Stories of Enterprise & Possibility from the Skoll World Forum

Social Innovation Strategist, Rosemary Addis, with the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has just returned from the Skoll World Forum in England with a ‘feast’ of ideas.

Here are her ‘outtakes’ for Pro Bono Australia.

OPINION: Oxford is a city of many stories with a rich tradition of storytellers from Lewis Caroll to CS Lewis to JRR Tolkien and others. In the last week of March, nearly 800 more came to Oxford from around the world to share their stories at the 2012 Skoll World Forum.

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is the premier, international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.

I was fortunate to attend and have the terrific privilege to hear so many wonderful and heart rending stories and learn from the people who told them and their phenomenal work, often on the front lines of the most difficult conflicts and social issues – rebuilding the lives of women after atrocities in the Congo; disrupting the business model of people trafficking; rehabilitating the Amazon rainforest; and redeveloping agricultural markets in Uganda.

The theme of the forum: Flux: Seizing Momentum, Driving Change is captured in the video footage which opened the forum (Opening Plenary http://skollworldforum.org/flux-seizing-momentum-driving-change/overview/).

The stories from the forum were summarised by Stephan Chambers (Forum Chair) - in closing: “I learned a lot from you this week...impossible problems are not impossible, just very hard...the global village needs elders,.... being outrageous matters, ...we must tap into the timeless to solve the urgent.....”. (Closing Plenary – http://skollworldforum.org/flux-seizing-momentum-driving-change/overview/ cue to 44 minutes to include the highlights of the Forum or 50 minutes to hear Stephan Chambers).

Many of the stories are now available to be shared further through podcasts and videos (http://skollworldforum.org/flux-seizing-momentum-driving-change/overview/). They provide a feast of ideas and experience to browse. They are guaranteed to inspire, to provoke, make you laugh and make you cry.

Of course, not all stories are all of equal impact or resonate with everyone equally. Some of the stories I particularly loved were these. Professor Hans Rosling challenging our assumptions about population growth and distribution and reframing the great challenge of the future as how the old Western order will adapt during the Opening Plenary. Nick Danziger during the Morning Plenary sharing his very personal journey through pictures of people and parts of the world and roads less travelled.

At the same session, Eve Ensler being “outrageous” and issuing a compelling call to action to end violence against women in all its forms and giving us the lovely analogy of money as energy, which can be given freely to fuel the capacity of others – or not. Finally, the story of the history of music from String Fever to kick off the Awards Ceremony.

It was clear that the financial crisis, particularly in Europe, has left few untouched. The mood for change was evident in calls for genuine re-evaluation of profit driven models which operate to the exclusion of social and environmental factors. We heard about measures of social progress that go beyond GDP (Beyond GDP) and conversations about the role of capital, how to measure social and environmental value and the risks of not doing so. The thrust of this was for a more generative model of capitalism, one that is less binary as between profit and not for profit, economic and social.

Many of the social entrepreneurs told powerfully of how they use markets effectively to reverse cycles of underinvestment and inequity in a more accountable way oriented to the needs and satisfaction of people in communities.

The story of Debbie and Jim Taylor who were recognized at the Awards Ceremony for their work with Proximity Designs, was a stunning example of useful aesthetic products which meet the needs of farmers and producers in Burma at a cost which is affordable and can be recouped to produce income quickly.

People and collaboration were highlighted as the tools of change and problem solving, more fundamental and powerful than facts or money. This story ran through the Forum in a celebration of what people can do, even when faced with very difficult problems.

Visayan Forum Foundation have analysed the business models of human trafficking organisations in order to disrupt them, working together with the police, coast guard, international relief agencies, and local services to rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and work with the community to build other practical options to make a living.

The local communities of Paragominas in Brazil, working together to rehabilitate the Amazon rainforest where over 50% of the forest had been cut down by 2008. They are collaborating across sectors to not only eradicate illegal logging activity but also to establish new agricultural practices and economic opportunities not dependent on deforestation. Professor Debra Dunn of Stanford summed up in relation to the challenges of innovation in education: “…when the stakes are high enough, there is no choice but to collaborate”.

Stories of mobilizing the collective power of people were told through many powerful examples. Ushahidi is providing platforms for individuals and communities to have a voice through mobile apps that enable them to relate conditions in natural disasters and conflict zones real-time.

Hundreds of millions of hectares of forest in Columbia have been returned to the native tribes who live in it and in they are being equipped with GPS devices to map the local area. Map your World enabling children to develop local content that puts their community on the (Google) map. The context for these stories and their telling is global.

We have our uniquely Australian original works and adaptations to bring into the mix. There were Australians from different walks in Oxford. I hope the stories of “Flux” we have brought home inspire you to take every opportunity to seize the global momentum, drive change – and tell the story.  

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