Every year since 2004, the Skoll Foundation has convened its community for a transformative week in Oxford at the Skoll World Forum. Change-makers and thought leaders come from all different sectors: from government to business to civil society and media. This remarkable group comes together to learn, to share, to strike up partnerships, and to be inspired.
The Skoll World Forum has evolved to become the annual gathering of social entrepreneurs and the innovators who support them. It is an opportunity to celebrate transformative work in the field, including with the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. It is an opportunity to recharge, to be nourished by a dialogue among peers and partners driving towards solutions to the world’s thorniest problems.
This audio selection exploring some favorite moments from 15 years of the Skoll World Forum features excerpts of Sally’s conversations with Ruth Norris, former Skoll Foundation program officer, Sarah Borgman, Skoll Foundation’s Director of Community and Convenings, and Phil Collis, Skoll Foundation’s Creative Director.
Ruth Norris: Now we haven’t really ever sat down and talked much about history.
Sally: No, we haven’t.
Ruth: What do you remember about the first Skoll World Forum?
Sally: We created the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship and we saw the forum as the outward facing manifestation of that partnership with Oxford, a way to knit together theory and practice, and always keep the energy of the practitioners front and center.
If I think back on the very first Skoll World Forum. We invited people. We came up with the program. We asked people to participate in various panels and such. And then the day came and…no one was more surprised and delighted than I was that, you know, 400 plus people showed up from all over the world, who wanted to talk about social entrepreneurship, wanted to talk about the issues that they were addressing, wanted to share what they’ve learned.
We had none of the production values that we came to have over time. And it wasn’t really until the following year that we put the awards ceremony in there. And I believe that was really driven by the celebrate pillar in our mission— invest, connect and celebrate. The Skoll Forum is all about connecting, but there was this opportunity then to shine a light on people who were really accelerating positive change in the world.
Ruth: I remember the first awards. The first Skoll World Forums and the first awards ceremonies were lovely. They were a lot of fun. They were held in classrooms and lecture halls at, at Oxford University at the Saîd Business School.
Sally: Obviously, we’ve really upped our game when it comes to music and who we attract.
Sarah: We’ve had some incredibly inspirational music and other kinds of performing acts. And I think back to the Rwandan women drummers, the Hutu and Tutsi women whose families had crossed paths in very negative ways, whose husbands and sons had been slaughtered by the opposition. And yet these women came together after the war and decided to celebrate their lives and the future they had ahead of them with this amazing drumming.
Sally: And of course, last year with Michael Franti just getting everybody singing and dancing. And you know, Don Henley was in there. Bono was up there….So that was an awesome, awesome, joyous exhilarating moment.
But Peter Gabriel singing to Archbishop Tutu—that was one of my all-time highlights.
Phil Collis: And not just any song.
Sally: Yeah, Biko. And we were honoring Arch, he was the first Global Treasure and rightly so. And I just will never forget Peter coming on stage. And of course, Arch got up in that first row and started dancing.
Phil: And he’s got moves!
Sally: He’s got moves! He does, he does.
Phil: Yeah. Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.
Sally: Oh, Annie Lennox, she was brilliant. It’s like everyone we’ve had has been so special and so really has resonated with the spirit and the culture, and been so honored to be in that mix of people.
And this, this year, I think, people are just hungry for it because it seems we’re just being assaulted with bad news and you know that’s where the Forum and that community and those people plugging into one another and their collective power, it really is electrifying at its best.
It’s a pretty amazing thing when you get to sit down with one of our social entrepreneurs or with everyone from, you know, Al Gore, to Anne Cotton, to Archbishop Tutu to Grassa Michel Milala, Bono. And somehow these people who are larger than life, they bring their humanity with them to the Forum.
And early on, Jimmy Carter spoke—before we had a Global Treasure or he would have been one. He talked a lot in that speech about his childhood, he talked about the legacy of slavery in the south, which he grew up with. He talked about knowing even as a child that this was wrong.
He also spoke with incredible specificity with vivid, vivid images of about his fight, the Carter Center’s fight against guinea worm. And it was just a riveting and very powerful, very powerful speech.This will be my last forum as president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation.