Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Skoll World Forum in Oxford

I'm coming home from my annual pilgrimage to Oxford for the Skoll World Forum. The Forum has become the international event for social entrepreneurs, and has now been heavily, heavily oversubscribed for the last two years.

This is my fourth time to the Forum: and each time actually gets better (as it gets harder to imagine how they'll pull it off again next year). For me, the highlights are the networking (especially peer networking) and the rockstar plenaries. The number of Nobel Peace prize winners has been just incredible: I think we had at least three speak at plenaries this year.
Dining hall by candelight
The event kicks off with a Tuesday night dinner for grantees at Exeter College, which is what Hogwart's (in the Harry Potter movies) was modeled after. The new Skoll Award winners each get three minutes to tell us a story.
Martin Fisher, Karen Tse and Willy Foote
Wednesday during the morning and early afternoon are sessions for the social entrepreneurs. Jeff Skoll spends an hour and a half explaining what he's been up to since stepping down as CEO of Participant Productions (actually, seems like stepping up to Chairman). Jeff has a track record of following through on his ideas.
Jeff Skoll, speaking
My first session like this three years ago was on Participant Products, which went from scratch to delivering movies like An Inconvenient Truth, Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, Charlie Wilson's War and many others. When he started it, he was told "the streets of Hollywood are littered with the carcasses of people like you!"

This session is always a high point of the Forum for me. I think it's quite atypical for a founder of a major foundation to spend time allowing his grantees to ask him questions! One of his favorite quotes is from John Gardner: "Bet on good people doing good things." I think that sums up the Skoll Foundation's approach to grant-making.

People at tables listening to a speaker out of sight to the left

The rest of the time is focused on small groups tackling issues of common interest. This year, I engaged in sessions on using the Internet for advancing mission (I and Jill from Social Edge were the experts/moderators), leadership and succession, and reforming education. Although these sound really broad, the emphasis is on real experience. Each of us walks away having shared something important to us and receiving many good insights.

More in my next post!

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