Each year the Skoll Centre invites a small number of Oxford students to the annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Each year they share their unique perspectives of the sessions and events that unfold during this magical time in Oxford.
The ecosystem event on Scouting and Scaling SDG solutions was one of the most popular, independently run events during the week of the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, with attendees filling every seat in the room, eager to dive into the conversation. Hosted by the United Nations Foundation (UNF), shift7, and Project X-ite, the event was a convening of innovators, entrepreneurs, investors, and philanthropists from all over the world who were looking to help accelerate the pace at which we meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
What is the Solutions Summit?
shift7 and UNF started the session off by recounting what worked from their experiences with the UN Solutions Summit over the last four years. The Solutions Summit was co-created in 2015 by shift7 leaders, UNF, and UN leaders to find and bring together innovators from around the world who are already advancing a number of the goals. The process connects them with acceleration partners to help them scale their work and culminates in an annual event during the UN General Assembly high-level week.
The key to their success has been connecting a diverse and gender balanced set of local innovators from across the world with a variety of accelerators. The Solutions Summit experience expands access for these innovators to the resources and mentors they need to move forward faster with their solutions.
“Lightning Talks” and Audience Acceleration
Attendees at the ecosystem event were first given a taste of the UN Solutions Summit in the form of “lightning talks” by solution-makers followed by a roundtable acceleration session for each of them. As was done at the UN, the lightning talks were a chance for innovators and entrepreneurs to briefly describe the challenge they were addressing, the work they had already done, and the gaps they needed filled.
Six solution-makers that had been chosen for past UN Solutions Summits took to the stage and gave a two-minute pitch about their work:
Next, came an incredibly lively discussion as each of these entrepreneurs retreated to round-table discussions, where eager attendees from across the world offered advice drawing from their own experiences. Victoria Colondam’s table, for example, offered ideas for potential new business models, connections to the right investors, and suggestions for branding and messaging. The power of the collective was so strong that Victoria was able to walk away with pages of actionable notes by the end of the session.
How to Get Involved
Use this model to accelerate solutions in your own community.
At Thursday’s ecosystem event, the University of Denver’s Project X-ite Managing Director, Nina Sharma described two events they co-created in 2018: the Colorado Solutions Summit to support the growth of Colorado-based entrepreneurs working towards meeting the SDGs, and a separate weekend-long event called “Flight to Denver” that brought 17 solution makers from UN Solutions Summit 2015 and 2016 to Denver to collaborate with local Colorado entrepreneurs.
The Solutions Summit process can easily be replicated around the world. From students, to professors, investors to entrepreneurs, non-profits to governments foundations to corporates; all actors can reach out and learn about co-creating a local Solutions Summit by contacting the organizers here.
This approach of locally bringing together the brightest minds from a diverse set of industries, functions, and geographies can serve as a catalyst for discovering some of the most creative solutions to challenging problems. Those presenting have to be vulnerable, open up about their challenges and their mistakes, and everyone else attending must be good listeners, willing to make connections in unique ways. The solutions are out there; we just need to cultivate the right environment in local communities to accelerate possibilities.
About the Author
Tulsi Parida is a Pershing Square scholar at the University of Oxford, where she most recently completed an MSc at the Oxford Internet Institute, studying the implications of mobile learning technologies in emerging markets through a gender and political economy lens. She is currently pursuing an MBA at Saïd Business school, where she is focused on responsible business and impact finance/investing. In previous years, she has led teams at start-ups in the US and India working to reduce digital divides in literacy. Tulsi is committed to reducing digital inequality and promoting responsible/inclusive tech.