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 Three, and Day Four here. Below is the recap of my Day Two at the Forum.
Accelerating Systems Change: Making Possibility Real
Sally Osberg (Founding President, Skoll Foundation) moderated this panel focused on systems change. She set the tone early by stating that to change anything, you have to understand it. And it takes time.
Safeena Husain (Founder and Executive Director, Educate Girls Foundation, India) talked with us about systems change through the lens of girls’ education. She noted the challenges in India with its population of 1 billion people, many dispersed among 650,000 villages. Husain first asked government agencies to determine where the problems were most acute, then went door-to-door to find girls outside of school and mobilized volunteers. She discovered 5 percent of villages in India have 40 percent of the out-of-school girls.
Husain pioneered the development impact bond. As she grew from 50 schools to 500 to 5,000, she kept questioning whether the value add was the same on an individual level. The intent was to tie money to results, but she emphasized that inclusion and equity must not lose out to money. Even through very serious personal challenges, she persevered, recognizing that systems change is difficult and messy.
Ma Jun (Director, Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs) discussed the challenges and successes of his organization in dealing with environmental management in China through the country’s tremendous growth and its impact on poverty alleviation. As most of us recognize, the growth and economic prosperity has weighed a heavy environmental cost.
Ma noted that China initially copied the environmental laws of Western countries but didn’t have the systems to follow on the enforcement in the same way. Transparency and public accountability were keys to systems change and, according to Ma, of greater importance than regulation. “IPE’s aim is to expand environmental information disclosure to allow communities to fully understand the hazards in the surrounding environment, thereby promoting public participation in environmental governance.”
Olivia Leland (Founder and CEO, Co-Impact) spoke about collaborative philanthropy and how it is about what role philanthropy pays in one seat at the table along with many others, including government and social enterprises. “That’s where systems change fits in so clearly.” While acknowledging that philanthropy can’t drive social change, Leland said that it can be a healthy catalyst for the types of changes we need to social systems. She believes the recent criticisms of philanthropy are healthy and echoed others in agreeing that philanthropy must listen to others to support change. This is a work in progress as philanthropy continues to figure out how to partner with others.
Marc Freedman (CEO and Founder, Encore.org) discussed the changing age demographics. In the U.S., for the first time, there are more people over 60 than under 18. And we are still trying to understand what the demographic destiny means and how older and younger generations can work together.
Freedman noted that our systems have built in age segregation. Systems change requires a change in mindsets and culture. It requires that we bring people together. Speaking for older generations, Freedman said, “Rather than trying to be young, we need to be there for people who actually are …. The real fountain of youth is the fountain with youth.”
Osberg closed by quoting Gandhi: “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”
Is Philanthropy the Solution or Part of the Problem?
Catherine Cheney (Devex) moderated the session, providing an introduction to some of the critical discussions being held on the value and problems of philanthropy. She emphasized that the title of the program should not be approached as a binary question – philanthropy can be both part of the solution and part of the problem.
Edgar Villanueva (Author, Decolonizing Wealth) said, “If we’re serious about change in the world, we have to be comfortable talking about problems.” Villanueva wants to help people lean into the uncomfortable conversations about philanthropy so they become comfortable with solving the problems. This demands that philanthropy listen and stop doing all the talking. This demands developing and building authentic relationships and engagement with the community and community-driven change. Villanueva further noted the growing awareness of the public of the 95% of philanthropic wealth not doing public good. And some of the 5% being used to fund things that should be democratically governed. Making change is a lifelong commitment and journey.
Ella Gudwin (President, VisionSpring) identified awards structures as reductive, reinforcing the power dynamics. She noted the asymmetry of information for philanthropy and amplification of the network effect. Gudwin further raised the definitional issues where commonly used words by nonprofits and philanthropy could have varying meanings (e.g., impact, innovation, sustainability, scale). Another area in which philanthropy and grantees are typically not on the same page is in understanding their respective risk tolerances, particularly with respect to results expected from the grant funding.
Rodney Foxworth (Executive Director, BALLE) discussed the issues around wealth redistribution as the demographics change. Focusing on the United States, he said philanthropy must grapple with how the country looks when the majority of its citizens no longer have wealth to maintain or sustain themselves. It’s not a question about how philanthropy helps African Americans or other marginalized groups. It’s a question about how we do it together. It’s about how we leverage philanthropic capital to produce community wealth. Foxworth said, “Reckon with the lessons learned from social movement leaders. We’ve moved away from things that have led to change.” He further said we must move from extraction to transformation and noted several good resources, including Justice Funders.
Deval Sanghavi (Co-Founder, Dasra) discussed the Dasra model. Dasra “was founded on the simple premise that supporting non-profits in their growth will scale their impact on the vulnerable lives they serve. … Dasra acts as a catalyst in India’s vibrant philanthropic sector by driving collaborative action to accelerate social change ….”
Deval, who was one of my dinner companions last night, readily acknowledged the community’s social leaders as the experts. His role is to help them dream big again. Deval said, “It’s smarter to be closer to your investees than your investors. That’s how you create impact.” He criticized the model of some global grantmakers that involve bringing experts that helped a solution in one country to create solutions for other countries. It’s better to fund local capacity and have honest conversations with grantees.
Cheney closed by asking attendees to commit to taking action today. You can read more about this session – Questioning Big Philanthropy At The Skoll World Forum: Is It Too Powerful And Out Of Touch? (Forbes); How funders are fighting philanthropy that is ‘top down, closed door, expert driven’ (Devex)
2019 Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship
People doing amazing work, transforming and saving lives:
- Nancy Lublin – “Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, connecting people in crisis to trained Crisis Counselors. Our first priority is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy. YOU = our priority.”
- Nicola Galombik and Maryana Iskander – “Harambee is a not-for-profit social enterprise with extensive experience building solutions and innovations that can solve the global youth unemployment challenge. We partner in South Africa and Rwanda with business, government, young people and many others who are committed to results that can work at scale. We tackle the youth unemployment challenge using data, innovation, partnerships and on-the-ground experience to build pragmatic, implementable solutions that get results.”
- Bright Simons and Selorm Branttie – “mPedigree is the global leader in the use of mobile and web technologies in securing products against faking, counterfeiting and diversion. Partnering more than two-dozen telecom operators, Fortune 500 technology companies, and regulatory agencies in several countries, mPedigree has created more than a technology platform; we have helped launch a movement. Experts believe the counterfeit trade is worth about $700 billion a year. But it is the trade in fake medicines, in particular, that has raised the greatest alarm: nearly 2,000 people are estimated to die from falsified and sub-standard medicines yearly.”
- Gregory Rockson – “At mPharma, we believe in the principle that access to safe and affordable healthcare is a universal human right. We won’t cease until our vision is a reality. … There are enough drugs to treat every person in Africa suffering from hypertension, diabetes, malaria and HIV. The problem is an inefficient supply chain. … We use the collective power of our network of pharmacies to negotiate lower prices with the best manufacturers. Our technology handles the information and financial aspects of a prescription.”
- Julie Cordua – “Thorn was born in 2012. Our co-founders Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore had learned about the issue of child sex trafficking from a documentary highlighting what was happening to children in Cambodia. … Thorn CEO Julie Cordua joined soon after to begin to dig further into the issue of child sex trafficking. There was a common theme that emerged from those working in the field — technology was playing a role in extending the crime. However, technology had yet to play a significant part in its solution. … We now house the first engineering and data science team focused solely on developing new technologies to combat online child sexual abuse.”
Read more about the inspirational award recipients in the multimedia press release here.