Inspiration at the Skoll World Forum

By Jim Fruchterman, posted on

I recently returned from my 14th Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford, England. You might wonder, why on earth would someone go to a conference 14 years in a row? I go because it is the best place in the world for meaningful discussions about making the world a better place.

There are many amazing conferences around the world where you can go to think about big challenges or meet with important business or government leaders. But, everybody coming to the Skoll Forum is there because they want to actively engage in positive social change. That means that anyone you might strike up a conversation with or sit next to at dinner is probably doing something incredible that you need to know about.

The Skoll World Forum goes far beyond the excellent programming: the inspirational and thought-provoking plenaries and deep dive breakouts. It goes beyond the ecosystem events: the self-organized and dynamic fringe sessions covering everything from the killing of environmental defenders to using blockchain for social good. The biggest value of the Skoll event is the community that shows up and dedicates a week to collective brainstorming about what to do next.

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The melting pot of social entrepreneurs and donors that make up the majority of the attendees is the magic of Skoll. We’re learning from each other, building coalitions, setting more ambitious targets, and always, always, driving toward large-scale systems change. That’s the path that the venerable Sally Osberg (who just retired as CEO of the Skoll Foundation) set as the steward of the Skoll Foundation for its first 17 years. What matters is accomplishing equilibrium change, where the world is in a better and more just place than when we began. Everybody who shows up for Skoll wants that kind of impact, and it’s that desire creates incredible freedom to act.

Skoll is the best place for me to hear about major needs and test new ideas for how to meet those needs. My leading line is, “If Silicon Valley cared about your social problem, what would it do to help?” I’m from Silicon Valley and know that the technology community must do more to address the needs of people around the world. As CEO of Benetech, a software for social good nonprofit, I can afford to focus my time on bridging the gap between the social sector and Silicon Valley. That’s what I do at Skoll each year, all in an ongoing effort to drive social impact at scale.

As a longtime attendee, I also have the perspective on how the social entrepreneurship movement has evolved from those first gatherings fifteen years ago. We’ve moved from growing our individual organizations to influencing national and international policy; from managing direct services to helping other people and organizations adopt our innovations; from tinkering around the edges to being at the center of reform movements that touch millions (or billions!).

I’m already looking forward to next year’s Skoll World Forum. I’m looking forward to learning more, being inspired more, and working together with the world’s leading social entrepreneurs to create a sustainable world full of peace and prosperity!