Skoll World Forum 2013: Everything You Need To Know

Mark Hand, one of our Skoll Skollars, takes us on a recap of the Skoll World Forum. As Mark says, “happy reading”!


If you missed this year’s Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, never fear: a raft of students from across Oxford worked all week long to get you the inside scoop on the conversations going on in the high-level hallways of Said Business School. The write-ups of our student correspondents provide a pretty comprehensive–and quite encouraging–window into the world of social entrepreneurship.

The theme of this year’s forum, disruption, surfaced in a number of posts. I look at four skills necessary for shifting systems; MBA Meagan Johnson takes it up a notch to the power of system design itself. Rwanda, Sara Leedom argued, has practical lessons to teach us on such system-level change—unfortunately, the session she visited missed the boat. At the same time, Environmental Anthropology PhD Shauna Monkman points out one critical flaw in using Rwanda a model of disruptive change. DPhil Guillermo Cassanovas provides notes from a session with industry leaders well on their way to effecting large-scale change; MBA Michael Thornton examines how large companies can do this in a way that is more than “staving off Mr. Freeze with a Bic Lighter.”

There were a few well-trodden topics: James Tilbury covers the birth of yet the latest, greatest impact measurement tool put forward by the founder of now-bankrupt Monitor Group; and MBA Nicki Ashcroft offers a quirky comparison between impact measurement and one of your favorite children’s cartoons. MBAs Akiko Aiba and Nat Ware explore the relationship between social enterprise, aid, and philanthropy.

The mobile phone effect got a lot of play at this year’s Forum. That’s not too surprising, MBA Charlton Mak points out, given that mobile phones are more prevalent globally than toilets. MBA Sabre Collier says she is still looking for a business model that might be appropriate to Angola, dear to her heart; fellow Skoll Scholar Shubham Anand may have uncovered ideas in both monitoring and payments, while DPhil Ali Aslan Gümüsay asks how innovations like these can be taken to scale.

One of the biggest open questions at the 2013 Skoll World Forum was the question of youth unemployment–a hot topic beyond Said Business School. Both MBA Chad Anderson and MPhil Sherihan Abd El Rahman report out on the “ticking time bomb” of youth unemployment in the Middle East and North Africa. What can investors do? MBAs Chris Hunter and Greg Coussa might have some answers: Chris discusses one approach to startup generation with which we’re experimenting here at Said Business School, and Greg highlights the work one organization is doing to support small- and medium-sized enterprises around the world.

But what, exactly, does it take to get this hard work done? One surprising topic from the week was the importance of emotional connection. In her second article, Shauna Monkman wonders if the ability to connect is behind one of social entrepreneurship’s greatest successes; MPP Ken Moriyama suggests its power as a check on the worst demons of do-gooders.

Finally, if all this is still a muddle to you, I posted a Social Entrepreneurship 101 designed for beginners and a first stab at identifying key conversations happening at the Forum. Happy reading!

Social Entrepreneurship 101

 Continuing our series of posts by our University of Oxford students attending the Skoll World Forum, Mark Hand and his colleagues give us their take on an introduction to Social Entrepreneurship.  As Mark says, doctor “happy enterprising!”

“Social Entrepreneurship,” according to one definition, “strives to solve social problems at a systemic level using innovative, sustainable, scalable, inclusive and measurable approaches.”


Confused about social entrepreneurship? You’re not alone. -Image by Debbie Levey

In the 1980s, Ashoka Foundation’s Bill Drayton started using the phrase social entrepreneur to describe the people he funded to fix the world’s problems. Thirty years later, we use the phrase (and its sister, impact investing) to encompass nearly all novel do-goodery. The result is that it takes a couple of years working in social entrepreneurship or impact investing before you can get a grip on who’s who and the various meanings that different players attach to the same words. And the upshot is a clear division between insiders and outsiders. This keeps insiders’ jobs safe, I suppose, but it also prevents a lot of smart people from contributing to some of the coolest work on the planet.

So, in an effort to demystify the world of social entrepreneurship and impact investing, here’s a primer edited from a post written during the 2012 Emerge Conference at Oxford. If you’re a veteran, you’ll recognize all these names–and probably roll your eyes at how often the same examples are trotted around stage. If you’re new, we hope this can be a useful starting point.

Why Should We Care About This Social Entreprenonsense? 

