Skoll Foundation


Jeff Skoll Keynote at 2007 Skoll Awards Ceremony: “Social Entrepreneurs Have Two Kinds of Power”

March 28, 2007 by

Remarks by Jeff Skoll delivered March 28, 2007 at the Skoll World Forum at Saïd Business School, at the University of Oxford.

On behalf of everyone here: thank you for all that you do for social entrepreneurs.

As Sally’s introduction implied, I have been introduced a number of different ways over the past eight years. First, I was the eBay guy; then I was the Skoll Foundation guy; now I’m the movie guy;

The hardest part at each turn was to learn a whole new language. At eBay, it was the language of business: profit, loss, return on investment. At the Foundation, it was the language of social change: equilibrium change and inflection points.In Hollywood, it’s a different thing altogether. The words that people speak are almost always different from what they mean!

For example, when someone says: the script needs polishing; what they mean is: “re-write everything.” When they say: “I’d like some input”; what they mean is: “I want complete control.” When they say: “a project is in turnaround”; what they mean is that” the project tanked, the executives who worked on it have been fired, and they are trying to lay the project off on some other poor schmo, like me.” One of my favorite lines at the Oscars this year was when I overhead someone tell one of the actress nominees “I haven’t seen your film, but you were terrific in it.”

The reason I enjoy coming here every year is that what you see is what you get: the heroes are really heroes. You mean what you say and you do what you say you are going to do.

It was exactly sixty years ago that a group of physicists concerned about nuclear weapons created what they called the Doomsday Clock. It is supposed to signify how close our world is to ending. They originally set the hands at seven minutes to midnight.

In January, the same group – alarmed by new dangers — made news by moving the hands two clicks closer to midnight.

Much of the coverage focused on a British scientist named Martin Rees who actually places odds — and offers bets – on when the world will end. Which raises the interesting question: if you win, how do you collect?

He says that civilization only has a 50 percent chance of surviving until 2100. I wondered what had made him such a pessimist. So, I looked – and I found the answer a few paragraphs later.

And here is what it said: “Dr. Rees is a cosmologist . . . at Cambridge University.”

Ah, of course! If he were a professor at Oxford, he would have stopped by this forum, heard some of your stories, and been a lot more optimistic about the future.

That is why we say social entrepreneurs have two kinds of power. One is the power to change lives. The other is the power to change attitudes – to move our world beyond cynicism to show what is possible.

What we celebrate tonight are people who believe and act on the unshakable conviction that individuals, acting alone or in groups, can change the world.

As you’ve heard this week, our job at Skoll is to invest, connect, and celebrate. I have spent a lot of time focused on the “celebrate” part of that mission the past three years because I believe people need to hear more of these stories.

In the past year, we’ve had a dramatic example of what can happen when an inspiring story reaches a critical mass. As many of you will remember, one of our speakers at last year’s forum was Al Gore.

Part of the discussion was around a slide show that Al had delivered across the world over six years, and our decision at Participant to make a documentary about it, so that the message could get out there quicker. The film was called An Inconvenient Truth and at last year’s forum, we announced that we had just found a distributor for the film.

A lot has changed since then.

In the months after Al Gore spoke here, the documentary became a hit, he became a movie star and he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Of course, it shows you what I know. I thought “An Inconvenient Truth” would go straight to public television, maybe a made-for-TV special.

Instead, it has become the third-highest grossing documentary of all time and won 2 Academy Awards. More importantly, it has changed the debate around the world on climate change.

All of this attention has earned Al quite a few new nicknames.

His friends now refer to him as “the Goracle.”

At Participant, we call him “The George Clooney of Global Warming.”

But here is the part of the story that most people don’t know: in connection with the documentary, we launched an aggressive action campaign at

The take action section of the site has been visited by nearly 3 million unique visitors and these visitors have offset hundreds of thousands of tons of CO2, the equivalent of taking tens of thousands of cars off the road.

The film has become mandatory viewing in every high school in England, Scotland, and much of Scandinavia.

And while it isn’t mandatory viewing in the US, we sent 50,000 DVDs upon individual request to high school teachers around the country.

Across the US and Canada, 530 colleges used AIT as the anchor of a Campus Climate campaign to “rise to the challenge – the largest student mobilization on global warming ever.

What’s more, in what we call “train the trainer,” more than 1,000 people have been trained by Al Gore himself to deliver his slide show around the world and spread its message.

The first 250 trainees have, in the past three months, made as many presentations as Al Gore made over the past 15 years.

Last month, Al announced that later this year, on July 7 – which is 7/7/07, a lucky number if there every was one – simultaneous concerts will occur on all seven continents, including Antarctica – to further spread the word in a version of Live Aid for the 21st Century called “Live Earth.”

And thanks in part to An Inconvenient Truth, there are now six bills in the United States Congress to impose a mandatory cap and trade system in the United States, to cut carbon output by as much as 25 percent. Fred Krupp at the Environmental Defense Fund predicts that one of those bills will definitely pass and land on President Bush’s desk to sign by next summer.

That’s the power of one man’s message. So, why do I mention all of this?

Because I see the same kind of power – the same kind of inspiration — in every person we honor tonight, and in every story in this room. There is an unseen thread that connects generations here – the ultimate virtuous cycle.

Dr. Ahsok Khosla, who is here tonight, was one of the people who inspired Al Gore to fight this fight. But Dr. Khosla was inspired by Gandhi – who also inspired the work of Joe Madiath, and his organization, Gram Vikas – who we also honor here tonight.

Peter Gabriel was inspired to get involved in Africa by social activists like Desmond Tutu fighting to end apartheid. He has been thrown out of some countries for his work. Today, he is sharing a stage with Salman Ahmad, who was inspired by Peter Gabriel, and whose band was thrown out of Pakistan for their work as peace activists.

We are all honored by the presence of Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Muhammad Yunus, here this week. He shares a stage tonight with Roshaneh Zafar, who was inspired to quit her job in Pakistan and establish the Kashf Foundation after a chance meeting with . . . Muhammad Yunus. She was told that microfinance would never work in Pakistan. Dr. Yunus told her to believe in herself. Because she did, more than 50,000 families have been raised above the poverty line.

Of course, the Skoll Foundation and the Skoll Center themselves would not be here were it not for the pioneering work of Bill Drayton at Ashoka, who inspired all of us to believe in a different kind of activist called a social entrepreneur.

If we went around the room, my guess is there would be 100s of other stories like this.

Well, if we can inspire each other: just think of what these stories could do for the rest of the world, to help make people believe. It was Peter Gabriel who taught us: “You can blow out a candle, but you can’t blow out a fire. Once the flames begin to catch, the wind will blow it higher.” [This was from a song that Peter wrote called Biko, about Steven Biko’s death in South Africa at the hands of the police]

If we work together, and hope together, and dream together, I have a good feeling about how this story is going to end.

Thank you!

Our awardees this evening are some of the people who will help take us there. Before we move to the awards presentation, let’s take a look at our other two films that highlight the kind of work we are here to celebrate tonight; Ceres and CIDA.

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