It could be called the Sundance for Social Entrepreneurs. Or perhaps the SXSW for those with intent to change the world. Maybe even the Davos for the doers. Whatever analogy the strikes your fancy, the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England was more than most could have imagined. From performances by Peter Gabriel and Baba Maahl to a brand new film being premiere by the Sundance Film Institute to tmoving ideas shared by Princess Noor of Jordan and the incredible wisdom Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu - there wasn’t a shortage of incredible moments. But aside from the headliners and names that everyone knew before the event started, the new names and faces of social entrepreneurship have stolen the show. From the moving speech of Rebecca Onie from Health Leads to the inspiring vision of Ned Breslin from Water for People, the big ideas and new level of accountability in action has been the undertone of the event.
Having attended Sundance, SXSW, and now Skoll World Forum this year, it was clear that each event had the potential to be an echo chamber for its audience. Not every film at Sundance was amazing, nor every start-up at SXSW revolutionary. The same could be said of Skoll: not every good intentioned entrepreneur had an idea that will change the way that you and I think about life in the community or field that they are working in. But, the overwhelming and incredible part about the community that descended on Oxford is this: that’s okay. Failure is accepted as a normal part of innovation and a possible outcome for the current strategies being played out by the teams that were in attendance. The further they sail from the shores of conventional wisdom, the closer they are to create a new normal for the constituency they serve. A new normal that brings about permanent change in the real world and for generations to come.
When we understand that failure is a natural part, and even a predominate part, of the road to success, the less fear we have as we approach a new initiative or big idea that we don’t know will work. As seen by the incredible stories of change at the Skoll World Forum, the timeline on which success must be viewed is much longer than we expect and will require the input and buy in of more people than we know.
Cara Mertes, the Director of the Sundance Institute's Documentary Film Program and my host in Oxford, has shared a quote with me a couple of times that I believe sums it up nicely.
“Every moment of major social change requires a collective leap of imagination” - Jeff Chang