If you’ve gotten this far, presumably you are already interested in social entrepreneurship. There’s good reason to be. If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll be competing for funding and spots at commercial incubators like Y Combinator with social entrepreneurs that have a head start on a compelling, convincing pitch. If you work at a nonprofit, you’ll be fighting for talent and money with a growing, exciting field. If you’re an investor, for-profit impact investors like Bamboo Finance will be pitching the same pension funds that you used to have a lock on. And if you’re a regulator, watch out: millions, and soon billions, of dollars are doing an end-around governments’ own poverty-alleviation and environmental agencies by going through foundations, private companies, and sometimes developed world aid agencies.

Broadly Speaking

To review: (1) Social entrepreneurship is opaque and ill-defined. But (2) It also matters right now and it will matter more in the future. None of that gets at our original question, though–what is it? How can we split up the things people include when they talk about social entrepreneurship?


Many of the leading funders of social entrepreneurship–Acumen, Gray Ghost Ventures, Unitus, Ashoka–cut their teeth on microfinance. In brief, microfinance is the provision of loans, often in the developing world, that are typically at smaller amounts and lower interest rates than existing banks and moneylenders. Kiva, an online marketplace for microloans, is probably the most well-known. Among the other pantheon of microfinance gods are the Grameen Bank (and Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus), Accion, and BRAC. Microfinance splits roughly into three camps: first, nonprofit microfinanciers like Grameen; second, government agencies such as USAID and DFID that underwrote the sector for decades; third, for-profit microfinance funders like Unitus, which invested in the for-profit Indian microfinance bank SKS. The latter are the most controversial; in 2010 SKS became the second microfinance bank to list publicly (and make some investors a boatload of money) at the same time that the suicides of some of its clients pushed the industry to the brink of collapse.

Impact Investing

As microfinance’s golden age came and quickly passed, many funders moved in the early 2000s to the work of funding startups with high-growth potential and significant social impact. In 2007, these groups created the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) to promote their work. Today, this kind of investing is called impact investing. You might also hear the phrases patient capital, venture philanthropy, or social venture capital.

That work, broadly, is venture capital with a social or environmental twist. Ideally, social entrepreneurs will get seed funding from individual (angel) investors, then work through business incubators like Stanford’s D-Lab, the Unreasonable Institute, or Echoing Green, then receive capital from seed-funders such as the Unitus Seed Fund, the Mulago Foundation, and Village Capital; occasionally angel groups like Toniic and Investors’ Circle step in at this point. The next step up–talking here about amounts in the $500K-2m range–includes Shell Foundation, LGTVP and Skoll Foundation. Moving farther along the funding continuum means tapping deeper pockets like those of Omidyar.

It’s hardly that clean, of course. First, funders like the ones listed above often have multiple funds investing in different amounts, for example. Second, some of these funders give grants to nonprofits (which for-profit investors wouldn’t call “investing”), while others put equity into for-profits targeting mostly middle class consumers (which others wouldn’t call “impact”). Some will even give grants to for-profits while others make loans to non-profits. Third, the funding chain is hardly well-developed: speak to any entrepreneur on the hunt for investment and you’ll walk away more confused about the funding landscape than ever.

Social Enterprises

Still, the high-growth social enterprises that these groups fund (which are typically listed on the Our Portfolio section of their websites) make up a significant portion of the actual work going on in the arena of social enterprise. D.Light, Aravind Eye Care, Simpa Networks, One Acre Fund, DripTech, Embrace, Envirofit, and Grameen Phone are some of the household names within the social entrepreneurship family, along with Partners in Health, Riders for Health, Root Capital, FairTrade USA, and Teach for America.

What holds these companies together? They’re across the spectrum of developmental stage. Some are for-profit, some are non-profit, and some are hybrids. Some call themselves social enterprises; others blanche at the term. Some are successful and others–honestly–are struggling much more than they or their investors will admit. In large part, what binds these groups together is the network of linkages among the overlapping portfolios of each investors, the investor/donor list of each enterprise, and the incubators that gave them their first jolt. At their core, perhaps, all hearken back to our original definition of a social entrepreneurship: “innovative, sustainable, scalable, inclusive and measurable approaches” to big social and environmental problems. They’re selling more efficient cookstoves, solar-powered replacements for kerosene lanterns, eye surgeries, and irrigation systems to customers who would otherwise never have had access to potentially life-changing goods and services.

