Diana Hollmann

Weekly Roundup: Stories of Change from Oxford and London

Last week, the center of gravity of social entrepreneurship was set in Oxford with both the Skoll World Forum (SWF) as well as its increasingly popular fringe event Oxford Jam taking place.

If you didn’t make it to the island this year, make sure to check out the SWF video library. This year for the first time all sessions are made available online. Quite entertaining yet insightful, for example, is the opening plenary with Hans Rosling’s toilet paper-aided explanation of why population growth will still continue for a few generations despite the world already reaching “peak child” (while still debating when we will have reached peak oil).

A major challenge that is likely to not have reached its peak yet is environmental deterioration. The closing plenary focusing on “Lost in the Noise – Amplifying untold stories in the age of flux” opened with shedding light on climate change. Mohamed Nasheed, former president of the Maldives and recently ousted by a coup d’état, addressed the plenary via a video message. The Maldives might be a small country, yet its story is one to pay attention to. As Nasheed says: what happens to the Maldives today happens to the world tomorrow. This might be true for both the Maldives’ struggle with rising tides caused by climate change as well as their stony way to democracy (“dictatorships don’t die when a dictator leaves office.”)

The closing panel underlined that stories, no matter how big they are, shouldn’t slip off the agenda. Ariana Hufftington of Hufftington Post explained that new media with “obsessive compulsive disorder” (repetition of stories to make them stick) bears great opportunities for social entrepreneurship compared to mainstream media that suffers from “attention deficit disorder” (running a big story and then forgetting about it all too soon). Carl Pope of Sierra Club made the point that people’s opinions are not only shaped by the media, but by what they hear from people they meet. One might assume that U.S. Americans think of the world as a nasty, viscous place as often portrayed by U.S. media. But that is not the case, as people know others who share their experiences from abroad. And today social media makes it easier for people to reach out to others and create communities for change – stories are not spread by press releases only; they are spread by communities.

One such community in the making may be the attraction of long considered disparate forces: Interestingly, more and more delegates from big business are attending the Skoll World Forum. This year, one session exclusively looked at corporate partnerships. Although the session was titled “David vs. Goliath” the Financial Times suggested that social entrepreneurs and corporations are hardly going to fight until death – fatalities are “more likely to be caused by suffocation, as social entrepreneurs and corporate executives embrace each other ever more warmly.“

And another bit from the island

Also last week, the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) gathered members and affiliates just around the corner from Oxford in London. ANDE celebrated its third anniversary looking back at quite an impressive track record of building a support sector around small and growing businesses (SGBs). In his retrospect of ANDE’s development over the past three years, executive director Randall Kempner also reports an increased interest by multinational corporations in promoting support for small and growing businesses around the globe.

Despite growing support for SGBs, one of the many challenges remaining for small businesses to thrive in emerging markets is early stage funding. That is why ANDE jointly with Argidius Foundation announced the ANDE-Argidius finance challenge. The challenge aims to mobilize innovative financial solutions to channel funding to start-ups requiring 20,000 to 250,000 USD.

All in all, Oxford and London were the center of attention this week; yet with attendance and support from individuals and organizations from around the globe, the events underlined empathy and collaboration as important ingredients for driving positive change.

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Guest Post: How USAID is Putting Local Wealth to Work by Ben Hubbard

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