Recently, I attended the 8th Annual Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, an annual convening held in Oxford, UK, which brought together more than 800 distinguished delegates from the social, finance, private and public sectors to tackle the world's most pressing social issues.
A program of the Skoll Foundation and co-produced with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford's Saïd Business School, the three-day event was a tour de force of intellect, inspiration and innovation. Whether addressing tolerance and human rights, environmental sustainability, peace and security, or economic and social equity, the curation of speakers, panels, and breakout sessions were sure to excite the neurons of each and every delegate in attendance. Everyone had something to teach, and everyone had something to learn. It was the perfect confluence of knowledge-sharing, and knowledge-absorbing, and having attended several conferences over the years, this particular gathering was masterfully orchestrated.
Among the handful of 2011 Skoll Awardees was one Madhav Chavan of Pratham, an organization dedicated to children's education in India. Describing their efforts and importance, Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg explained that "Madhav Chavan is transforming India's approach to children's literacy and education. Chavan's unwavering insistence on universal education, and his work to engage community volunteers in the quest for literacy, has already reached more than 34 million children, offering a proven model for the entire world."
My particular experience at the convening was marked by one very special session: an intimate round-table with a handful of international journalists, sitting directly across from founder and philanthropist Jeff Skoll, Dr. Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, and preeminent peace activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who received the first-ever Skoll Global Treasure Award at the forum's closing plenary session.
Humbled by our interest in his efforts, calm and collected in his demeanor, and resolute in his beliefs, Mr. Skoll is continually inspired by John Gardner, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare under U.S. President Lyndon Johnson. "Bet on good people doing good things," he advised Skoll, and the fruits of such advice are nothing short of remarkable.
As the conversation turned to global awareness and advocacy, Dr. Farmer expressed his belief that the younger generation is the most engaged generation he has ever witnessed, and that we must sync their craving for a better world with the urgency and needs of today's challenges.
Throughout the discussion, Archbishop Tutu candidly reflected on issues of peace, progress, equality, and justice, and whenever he delivered his thoughts, I felt my heart grow a little more compassionate for the world. It was an experience like none other, and words cannot begin to describe the wave of pure goodness that swept over the room and all those within it. Stressing perseverance, patience, and proactiveness, the Archbishop explained that "we live in a moral universe, where right and wrong matter." But it was not merely his observations and advice that was encouraging -- it was his utter passion and conviction towards this belief that transformed his insight into inspiration. In addition to such moral clarity, Desmond Tutu had an incredibly contagious laugh, and never held back to express it. Before it was time to go, he asked if he could hug each and every one in the room. All of this and more is what makes the Archbishop, the Archbishop.
It was truly a memorable Skoll World Forum.
Cross-posted with World Affairs Commentary