But wait! What about…

As social enterprise and impact investing have filtered into common use, a number of other sectors have piped up or piled in: “Hey! We’re already doing that–we’re impact investors, too” or “We’re social enterprises, but in a different way.” Community Development Finance Institutions have been pumping money into low-income communities for decades. Small businesses and the local banks that fund them argue fairly that deep impact is local impact. Fair trade organizations and worker cooperatives like FabIndia work to provide better wages to developing-world commodity farmers. Socially responsible investors have made huge strides in shifting mainstream capital into funds that exclude socially and environmentally hazardous investments.

Big bad governments, international bodies, and major corporations have been looking at market-based solutions to poverty for some time, as well. Major development banks provide capital to infrastructure projects in emerging markets, corporations have graduated from corporate social responsibility to innovative efforts like Vodafone’s M-Pesa and Avon’s “Ladies” in Africa. Traditional banks have, as well: JP Morgan has its own Social Finance unit; Deutsche Bank announced its Essential Capital Fund in September 2012. Bilateral aid organizations (USAID, DFID) were essential to the development of microfinance, and the World Bank and IFC have worked to pull capital and expertise into developing countries since their inception. In the last decade, a new form of finance, called social impact bonds, pulls together private, public, and social sector organizations to drive commercial capital to nonprofit activities.

Where to Show Up: Social Entrepreneurship Conferences and Meetings 

Great! You’ve got the lay of the land, and you’ve figured out what you think counts as legitimate social enterprise and what is rubbish. Where are you going to go to meet other people like you? Every year there are a few key conferences and gatherings. Their relative importance shifts over time, but here are the ones that might still matter in 2013. First, there’s SOCAP, the largest gathering of social enterprises and funders on the planet and a complete circus. The Skoll World Forum at Oxford is its upscale version, where heads of state meet the Skoll Foundation’s investees. Opportunity Collaboration is a cozier weekend that in part connects wealthy individuals with entrepreneurs. Other gatherings include: Sankalp, the Intellicap-hosted Indian version of SOCAP; the Emerge Conference, the Skoll World Forum’s younger cousin; and the Foro Latinoamericano de Inversión de Impacto.

What to Read

Congrats. You now know everything you need to know about social enterprise. What should you read to stay up to speed? A couple of years ago, the clearinghouse was Nathaniel Whittemore’s Social Entrepreneurship blog, and no single publication has stepped into that gap. So here’s your RSS feed: Stanford Social Innovation Review,, Huffington Post Social Enterprise, Triple Pundit, and Impact IQ.

If you really want to impress, there are a few books you should probably have on your shelf. For a bit of (always inspirational, sometimes fluffy) introduction, scan The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, Out of Poverty by Paul Polak, How to Change the World by David Bornstein, and Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus. For a bit more meat, move on to The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid by CK Pralahad, Impact Investing by Emerson and Bugg-Levine and Social Enterprise by Marc Lane. Can’t get enough? The University of San Diego’s Sara Johnson has put together a pretty solid list on impact investing for beginners, and the report on everybody’s tongue in 2012 was “Blueprint to Scale” by Acumen Fund and Monitor.

Happy enterprising,

Mark Hand, Joy Jauer, Sara Johnson, and Kshitij Khurana

Photo Credit: Debbie Levey

Recovering from the Skoll World Forum

Whew! In case you were wondering why there haven’t been any updates posted recently, vialis 40mg it’s because we’ve been away from our desks taking advantage of one of the most exciting weeks all year here: The Skoll World Forum.  Over 800 delegates from all over the world were in town for the event – and with them came the  energy, ideas and innovations to blow you away.


We were also so happy to catch up with 30 of our 39  Skollars who made the trip back to Oxford.  They came over a few days prior for the Skollar Summit as an “aperitif” to the Forum,  reconnecting with one another and rekindling the community now spread around the globe.


Needless to say, it was a great week and we wish you all could have been here.  If you didn’t have the chance to join us in person, you can listen, watch and read all about the great sessions and speakers at the Skoll World Forum site. There are tons of videos, audio, session recaps, photos and great blogs by our Skoll Centre Associate Fellows (if we do say so ourselves).

£10 Student Tickets for George Soros, Gordon Brown, Annie Lennox and More!

Opportunity to Attend Skoll World Forum Main Events

WED 28 MARCH – THURS 29 MARCH, treatment 2012

The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship is the premier, online international platform for accelerating entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.

