Re-Visioning Ambition: Skoll World Forum 2014 Opening Plenary

MBA student Yashveer Singh is head of the Social Impact Oxford Business Network (OBN) at the Saïd Business School for the current academic year. Yashveer Singh

For me, the Skoll World Forum is an opportunity to listen to the incredible stories of hundreds of social entrepreneurs, CEOs, authors, entrepreneurs and creatives; and the opening plenary was a beautiful dawn to this roller coaster ride.  Taking “Ambition” as its main aim, it sets out to challenge and capture the imagination of participants from across the world. In the presence of so many agents of positive ambition at the event, the theme aptly resonated with the burning desire amongst these entrepreneurs to create a force for a sustainable future.

“Ideas, connection and dialogue”.  Jeff Skoll, Founder of the Skoll Foundation, welcomed the guests by outlining the history and purpose of this annual event. Through my own experiences of working with young social innovators in India, I appreciate the importance of recognizing the efforts of social entrepreneurs in a public forum, and this forum is truly international in flavour.

When Jeff Skoll narrated one of his experience while starting his film production company – “Participant Media”, that aims to produce movies with political or social messages, he met and asked many movie producers that “what are you most proud of?” and interestingly the answer from most of them was “Issue based movies”. For me, the story had a great message and it offered an effective way to evaluate our actions and make right decisions, for every opportunity that comes our way–be it a new venture,  initiative, event, partnership, deal, or a decision to take a job– to ask yourself, “Would it make me feel proud ?”

branson and naqvi skoll world forum

Sir Richard Branson and Arif Naqvi in conversation with Mindy Lubber

One of my personal expectations from the session was to understand the future approaches of businesses. Mindy Lubber, President of Ceres conducted an interview with Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Group and Arif Naqvi, Founder & CEO, The Abraaj Group. Both of them had plenty of insights to offer, and both are role models to thousands of entrepreneurs. The two key strategies highlighted by them to help businesses break through the status quo are:

  • Stakeholder engagement – Engaging actively and sustainability should be at the core and the way forward for businesses. Many times the focus gets restricted by national boundaries although the need is to explore commonalities and work around them as strength.
  • Long-term thinking – Indispensable to work together to create large scale social change, different sectors should come together to achieve the common goals.

The session challenged the audience to think differently about businesses and the role of leaders. Also, it was interesting to know about Sir Richard Branson’s new global initiative, The B Team, whose aim is to catalyse a better way of doing business for the wellbeing of people and the planet.

Sir Ronald Cohen

Sir Ronald Cohen

The photographs showcased by Marcus Bleasdale, a renowned photographer with National Geographic magazine was helpful to understand how arts could be used as an effective tool to bring positive change and especially in the way people think. Moreover, Sir Ronald Cohen, Chairman, Social Impact Investment Taskforce in his talk expressed the need to build a stage where social entrepreneurs could get help the way tech entrepreneurs do;  He concluded his talk by a leaving a very powerful message for the audience, “Lets bring the invisible heart of market with invisible hand of market.”

I couldn’t have asked for a better culmination of the session than through the live performance by Miri Ben-Ari, Grammy award-winning artist, her violin performance was simply phenomenal and no wonder it kept me on the edge of my seat throughout her performance.

The insights generated during the opening plenary left the audience with the burning question of “how do we achieve our ambition?” And I am sure the conversations and various sessions over the next 2 days will help them find some of the answers.