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Social Entrepreneurship as a Discipline: The Skoll Centre

ndThe Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship was launched in 2003 at Oxford’s Saïd Business School to promote the advancement of social entrepreneurship worldwide. The Skoll Foundation provided what was at the time the largest grant ever received by a business school for an international program in social entrepreneurship. The first Skoll Scholars were welcomed in 2004 and the first Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship was held.

The Skoll Centre works towards innovative social transformation through cutting-edge research and collaboration among business, policy, academic, and social leaders. Its global network magnifies the work of its researchers, students, and wider community beyond local and national boundaries. The Centre’s approach values collaboration, systemic impact, and intellectual rigor. It develops talent and emerging leadership, supports actionable insights through research, and catalyzes deep exchanges with a global community of innovators.

This audio selection exploring the creation of the Centre features excerpts of Sally’s conversation with Sandy Herz, Skoll Foundation’s Director of Global Partnerships.

Sandy Herz: Can you talk a little bit about how the Skoll Centre came to be?

Sally Osberg: It’s a roundabout story that really begins a fellow named Mike Malone, who’s a friend of both Jeff’s and mine. Mike was an early advisor to eBay and someone who’s been called the Boswell of Silicon Valley.

Mike was the editor of Forbes ASAP back in the early 2000s, and Forbes ASAP was the first digital version of Forbes. Mike arranged to give a speech on Silicon Valley and on technology at the Said Business School in its earliest days.

He immediately started connecting people and ideas. So his first idea was to create “Silicon Valley Comes To Oxford.” The first dean of the business school, a fellow named Anthony Hopwood, thought that was a great idea. Mike urged Jeff and me to attend. We did, and we got to know the school a bit. So Mike’s next thought was to get together with Stephan Chambers who was heading the MBA program under Anthony, and think about how the Skoll Foundation would really forge a relationship with Said.

We thought that was a great idea. We could see that there was a place for academic support for students, and for faculty to develop this field of social entrepreneurship. But no one, as far as we knew, had yet done anything with an international business school. Said had the most international student body of any business school anywhere, which really fit with our international mandate as a foundation.

So subsequent to that conversation, Mike and Stephan Chambers and I all get together at a restaurant in San Jose, and it was literally one of those sketch it on the–I don’t know if it was a napkin or a tablecloth—we sketched out his vision for a Centre at the Said School at Oxford that would pull together all these pieces. So a scholarship for social entrepreneurs, who wouldn’t otherwise have access to a business education.

And finally we thought a way to bridge practice and theory was important. And we conceived this idea of the Skoll World Forum. And so that was the package we negotiated with Oxford University, and by 2003, we had an agreement. And we held the first Skoll World Forum there in March of 2004.

In some ways we are not surprised, in other ways we were blown away that you could create an academic intellectual hub for social entrepreneurship and for this emergent field, this nascent field, and the students flocked.

Sandy: I think it was also visionary to think of bringing to together social entrepreneurship, which is really about innovating on the cutting edge and moving society forward, and having it in this place so steeped in history, and with so much depth and the cobblestone streets.

Sally: It was a breakthrough for a 900-year university.

Sandy: So as you think about the future for the Skoll Centre.

Sally: There are so many seeds that have been planted. And the thing that gives me greatest optimism for the future of the Centre is that we have a really terrific leader now in Peter Drobac.

I think social entrepreneurship has been marginalized. I think now it’s moment is here, and harnessing the potential of that momentum is really the Centre’s to claim. There’s no question in my mind that the talent that they’re unleashing in the world will make us all proud, the kind of difference that we always imagined.

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