I love going to conferences. Yes, I am one of those people who show up full of anticipation that I will learn something new, meet someone who will become my new best friend, deepen relationships with people I already know, experience something different, and leave fully fueled so that I can continue in my diverse efforts to help make the world a better place. As we all know, some conferences are better than others, but as I depart from my inaugural trip to the SKOLL World Forum in Oxford, England, I checked off all of the above!
In case you have not heard about it, what exactly is this special event? It is a by-invitation gathering that happens only once a year, and it is hosted by the team at the Skoll Foundation. They bring together nearly 1,000 top innovators from more than 60 countries for debate, discussion, and networking, and the conference is designed to accelerate entrepreneurial solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. What’s not to like about that? The theme for this year was fierce compassion as a driver of social progress. It just so happens that both of those words; fierce and compassion, happen to be on my top ten list of words that inspire me, so my expectations for this conference were very high.
To do a full debrief on every session I attended, every speaker I heard, and every new and awesome person I met would fill up a book, and indeed it did, so allow me to share the highlights in an unusual form. Included below are some of my favorite people, powerful words, calls to action, and more, all in chronological order. I hope you like it.
Utah to Oxford. 4810 Miles. Arrive in pouring rain. Surprised? England. Check-in. HI. Hey. HI. Hey. HI. Me? First time. You? My second. My fifth. My tenth. Me too. Walking tour? Sure! 38 colleges, some dating back to the 13th century? Cool. Understatement. Pub night at the Head of the River. Another please. Shining Hope for Communities. Find Me Unafraid. Love Story Jessica + Kennedy. New besties? Check. Sleep? Not really.
Excitement! First session. Higher Ground: Faith and Spirituality as Levers for Change. We cannot retreat to our silos. Dialogue. Fav? Molly Melching. TOSTAN. Include religious leaders in the process to discuss and change negative social norms. Human rights education. Lunch. Global Innovation Fund. New. Grounded in evidence with rigorous measurement. Follow-up. Introductions. Research. First Plenary. Stephan Chambers. For the next few days, you do not have to explain why you do what you do. What we combat does not get tired. Jeff Skoll. Climate Crisis. YES IT’S REAL. Mary Robinson. Paris Agreement. Get FIERCER. The Fierce Urgency of Now. Selina Leem. Marshall Islands. One of the most vulnerable places on earth to climate change. Annie Griffiths. Ripple Effect. If we want women to be valued we must show their value. Indoor pollution #1 killer of women in the developing world and children under the age of five. 4.3 million deaths per year. Hut Lung. Say what? Al Gore. #sofunny. #whoknew. Three questions. 1) Do we really have to change? 2) Can we Change? 3) Will we change? BAD News. Really Bad. Hope. Global wind and solar capacity. This is a moral choice. Pick a side. Let us not forget that the power of people is much stronger than that of people in power. Malek Jandali. Syrian American Composer and Pianist. Breathtaking. Next. The Neuroscience of Fierce Compassion. Can we grow empathy? Is empathy a choice? Academic debate. Way too many ideas and questions. Brain exploding. Finding your story and making it count: A Session with Sundance. Tabitha Jackson. #girlcrush. What makes a good story? Truth. Transcendence. Transformation. I get to work with her. Na na na na na na. Think about how things should fit together. Then fit them together. The world is full of free things that are delightful. Delight. Funders reception. Dinner. Sleep? Not really.
#soexited. Leading Through Adversity. Pat Mitchell. #bestie. Alaa Murabit.Mary Robinson. Mphu Tutu. Halla Tomasdottir. Running for President of Iceland and an absolutely amazing woman. Wish she was running here! What is the source of the power? From where does one derive it? When you specifically wrong you learn a lot, when you are vaguely right you do not. As a leader are you giving space, or taking it? Next. The News We Need. @jesssearch. Brit Doc. #girlcrush. What is news? …what someone does not want to be printed…helps us to understand who we are and what we care about…reveals truth…@wajahatali @zoesqwilliams @doctoryasmin @anasglobal!!!!! @anasglobal in a mask, deep investigative journalist in Ghana. Name. Shame. Jail. Justice sold is the most dangerous commodity on earth. On corruption. Google Raceboy. Islamophobia. Pay for quality journalism! Funders lunch. Women and girls table. Most crowded! WOO HOO. Plenary. Sally Osberg President and CEO Skoll Foundation. #girlcrush Do we have an innate desire and capacity for justice? Skoll Awardees. $1.25 mm each. GO HERE to view them all. AMAZING. Separate blog. Reception at the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Technology. Stories of Change Dinner. The Slug and the Lettuce. Beer and networking. Networking and beer. Sleep? Ya right.
Last day. Private meeting. Molly Melching. TOSTAN. #impact #beautifulperson. Panel. Challenging Global Wealth and Inquality. Fav? Darren Walker, President Ford Foundation. #guycrush. New face? Nick Hanauer. Middle-up economics versus trickle down economics. What are the drivers of inequality? Persistent prejudice and negative cultural narratives… corruption…rigged rules…aspirational deficits…immoral capitalism…We need more rich white guys talking about inquality. Is revolution inevitable? Closing Plenary. Alexander Betts. Director. Refugee Center. Oxford. Research on Myths around Refugees. Need a paradigm shift. Man does not live on food and water alone. But on hope. Know the facts. Change the narrative. Create a just scheme to distribute refugees. #respect. #humanrights. Tabitha Jackson. Again! #awesome. Sonita. Sundance premiered documentary film. Yes I was there. Her story. Afghanistan. Iran. Girl rapper. WATCH THIS NOW. Seriously. WATCH. Activist. Must see. When you don’t have papers you don’t exist. I was not mad at my mom. I was mad at society. On social norms around child marriage. Official close. Stephan Chambers. The will to act is itself a renewable resource. Be clear that what you do is important. Last Thing. Henry James. Only three things are important in life. The First is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third? To be kind.
After the conference was officially over, I hung around for six more hours chatting with the other “slow to departers”. I had the pleasure of meeting up with Heather Mason, Founder and CEO of the Caspian Agency, who was responsible for executing this multi-day event. To say she is a conference planning rockstar would indeed be an understatement.
As I type now I am sitting at the Heathrow airport about to board my flight back home. Will I be back next year? Darn right I will! Congrats to the SKOLL team for a job incredibly well done, and for ALL the work they do in support of social entrepreneurs everywhere. Truly incredible! And if you are looking for incredible organizations to support, spend some time on the SKOLL website to read about their many awardees. I think you will be hard-pressed to find a better list of amazing non-profits that are worthy of our support.
PS – definition of girl crush: feelings of admiration and adoration that a girl (woman) has for another girl (woman). A nonsexual attraction, usually based on veneration at some level.
Photo with Pat Mitchell and Halla Tomasdottir, who is currently running for the President of Iceland.