What a lunch. Jeff Skoll, first president of eBay and founder of The Skoll Foundation, and I sat down this week with the six newest Skoll Awardees for Social Entrepreneurship, here in Oxford, England. We're in town hosting the Skoll World Forum -- some call it the Davos of doing good -- our yearly gathering of social entrepreneurs, funders and partners from around the world. Greeting the group, and eying his plate, Jeff said: "You social entrepreneurs are used to overcoming obstacles -- how about this lasagna?" We all dug in.
Pasta is not the highpoint of the Forum. Every year for the past nine we have taken this moment to give the Skoll Award to a total 91 extraordinary individuals in 74 organizations, including Root Capital, CAMFED, and Kiva. We are not just handing over a trophy. We are celebrating the impossible. The men and women who run these organizations have proved social entrepreneurship is truly viable: the facts, scale and impact of their ventures tell the story. Our job now is prove social entrepreneurship undeniable, irrepressible, irrefutable. This is not a rogue branch of entrepreneurship, it's the new tree.
The Forum is where we fertilize it, gathering 900 former and current Awardees, and others, for three days of conversation and collaboration -- and, truthfully, plotting. We plot how to better change the world: how to make absolutely maximum impact with the tools we've got. This year's awards -- the actual ceremony is tomorrow night -- give a peek into how we'll do it.
Gawad Kalinga (headed by Jose Luis Oquinena and Antonio Meloto) transforms slums into peaceful, productive communities in the Philippines, Cambodia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea -- 2000 of them so far. Landesa (and its head, Tim Hanstad) helps families in India, China and sub-Saharan Africa to China gain legal rights to their land, and a future for themselves -- more than 105 million families over four decades. Nidan (helmed by Arbind Singh) is organizing India's informal sector -- 93 percent of its workforce, accounting for 64 percent of national GDP -- into self-owned collectives. Nidan means "solutions" in Hindi. And Proximity Design (founded by Jim and Debbie Aung Din Taylor) designs, builds, and markets the affordable products and services that rural families need to transform their lives in Myanmar -- 100,000 products, and even more services, to date.
Why do these people, these numbers, matter? It became very clear by the time we got to "pudding". During the meal, each of these entrepreneurs shared a bit about what she or he does, and how the Skoll award matters to them. While each story was unique, there were common themes -- policy and behavior change, especially: Gawad Kalinga's sense of a tipping point in Filipino consciousness of its identity; Landesa's assessment of how land rights are hitting the global agenda, and getting noticed; Nidan's efforts to get protections for street vendors into Indian law; Proximity Designs' knowledge of what Burma's emergence from decades of isolation means for its people.
These organizations, the people who run them, and most of all, those they serve quite literally are the change they -- and we -- want to see.
Tomorrow, at our Skoll awards ceremony, I'm actually going to make mention of a very different award -- the Nobel prize for chemistry. Most recently it went to a man called Daniel Schectman for his discovery -- despite a multitude of naysayers who said they couldn't exist -- of quasicrystals, which have amazing properties unseen anywhere else in nature. "His battle," the committee said, "eventually forced scientists to reconsider their conception of the very nature of matter." The battle of social entrepreneurs is very much the same.
They are forcing society to reconsider its conception of the very nature of human progress, of how we carry out business, construct and hold our governments accountable, tap and replenish natural resources -- how we survive and thrive, together. And they're doing it right now. Time, they know, is short. At lunch, both Tony Meloto and Arbind Singh noted just how young Jeff is. The Skoll Awardees are young too - if not always physically, mentally. They bring hope not just to a meal, but to millions all over the world.
Tim Hanstad, President and CEO Landesa tackles a neglected barrier to progress: Land rights. More than a billion people have little to no legal control over the land on which they depend. Tim Hanstad and the Landesa team have helped more than 105 million families gain legal rights to their land over four decades. Now -- with growing food and income insecurity, gender inequality and natural resource constraints -- is a pivotal moment to prioritize land rights. When women, in particular, gain such rights, good things happen: Farm yields increase, child welfare improves, domestic violence goes down. The Landesa Center for Women's Land Rights works to ensure millions more women can claim these legal rights to their land. It is now amplifying its message to support land rights internationally, partnering with governments so as many as 20 million more families have legal rights to land by 2015. Find Landesa on Twitter: @Landesa_Global Find Tim Hanstad on Twitter: @TimHanstad
Antonio Meloto, Chairman Gawad Kalinga transforms slums into peaceful and productive communities. It works with 2,000 communities in the Philippines and other poverty-struck nations including Cambodia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea. Engaging all sectors of society, mobilizing them to work together to end poverty, the organization is building a global army of volunteers on the ground and online, working with schools, corporations and other organized institutions to mainstream a culture of caring and sharing. With their deliberate focus on values formation and partnerships, Tony Meloto, Luis Oquiñena (executive director) and their team have transformed large swathes of the Philippines. And they've successfully replicated the model in urban and rural environments, at half the cost of alternative interventions. Gawad Kalinga means to "give care." Find Gawad Kalinga on Twitter: @GawadKalingaHQ Find Antonio Meloto on Twitter: @tonymeloto
Arbind Singh, Executive Director Nidan champions informal workers in India's north and east, who proudly call it their own organization. Arbind Singh and his team believe that solutions for the bottom billion in India and around the globe can be found in the bottom billion themselves. So, from the slums of Bihar to the streets of Delhi, Nidan gives informal workers more than a voice; it gives them ownership of their collectives. The country's informal sector makes up 93 percent of the workforce, creating 64 percent of GDP. Nidan organizes them, incubates sector-based collectives and partners with government to demonstrate that models of rights-based, inclusive growth can work. It advocates, too, from local governance to state and national level governance structures and policy institutions. Nidan means solutions in Hindi.
Debbie Aung Din and Jim Taylor, Co-founders Proximity Designs uses a design-centric approach identifying high-impact opportunities to boost agricultural productivity and increase income for millions of smallholder farm families. Debbie and Jim Taylor and their organization offer thoughtful on-the-ground design and rigorous impact evidence, addressing extreme poverty by treating the poor as customers and promoting economic growth at the bottom of the pyramid. The pioneering enterprise in Myanmar (Burma) designs, builds, and markets affordable products and services that vulnerable rural families use to transform their lives: they design with empathy. So far more than 100,000 income-boosting products have been sold, changing the lives of more than 400,000 people. Proximity, along with the strong rural families in Burma, now plans to grow its work in irrigation products, farm advisory services and product financing and to expand into rural energy products. Find Proximity Designs on Twitter: @ProximityDesign
Follow Sally Osberg on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@SallyOsberg