This year we would like you to join us at the New Theatre in Oxford for three inspirational events.  Don’t miss out on this great opportunity!

Tickets are available for:

General seating for Circle and Balcony seats will be sold individually to students for £10 or for the package rate of £25 + VAT to attend all three events.  Enter the code STUDENT to receive this 50% discounted price at checkout.  Click here to buy your tickets!

On Wednesday 28 March, symptoms Sundance Institute is offering a FREE sneak peek of four of their impactful Stories of Change films. Q&A to follow.

Also, don’t miss the FREE screening of Contagion on Thursday 29 March. A global thriller headed by Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow. Q&A to follow.

All events will be held at the New Theatre, located on George Street in downtown Oxford.

Please note: Seating will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.  For each event, doors open 30 minutes prior to start of show. Tickets will not be available for purchase at New Theatre and must be purchased in advance via this site. Tickets may be purchased separately for each individual event or purchased jointly at a discounted rate.

Six SWF entrepreneurs closing the gap between business and social impact

This post was written by Pamela Hartigan, Director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship.

I am often in awe of people’s capacity for combining ingenuity and market opportunity with a passion to influence our collective futures.  In that sense, hearing the stories of six entrepreneurs at the Skoll World Forum session, Navigating Unchartered Waters: For-Profit Companies with Social DNA – was a vivid reminder of the power that lies in bringing a sharp business mind with a passion to transform the status quo – for the better.

Kresse Wesling thinks about waste 24/7.   A business woman with three successful ventures to her credit, it wasn’t until she sat in the back of a room with “cute firemen” who were all taking a boring class on ISO standardization that she came up with the idea – recycling fire hose which goes to landfill into accessories for upscale markets.  Today, Elvis and Kresse is a profitable company that donates 50% of its earnings to the UK fire department.  What a way to guarantee your supply chain!  One of the investors at the Forum was so taken by Kresse’s business, her story and her products that she bought Kresse’s own bag (made from recycled fire hose, of course), saying “I am leaving for the US tomorrow, and I want your bag”.  So Kresse emptied the contents into a shopping bag and sold her bag to the determined woman (a potential investor?).  Lucky she did not ask for Kresse’s belt, also made from fire hose, or Kresse would have had a tough time keeping up her jeans.

Panelists' view. Courtesy of Thorkil Sonne

Gobion Rowlands wants to use games for social change.  He has been making games since he was a kid, and he and his colleagues at Red Redemption have just launched “Fate of the World”, a video game that allows you to destroy the world if you wish, but also challenges you to find the way to address massive climate change issue.  His first game on Climate Change was a big success. “How are you going to reach out beyond those gamers who believe the reality of climate change?” a participant queried.  “Well, many of our gamers are climate change sceptics,” Gobion noted. “They hate what we are doing but they are challenged to play the game just the same.  In fact, I have had three death threats in the past year”.  Being an entrepreneur is a risky business in more ways than one, it seems.

Then there is Thorkil Sonne whose son was diagnosed with autism at the age of 5.  The psychologists relayed what lay in his son’s future – ostracism, joblessness, and a life of dependency.  Thorkil thought of the dandelion, and how for some it is a weed, but for others it is a medicinal plant.  How could an autistic person’s social weaknesses become a strength?  He founded Specialistern, a Danish for profit company that employs only autistic workers to test software. Their focus, attention to detail and precision are exactly the kinds of skills needed in such a job.  His company became so successful that countries clamoured for Thorkil to help them replicate the initiative.  To do so, he sold the company to the Specialistern Foundation for twenty cents. The Foundation now owns the company, and Thorkil is spreading the method around the world.

Then there is Ariel Zylbersztejn who founded Cinepop in Mexico offering free family movies and entertainment as a way to increase quality of life for low-income families in Mexico – and local governments, NGOs and microfinance groups pay for the advertising platform – but only for products that have a social or environmental benefit for the population.

Each mission and business model was different from the other.  Victoria Kisyombe from Tanzania found herself a poverty-stricken widow with only a cow. That cow became her “asset” and supported her through this difficult period.  She founded a business, Sero Lease and Finance (Selfina) to increase the incomes of self-employed women in Tanzania through micro-leasing arrangements of livestock and equipment.  To date, she has changed the lived of 25,000 women.   It is the first social venture I have heard of named after a cow, Sero.

