best part for me. Nick Moon got quite a laugh when he said Martin Fisher kept him up at night. He then went to point out that Martin is in San Francisco and he is in Nairobi, and the time difference made for late night calls talking about KickStart!
Party for the teamAs happened last year, the Skoll staff had a party on the final night. But last year, the conference ended at noon without afternoon sessions for the Skoll SEs. So, we had a ton of people. And, the Skoll team was bigger than just the staff. There were three MBA student bloggers from Haas: Rob, Ellen and the redoubtable Edwin (former Benetecher). The conference team attended. Nina Smith brought her baby. The Sundance team was there. Spouses. Daughters (grown-up daughters). It was a tapas restaurant and the format encouraged people to circulate during dinner: a great format. And, Jeff spent the evening talking to people in 1's, 2's and 3's. I mean, he helped make Al Gore into an Oscar-Award winning actor: what might he be able to do with a social entrepreneur! And someone was kind enough to grab my camera and take the picture below to prove I and Taddy were actually there!
The big messages of the Forum for me came from some of the big names: Muhammad Yunus, Jeff Skoll, Larry Brilliant and Fazel Abed. They were pretty consistent:
- the world's problems need original solutions from dynamic risk-takers
- go forth and experiment
- expect to fail a few times, until you get your concept working
- When you've got it right, just do it over and over with more people (Yunus said get it right once, replicate 6 billion times)