Monday, April 12, 2010

SkollFest 2010

This week, Cause Global is heading to Oxford, England, where the Skoll World Forum of social entrepreneurs convenes for its seventh year. Called the "Davos for social entrepreneurs," the gathering at Oxford's Said Business School has long been about celebrating up-and-coming entrepreneurs who don't simply want to prosper but also want to create new business and nonprofit models to help solve the world's most pressing problems.

But this year signals a shift in the conversation. Last year, the forum was held in what Skoll Oxford Centre Chairman Stephan Chambers called "the most chilling economic environment we've ever experienced." Social entrepreneurs talked about how their new field was finally gaining some mainstream legitimacy amid the failure of so many established institutions and organizations in the wake of the global financial meltdown. "The status-quo business model versus civil society is not a choice," Roger Martin, the dean of the Rotman School of Management said in opening remarks last year, "but rather the root of a new model, a new set of solutions for our times."

This year, amid criticism from some global change-makers that the Skoll gathering has become elitist and insular, the conversation will be less about proving the legitimacy of this new field and more about pushing its ability to scale. "Catalyzing Collaboration" is the prevailing theme of this week's three-day line-up of panels and networking sessions. With a new "collaboration track" added this year that includes such panels as "Structuring Collaboration: Mergers, Parternships and New Business Models," "The Power of Many: Collaborative Impact and Measurement" and "The Colours of Money: Social Financiers Collaborating for Impact" -- the message is clear: social entrepreneurs need to start playing better and more often with others to wield greater impact, attract greater funding, and trigger lasting change. [This year's Skoll Awards also send that message: most of the winners are social entrepreneurs who have been leading change efforts for years, learning how to work in various ways with existing groups and established authorities and organizations rather than around them.]

Cause Global will be covering parts of the conference, looking especially closely at the various new approaches being taken by social entrepreneurs to grow their initiatives. It will be a rich conversation, given that this new field continues to face some daunting funding challenges -- barriers that stepped-up collaboration with others outside the field can significantly help to diminish.

Watch this space for highlights.

(Illustration by Rienk Post Graphic Design for

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