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Jeff Skoll Opening the 2008 Skoll World Forum: “More Headlines, More Awards, More Advocates, and More Allies”

March 26, 2008 by
 
 
 
 
 

Introductory remarks by Jeff Skoll delivered March 26, 2008 at the Skoll World Forum at Oxford University.

Once again, the staff of the Saïd Business School—and the entire Oxford community—has really outdone itself this year.  I want to say a special thanks to Stephan Chambers, Liz Nelson, Alex Nicholls, and the entire Skoll Centre team for their hard work.

As you just heard, this is the fifth year of the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Oxford has been a wonderful host, but this is a tough place to recognize the fifth meeting of anything. After all, this university has been around for almost a thousand years.  It’s kind of like bragging to Warren Buffett that you just won a $5 scratch ticket in the lotto.As many of you know, two years ago, we established a tradition of giving creative gifts to the leadership of this fine school to say “thank you.”  I wanted to do something really special this year.

As it turns out, the traditional gift for the fifth year is wood.  So I went onto eBay to see what I could find.

One idea was a listing for firewood.  Because nothing says, “we’ve come a long way” like a stack of burning logs.

Another idea was a nice coat rack.  But I’m guessing that those who give coat racks to celebrate the fifth year don’t make it to the 10th year.

I became so desperate that I even began to consider another unique item, a hand-carved wooden Celtic love spoon.

But then I remembered that this Saturday, March 29th—the day after our forum comes to an end—Oxford squares off against Cambridge in the 154th rowing of the annual Boat Race.  As fortune would have it, I came across an original wood-engraved linen print of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race that was printed in the Graphic magazine on March 29, 1890.

The print is titled “Here They Come.”

There are two reasons I like it.

The first is that it’s a good reminder that all of us are in a race: a race against poverty, climate change and disease.

The second reason, if you look at the giant clouds of smoke rising from a few of the engines on the water, is that the causes of global warming have been with us a long time.  We really need to be the generation that puts an end to it.

And best of all:  its price was 12 pounds, which, at current exchange rates, translates to only $400 American Dollars.  Furthermore, in 1890, not only did Oxford beat Cambridge, but it also kicked off a nine-year Oxford winning streak, one of the longest in history.  May this print help history repeat itself.  Stephan, here you go.

It is my honor to join Stephan Chambers in welcoming all of you to the fifth Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship.  The 700 or so men and women sitting around you today come from more than 40 different countries on six continents.   Even though “Here They Come” works well on this print, it may not be the best title for this Forum.  I think it’s safe to say once and for all:  Here We Are.  Social entrepreneurs have arrived.

It is hard to imagine that it was just two years ago when I described social entrepreneurs as “one of the world’s best kept secrets.”  The secret is out.

Several weeks ago, a businessman gave a keynote address at the World Economic Forum, in which he called for a huge expansion of what he called Creative Capitalism—a concept that draws liberally from social entrepreneurship.

Last April, a television host devoted a whole show to profiling three groundbreaking social entrepreneurs and drawing attention to their projects.

And a few months ago, an American politician gave a speech in which he proposed creating a national Social Entrepreneurship Agency.

If you’re wondering:  how much influence can three people have?  Well, what if I told you that the businessman was Bill Gates, the TV host was Oprah Winfrey, and the politician was Barack Obama?

When the world’s biggest economic, cultural, and political figures are all talking about an idea at the same time, you know it has finally arrived.  I am delighted that so many of the most innovative minds in this field are able to join us here again this week, to advance this conversation.

Three years ago, Muhammad Yunus gave a keynote speech here.  The next year, Yunus went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Two years ago, Al Gore spoke here.  The next year, Al won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Coincidence?  I think not.

So, as we gather here for the fifth time, there is no question:  social entrepreneurs today have more headlines, more awards, more advocates, and more allies than ever.

And all that is vitally important, because the one thing we don’t have—which we desperately need more of:  is time.

On global warming, on clean drinking water, on poverty, on education, on HIV/AIDS and other global pandemics, we are racing against the clock—and I’m afraid the clock is winning.

If we don’t act quickly enough as a planet to get ahead of this, a decade from now, we are going to see unbelievable humanitarian disasters the likes of which this world has never experienced before.

We are here because we know it is not too late to reverse these trends.   But it’s going to take people who are passionate, who are creative, and above all, people who are completely incapable of understanding any combination of the words “it’s impossible,” “it can’t be done,” or “why bother even trying?”

People for whom a seemingly impossible challenge is their rallying cry.  In other words, people just like all of you.

Every year, I say these words, but I have never believed in the truth of this statement more than I do now:  Social entrepreneurs have two kinds of power.  One is the power to bring specific change through the work that you do.  The other is the power to inspire – to bring other people and organizations to work together; to scale solutions; and to find new ways to solve problems.

As Nicholas Kristof recently wrote in the New York Times after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, “Today, the most remarkable young people are the social entrepreneurs, those who see a problem in society and roll up their sleeves to address it in new ways.  There is no limit to the number of social entrepreneurs who can make this planet a better place.”

We need your power today more than ever—for all those problems waiting to be solved. We arrive in Oxford this week to say:  Here We Are.  Here We Are!  Thank you and welcome!

 
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