It’s my first time at the Skoll World Forum and the previous couple of week’s worth of business trips had conspired to smother any expectations I may have had since receiving the invite.
Without any thought of detailed expectations apart from a stellar line up and an educational trip to Oxford, it was always going to be a refreshing journey into the latest global state of play of social entrepreneurship.
The event begins in earnest tomorrow with today providing mostly introductions, networking and a couple of fringe events but the opening plenary really got things moving.
Haunting yet stirring music from Senegalese singer and guitarist Baaba Mal instantly roused the audience to set the stage, literally, for Jeff Skoll himself, the ex-eBay President and now Founder and Chairman of the Skoll Foundation to open the event’s theme of “Large Scale Change – ecosystems, networks and collaborative action“.
One of Jeff’s favourite Oxford philosophers, Theodor Guisel, or Dr Suess as he’s better known, was offered up as an analogy for the world of social entrepreneurs. The 1920’s Oxford student’s decision to not only bend but break the rules of writing stories, according to Jeff, was “a great emblem for those wanting to make a better world.”
He was also the first to begin the already recurring theme of overwhelming support for Professor Muhammad Yunus and his legal challenges against Bangladesh government and their attempts to remove him from Grameen Bank.
The main meat of the plenary for me was a rewarding discussion about the state of microfinance between Jonathan Lewis (Microcredit Enterprises), Alvaro Rodriguez (Compartamos Banco) and Roshaneh Zafar (Kashf Foundation). Microfinance is undoubtedly facing a number of challenges but I was surprised by the relatively tame responses to a provocative question posed by Jonathan, asking about the real difference between social enterprise / microfinance businesses and mainstream financial service providers such as Citigroup. We all know the answer, don’t we? Or do we? From my own admittedly extremely limited exposure to microfinance, and many personal interactions today alone it’s not as clear-cut as many would believe.
Considering the theme is about large scale change I’m surprised by how little mention is given to social media within the agenda. It’s obviously integrated well into the operation of the Forum but appears so far to be a potential bit part player in the debate. We shall see.
The video of the plenary session is available here.
The remainder of the event on Thursday (31 March) and Friday (1 April) is also available via live streaming video on the main website at www.skollworldforum.org
For those on Twitter follow #skollwf for updates.