THE BLOG

I Wish I Were as Rich as Jeff Skoll

08/05/2010 02:26 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"A foundation is a large body of money surrounded by people who want some."

When 20th Century American social critic and philosopher Dwight Macdonald smilingly wrote those words to explain the central power dynamic in the world of philanthropy, he was half right.

Today, the other half of the equation is completed by the Skoll Foundation.

Here is a bustling global farmer's market of social change: Buyers and sellers hawking ideas; promoting, germinating, creating, investing in the future of the world and fomenting possibilities. A community of entrepreneurs who are tackling big social problems.

Skoll pursues social change with a venerated military tactic, the two-pronged pincer attack. Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg speaking last week at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club's landmark series on social entrepreneurship:

"We saw a great opportunity: To go deep by seeking out and backing the highest potential social entrepreneurs we could find and to go broad by building the field of social entrepreneurship."

Look at a few of the more visible cornerstones of this community: Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University, the online community Social Edge (full transparency: I also blog at the Skoll Social Edge), the Skoll World Forum (a "Davos of social entrepreneurship") and a cornucopia of media enterprises resulting in 80 broadcast stories, 180 radio and podcast news reports and 12 feature length documentary films.

I wish I were as rich as Jeff Skoll, foundation founder. I'm not, so I'm glad that he is.

Tom Friedman of the NY Times writes this week in his column, "And where does creativity come from?" And then answers, "I like the way Newsweek described it in a recent essay on creativity: 'To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).'"

From the Commonwealth Club podium, Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg foreshadowed Friedman:

"Social entrepreneurs see opportunities where others see intractable problems."

"Social entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs: every bit as focused, disciplined, creative, courageous and hard-driving as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs. Even more so."

"They are to social change what business entrepreneurs are to economic progress...Social entrepreneurs, like [all] entrepreneurs, are game changers...pioneers...."

"Social entrepreneurs see and seize opportunities just as entrepreneurs do, but they must plan each step forward without financial systems or venture capitalists to back them. Social entrepreneurs, like all successful entrepreneurs, combine a predisposition to action with rigorous business planning."

General George Patton famously framed a very entrepreneurial, albeit more militaristic, call to action with the words, "A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week." Skoll is the Patton of foundations. Plan, yes. Act, definitely.

For a social entrepreneur, a foundation or a life well lived, not a bad model.