On The Road – Part 5 (Skoll Debrief)
If you’ve been faithfully following this series of blog posts (like I know you all have) you would know that the main reason for coming to the UK was to visit the Skoll Word Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Well it is now Sunday night after the forum concluded and I am sitting in my hotel after spending two days digesting everything that has happened over the lat few days! I would like to say I have a clear vision of the forum to communicate, however there was simply so much happening that my aim is just to try to communicate the important points and try not to miss anything!
Dan & I arrived Tuesday afternoon from London and settled in to our accommodation at Wadham College. Wednesday was registration, in the morning then I went on a walking tour of Oxford, from this point I could count on one hand how many times I would see Dan before the end of the forum, it seems to be an event that will do that to you! By the close of Wednesday I had done one tour, three networking events, had 25 conversations, and lost my voice! Dinner on Wednesday night was split across some of the colleges in Oxford and conveniently mine was at Wadham College! These dinners were a fantastic equaliser, as they were drawn randomly, so there was no control over who sat with who. On my table I had a Middle Eastern Princess, Head of CSR at Unilever, a British Lawyer, I pharmaceuticals employee going through a crisis of conscience, an MBA student and two American fund managers.
Thursday morning was the opening of the Forum by it’s namesake Jeff Skoll (eBay billionaire turned story teller). This was followed by an always entertaining Hans Rosling who, after educating us on the direction of population growth (it will level out at 10bn), provided us the quote of the forum: “I would like to coin a new name for the developing world, I would like to call it ‘The World’”. That may not make sense on it’s own, but I urge you to watch the presentation, it was a wonderful mix of data visualisation, important messages, and how to use toilet paper as an effective prop.
My first session was ‘From Farm to Plate: Financing Change, Changing Finance’, which provided some great examples of what was happening in agriculture finance, but failed to explore the future of the industry, and what innovations might be needed. I did hear great comments about the session ‘Beyond GDP’, in the same time slot, from a number of people.
After lunch I attended a great session hosted by Pamela Hartigan called ‘David and Goliath Revisited: Partnerships Between Social Entrepreneurs and Big Business’, which presented two completely different, but innovative approaches to social businesses & NGOs working with big multinationals. Whilst the partnership between HP and mothers2mothers was interesting, especially how HP was using this CSR to foster it’s RnD fro the next generation, it was the partnership between Embrace and Novartis Pharmaceuticals that really caught my attention. Embrace, which is an NGO that manufactures and sells low cost incubators to developing areas, engaged (pun intended) in a distribution agreement with Novartis, which was putting salespeople on the ground in these areas. The arrangement was completely commercial, with Novartis making a cut, along with goodwill, and Embrace getting access to a distribution network far beyond their means. Win win, and a commercially sustainable arrangement. This is what I was here to see.
Before the Skoll Awards Dan & I were able to meet up with a group of Impact Investors and interested parties, which, whilst sounding serious, was just a great chat with great people. I had a long chat with two Lithuanians who have started a start-up incubator integrated with a KickStarter type website: http://www.bkcentras.lt/bures/ and I met the guys from Matternet, a start-up hoping to apply drone technology to transport medical supplies where road transport isn’t an option. The Skoll Awards were an Oscar like presentations to some fantastic NGOs that are doing amazing things. I was a little disappointed that none of the awardees were sustainable businesses, but I soon forgot that when Annie Lennox come to the stage and blew us all away with a performance that will stay with me forever. Watch it here. The night closed with a wonderful reception at the Ashmoleon Museum, Oxford’s premier museum. Great conversation was had, and it always feels a little naughty drinking wine in a museum!
Friday morning started with a lively session called ‘Transforming Markets to Save Forests’ which challenged a rather aggressive Greenpeace panelist in how to tackle corporations. I was told however that the standout session for this time slot was ‘Catastrophic Risk and Threats to the Global Commons’, in Dan’s words: this was what the conference was about.
My next session was ‘Story Telling for Impact’ and despite being interrupted by a fire alarm, it was great to understand the importance of how your story is communicated, something easy to forget when you;re the finance guy!
The conference was closed by a panel including Gidon Bromberg and Ariana Huffington, and was a nice close to a few amazing days. Watch it here. I will never forget these few days in Oxford, I met more amazing people in a few days than you could hope to meet in a lifetime, and had more incredibly interesting conversations than I could imagine. The next few weeks will be a rush of emails, ensuring as many relationships as possible are maintained, but no matter what happens, I will be better for having experienced these few days in Oxford.