Skoll World Forum 2017: A Bigger Tent

By Sarah Zak Borgman

When people come to the Skoll World Forum for the first time, there’s often a moment when something clicks, and they say, “I’ve finally found my tribe.” To share a week so rich with stories from the front lines of social, economic, and political change is invigorating. To meet and establish enduring connections with so many visionary change agents, from so many nations, is fortifying. For years, we’ve loved that ‘finding our tribe’ sense that delegates take home. This year, though, that sentiment feels far less comfortable.

Our theme this year, Fault Lines: Creating Common Ground, emerged in the wake of Brexit, but in advance of the US election, as an effort to address the growing divide in how people perceive and experience the world, and their place in a shifting cultural landscape. We reflected on the mounting challenges of globalism and saw the need to address the glaring reality of these newly visible fault lines among and between citizens of the United States and other nations. It’s not in our nature though to dwell in the negative. With the Forum this year, we wanted to flip the coin on this new reality and explore the pressing need to create common ground.

With this in mind, we’ve invited social entrepreneurs and global thinkers, funders, and leaders of the corporate sector to explore how they create common ground in this challenging environment. We knew particularly this year it would be important to cultivate a healthy and spirited conversation from all sides of the political spectrum, even more so than we’ve done in the past. We took stock of the geographically diverse set of delegates that we’ve assembled over the years and we realized that perhaps we had not given enough attention to diversity of political thought.

The Forum this year will reflect an effort to take the big tent we’ve created over the last 14 years, and expand it even further to enrich the dialogue we believe fuels solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. We created open space within the convening to encourage independent organizations to host deeper dive sessions on topics that we wouldn’t necessarily be able to cover adequately. As part of an expanded Skoll Week, these externally-hosted “Ecosystem Events” will cover topics such as global education, financing climate change solutions, measuring social impact globally, the changing media dynamics, among others. We hope these events, open to the public beyond Skoll World Forum delegates, will inject fresh perspectives into our community, and work towards the goal of creating a truly common ground.

We hope this redesign of the Forum with a more open format will facilitate the exchange of truly diverse perspectives that span the rifts that have become so prominent. We expect our delegates to continue to walk away from their week in Oxford feeling like they’ve found entry into a tribe with common cause. This year though, we hope they’ll also leave with a better understanding of points of view far beyond familiar ground.

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