Marie So, co-founder of Shokay with Carol Chyau.  The two met as classmates at the Harvard Kennedy School’s MPA/ID program. Carol, from Taiwan, and Marie, from Hong Kong, saw in each other the passion and perseverance to promote the “social enterprise” concept in the Greater China region. After almost a year of researching and brainstorming, they decided that the best way to help catalyze the growth of social enterprise in China was to start one.

In January 2006, they visited Yunnan, where they saw a need for poverty alleviation. However, there they also saw abundant resources – YAKS! The seeds of Shokay were born.

Shokay sources its yak fiber directly from Tibetan herders, enabling them to earn a long-term sustainable living while preserving their traditional lifestyle. By investing and reinvesting its success into the local communities, Shokay ensures the opportunity of choice for future Tibetan generations.  Shokay can now be found around the world in over 100 stores in 10 countries.  I can attest to the warmth and softness of yak fiber thanks to a gift from Shokay, a beautiful scarf that has been well used during Oxford’s cold and damp winters, which seem to last forever.

You might wonder why I am so taken by for-profit social ventures such as the ones showcased at the Skoll World Forum?  For one, these are the types of ventures our business school students at Oxford want to pursue, so finding and highlighting the mission, business models and impact achieved by these entrepreneurs is incredibly exciting.  But as importantly, the examples are proof that one does not have to forego social and environmental priorities to make money – and that is the key to sustainable and transformational change.

For more, listen to the podcast of the session here, or read other delegates’ reflections on the session here.

Update: Interview with Marie Shokay at the Forum can be found here

Inspiration, Instigation, Imagination

Another Skoll World Forum has come to an end.  Looking around the business school on Monday, you’d have no sense of what descended upon it a mere few days earlier.  Delegates are gone,  corridors are cleared, Forum posters stripped down, students long departed for spring break.

So when all is gone, what lingers?

Perhaps the physical presence of the Skoll World Forum has dissipated, but I believe it is only now that we can begin to process its effects.

The Forum experience is different for each and every delegate.  So I can only share my own journey of meeting more incredible people and hearing more remarkable ideas than I think the human brain can process in such a short period of time.  It was utter creative overload.

For me three major themes arose, both within the sessions and among conversations with delegates.


Joyful Archbiship Tutu on Deep Leadership panel

There is no doubt this Forum revitalizes the spirit. Others have already spoken about the gift of having Archbishop Tutu with us, who was no less than an beacon of humility and hope.  But inspiration was not just felt through blockbuster speakers leaving us in awe of their leadership, but also through those very same leaders admitting defeat, setback, challenges, and utter, total existential doubt.  I found nothing more truthful than the conversations in the “Deep Leadership” panel and “Is Heroism Obsolete?” session (watch them both here) where the greats of our field opened up the desperately needed conversation about the things we all know and are often frightened to admit: that this stuff is hard (personally and professionally, emotionally and intellectually, physically and mentally) and that’s OK. It was equally humbling and inspiring.


Along similar lines, I thought this Forum made some headway by being a bit of a instigator.  No longer was there solely  the sense of self-congratulation or successes-lauding (though much of that did occur) but there was also a feeling of criticalness and troublemaking.  As the field continues to mature, it demands a deeper, more rigorous eye on the growing complexity of our solutions. (Watch the wonderful opening microfinance debate for precisely this).  The finance tracks similarly explored its progress with not just hopeful anticipation, but also a sophisticated self-awareness I hadn’t sensed previously.


Skoll Centre Director, Pamela Hartigan, at the Closing Plenary pushing us to think about convergence and collaboration

For me, some of the most exciting sessions were those that stretched our creative imaginations and offered multi-disciplinary frameworks for creating change.  There was a real infusion of  dialogue around ideation, design processes, systems change structures, human-centred design, convergence, and innovation cartography (my new favorite phrase thanks Richard Jefferson). I felt my capacity for how to think through complex problems – and not just to arise at the solution – stretched to a whole new level.  There was a delicate tug to encourage us to open up our minds and broaden our creative potential beyond the frameworks we are used to working in.

There’s lots more insights from the week than I can sum up in this post. Instead, most of it is captured here from a diversity of voices, as well as some great videos and images of the week.

Until next year, when you all descend on us again: keep inspiring, instigating, and imaging.