Go big or go home: 2011 Skoll Forum delegates challenged to work for large scale change

‘Go big or go home!’ That could be the unofficial motto of the 2011 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship – which runs from Wednesday to Friday at England’s Oxford University. The Wellesley Institute’s Director of Affordable Housing and Social Innovation, Michael Shapcott, is among the 800 delegates from around the world exchanging promising practices, engaging in heated debates in formal sessions and in the corridors of Oxford and building on the conference theme of ‘large scale change’.

With planet rocked by real earthquakes (Japan) and social / economic seismic shakes (Libya), change is literally moving the world. The challenges for Skoll delegates, as Skoll Foundation founder Jeff Skoll put it, are the ‘unnatural disasters that affect us all’, the social and economic issues that urgently require active intervention. ‘Saving the world is a team sport,’ said Skoll.

Stephan Chambers of Oxford’s Said School told delegates that ‘social change is everything’ and that ‘ we rejoice in complexity’. In a complex world, collaboration is necessary, and neither governments nor non-profits can adopt a ‘business as usual’ approach. Despite the complexity, Chambers noted that ‘not all problems are hard’. He said ‘we need to know in public what we know in private’.

An early evening panel focused on micro-credit, which is, in the words of Microcredit Enterprises founder Jonathan Lewis, the undisputed star of international social entrepreneurship, but not without its challenges.

Roshaneh Zafar, managing director of the Kashf Foundation in Pakistan, drew strong applause when she denounced the actions of the Bangladesh government in seeking to remove Muhammed Yunus, Managing Director (and founder) of the Grameen Bank. She called on delegates, and their friends and supporters world-wide, to write to the government of Bangladesh and to the Grameen Bank in support of Dr Yunus.

Compartamos Banco Chair Alvaro Rodriguez, head of a private sector micro-credit bank, urged people not to be condescending when linking poor people with financial services. “When you’re poor, you cannot stumble,” noted Rodriguez. As a result, many poor people are extremely smart in managing finances, even if they are excluded from capital and banking systems.

On Thursday and Friday, delegates roll up their shirt sleeves and dig deeply into a variety of critical issues, everything from poverty and food security to neuroscience and innovative social finance. An important theme is strengthening working relationships with government and the business sectors, and developing effective collaborations to drive large scale change.