2019 Skoll World Forum – Day Four

I’m in Oxford, England for the 2019 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, taking place from April 9 through April 12. This year’s theme, Accelerating Possibility, is focused on exploring how humanity can accelerate a future that is fair, inclusive, and sustainable. You can find links to my recaps of Day One, Day Two, and Day Three here. Below is the recap of my Day Four at the Forum.

Pat Mitchell (President, Pat Mitchell Media) asked the audience about the impossible dreams they imagined before breakfast. She noted this is the community that believes in change and taking the impossible and making it possible every day. Stories well told create change. But our access to the narrative is threatened with consolidation of news and partisan views of those controlling these sources. With that she introduced the first plenary speaker:

Christiane Amanpour (Chief International Anchor, CNN) discussed how the Islamic Revolution in Iran catalyze her desire to be a journalist. She then discussed her career journey within CNN from desk assistant to Chief International Anchor recognized as one of the most reputable persons in the world. She noted her experiences in Bosnia, the first time when journalists became targets in part because they had to tell the truth. Truth is not neutrality; objectivity is not neutrality. Amanpour refused to be complicit in genocide. Her mantra is truthful not neutral. She said you have to hold the political leader interviewees accountable. In discussing the public’s growing distrust of the media, she said there are a few trustworthy anchor sources in democratic countries but we all have a responsibility to educate ourselves and find them.

Chiwetel Ejiofor (Actor, Director, Writer) talked about reading the book, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, optioning the film rights, and meeting with William Kamkwamba and fellow residents in the village of Wimbe. Ejiofor wanted to ensure that the film would show an authentic view of rural village life. Jess Search (CEO, DOC Society), who was interviewing Ejiofor, told the audience that she loved what he had said in the past about African rural life: “Poverty is of the pocket, not of the spirit or mind.”

Ejiofor discussed a familiar challenge of convincing developers to shoot the film in Africa. He noted that stories from Africa will enrich the global cultural space in radical ways. And there’s ample evidence that mainstream audiences have a great appetite for these stories. Ejiofor proclaimed that all countries are developing countries and we are all developing together. He closed by appreciating the film’s theme of education. He said, “This idea of investing in education, even if it seems like a drop in the ocean, it really isn’t.” He added that education has “the extraordinary ripple effect to create change.”

Kumi Naidoo (Secretary General, Amnesty International) closed the Forum stating that the times we live in are characterized by moral panic. Citing global problems of oligarchies, deepening inequality, xenophobia, and climate change, he said we need system redesign and transformation. The status quo is broken, and the solution is not making baby steps when we need fundamental change. He asked rhetorically who is rising up and engaging in civil disobedience. He answered, “Our children.” And he said that this is why we must elevate their voices.

Naidoo said, “As culture makers …, we need to recognize that this is the time for creative maladjustment.” He added (surprisingly paraphrasing Steve Brannon): “Politics does not lead culture; culture leads politics.” Currently, the forces of negativity and hate are more savvy shaping culture. This is why, Naidoo said, that we must reject leaders who control with xenophobia, racism, and misogyny while still loving the people who voted for these leaders. He said that we must not give up on these people; we must find their humanity and lead them back or admit that we failed our children and future generations. Naidoo closed his speech with a note of optimism: “Let’s hope we’re just one step away from winning justice and equality for everybody on this planet.”

The evening closed with Naidoo leading the audience and the other plenary speakers in an African folk song. An inspired way to close an amazing conference that was much more than I expected as a first time attendee.

The Skoll World Forum is not a conference for wealthy plutocrats and elite institutions. It’s not a conference for entrepreneurs who use the “social” adjective for marketing and long-range profit maximization. The Skoll World Forum is for honest, sincere, true social entrepreneurs. And I was thrilled at seeing such a diverse, global audience and access opened up digitally to anyone interested. The Skoll World Forum left me inspired to think and act bigger. There’s no better reason to attend a conference.