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Monday, March 30, 2009

Skoll World Forum: Rushing the Social Change Agenda

By Kamakhya Singh

The Skoll World Forum can be summed up as such: You can't pack more content into one day, nor could have more a enthusiastic crowd of social entrepreneurs, social investors, social researchers and decision makers in one place at one time.

My Skoll experience can be summed up in one word: rushed.  The temptation to attend more than one programme was too great to resist; I ended with running from one speech to another on more than one occasion.

I began my Skoll experience at "The Ripple Effect: Communities Empowered Through Individual Transformation." The panelists for the session were:

  • Ian Goldin, Director, James Martin 21st Century School, University of Oxford
  • Ron Grzywinski, Chairman, ShoreBank Corporation
  • Marcia Odell, Director, WORTH, Pact Institute
  • Jeremy Hockenstein, CEO & Co-Founder, Digital Divide Data

While the panel discussion itself was intellectually stimulating, the Q&A was more thought provoking. Asked about women's empowerment, Ron Grzywinski cited the excellent work being done by BRAC in Bangladesh and by Aga Khan Foundation in different parts of Asia. The session looked at proven models for empowerment from across the globe.

After a short break, I ran over to "Capital Markets in Crisis: Threat or Opportunity?" The panelists for the session were:

  • Matthew Bishop, Chief Business Writer & New York Bureau Chief, The Economist
  • Sir Ronald Cohen, Director, Social Finance Ltd.
  • Sam Moss, President, Gray Matters Capital Management LLP
  • Jan Piercy, Executive Vice President, ShoreBank Corporation

Anticipating a larger audience for the session, this thematic session was held at the biggest lecture theater at SBS, the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre. On account of the financial crisis, an animated discussion took place, and every one had an opinion on the "how" and "why" of the capital market crisis.

By the end of the session, I was left with the impression that capital markets recovery will only be very gradual and the current scenario has provided an opportunity for social entrepreneurship and social finance to get activated. Will governments play the role of an enabler?  It's a big open question.

There was also a discussion about the correlation of return in the social sector with capital market return. Discussion also veered around how microfinance has moved from anecdote based opinions to more data-driven research and conclusions.  I wonder if that's a trend for the entire social space - I hope so.

In the evening, the famous Sheldonian Theatre was once again the venue for another very important event. The Skoll Awards were presented by Jeff Skoll to social entrepreneurs from all around the world. Prior to the Awards Ceremony, Dr. R. K. Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, addressed the gathering.

The problems facing our planet are too enormous to be left on their own. Dr. Pachauri - with a team of experts - took real, effective steps.  These individual visionaries worked together to tackle global problems and received global recognition of their efforts - just as it came to social entrepreneurs in the form of Skoll Awards.

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