A Sneak Peek at Skoll World Forum 2011

We’re a few days to go until the 8th Skoll World Forum – and are deep in the throes of preparing for hundreds of social entrepreneurs from around the world to descend on our small city of Oxford, troche UK. Over the three days of the Forum, try we’ve packed in a stunning amount of content, and of course, critical time to connect with allies and partners.

This year’s Forum, like years past, tackles issues far and wide, encompassing the growing reach of players within the social innovation ecosystem. As you know, we’re not exclusively an impact investor event – nor do we pretend to be. We all know the frustrations of having conversations in silos– funders lamenting the lack of good investments at one conference while cash-tight entrepreneurs rack their brain for investment options at another event down the road. Instead, we aim to mix things up – stirring in a variety of people, passions, and ideas that when whisked together create potential for impact found nowhere else.

In planning this year’s Forum programme, we simply could not ignore the momentum of social finance. You can no longer talk about collaboration or the potential for large-scale impact without recognizing the massive force social capital markets can play. You’ll see this line of thinking front and centre, and woven throughout, the Forum programme.

So, for you impact investors out there, here’s a sneak peak at some interesting ideas arising out of the Forum– and key sessions to look out for:

Grants funding is still – and will always be – critical

There is no doubt that impact investing has captivated public imagination – and in the process has made philanthropic grant funding seem, well, boring. But let’s not forget that impact investing is a long ways from being a cure all. This year’s Forum highlights how grants are vital in providing the initial unencumbered resources to get enterprises investment ready (Session to watch: “Grants Powering Growth: Jet Fuel for Social Impact?”).

Yet, the challenge now is to understand how the drip-feed of grant funding can work together with (rather than in lieu of) investments to create long-term, complimentary funding streams. Sessions such as “Building the Conveyor Belt: A Collaborative Approach for Lifecycle Funding will address this need to evolve across different types of financiers while “Grants vs Investments: How to Best Decide” will help inform the decisions of entrepreneurs and investors in choosing grants or investment (or both) in their quest for creating maximum impact.

The potential of impact investing is only as powerful as the ventures it can to invest in

First and foremost, innovative models to social solutions take the stage at the Forum. After all, it’s the business model capable of large-scale impact we’re all after – whether to invest in, showcase, replicate, or scale. A whole track on critical issues such as water, energy, aging, and food security will feature the latest innovations. Similarly, sessions such as “Systems Innovation: Breaking Barriers to Large Scale Change” as well as “Markets: Reform or Rebuild” are ones to watch for pioneering innovators.

We’re boldly going where no man or woman has gone before

Let’s be honest: it’s not easy being neither fish nor fowl. We’re all performing a delicate dance in this hazy new space of hybridity – and with that comes contradictions, confusion, and complexity. Sessions such as “Navigating Uncharted Waters: For Profit Companies with Social DNA” and “Pioneering Corporate and Legal Structures for Social Entrepreneurship” address this head on. Other sessions such as “Demonstrating Impact: Innovation and Infrastructure in Metrics” will further highlight these grey-area challenges, and reinforce the need for supporting infrastructure in the social capital landscape.

We work in an ever-increasing connected, collaborative world

This year, the theme of collaboration and exchange arises again and again. Collaboration across regional borders (such as the timely “Risks and opportunities in the MENA Region”) as well as across sectors (“Innovation in Financial Products: Social Impact Bonds and Beyond”) show how a variety of countries and actors are working across conventional party lines.

This notion of connectedness also appears in the ways in which we communicate, share, and interact. Ones to watch include “Clouds, Crowds and Social Change” and “Say What? Storytelling, Language and Culture” on how the power of technology and stories are bridging the people, institutions and information required for large-scale change.

Take care of yourself (ie we need you for the long-haul!)

With all the talk around creating sustainable change, we often forget that there will be no organizational sustainability without sustaining happy, healthy individuals. This year’s Forum aims to recognize that great leaders know how to take care of themselves as they care for their organizations. Sessions such as “Deep Leadership: Interior Dimensions of Large Scale Change”,and “Leadership Renewal: From Good to Great” will take a very personal look at leadership for the long-haul. Similarly, I’m looking forward to the BBC hosted session “Is Heroism Obsolete?” – which is bound to get us questioning the notion of the “heroic entrepreneur” and our own sense of personal fortitude. Anyone building social capital markets knows it is a long, arduous (though exciting) battle ahead –these sessions will remind you to take care of yourself so you can take care of the real work we so desperately need you driving.

Whether you are joining us in personal or virtually at the Skoll World Forum (March 30-April 1), follow along with up-to-date session blogs and recaps at http://www.socialedge.org/blogs/skoll-world-forum-2011 and live feeds at http://www.skollworldforum.org/. See you on twitter at #skollwf.

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