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What It Takes to Change the World

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Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the closing plenary of your amazing forum. It's not really the closing, of course. Eliot again, "In my end is my beginning." Your forum ends today only in the sense that you leave Oxford and go back to work. It carries on in that work all through the year, it carries on in the relationships you have with each other, it carries on in the renewed energy you give each other and in the difference you make. The Forum isn't an event, it's a stream. And if you think I'm going to step into the same quote twice, you're wrong...

As some of you know, I'm not new to this family... but I hadn't really, really understood until this week how much your comparative advantage is each other and the trust you place in each other. Every single conversation, suggestion, and story was premised on really staggering amounts of trust. It's been hugely impressive to see. You do really brave things. You focus on where we're going not what's in the way. You're crazy in the ways that Eve Ensler would have you be crazy. You are, above all, generous. You share your luck and your energy.


We have a wonderful final discussion for you now. I have been reading Zoe Williams' work for years. It's amazing in its breadth and in its depth. When we met on Wednesday, Zoe challenged me to an arm wrestle. This augurs well for your panel. Zoe will introduce her very distinguished panel. It is my pleasure to introduce her to you. Zoe...

I don't know about you, but I don't always experience our Forum in an entirely linear way. I can't quite remember if Hans Rosling predates Gordon Brown or whether George Soros is one of the world's greatest singers. If you'd like a quick reminder of what you've been doing, here's a short film to bring back some memories.

What a forum it's been. I don't know about you but I'm a little giddy with exhilaration and maybe some exhaustion. We've been warmed by the sun and each other. We've been in plenary, in workshops, in convenings, in panels, in moderations, in connections, in the Colab, in receptions, and at dinners. We've seen films and still photographs, graphs and slides. Heard at least one cello, a string quartet, seen dancers and been to a jam. And we heard Annie.

I learnt a lot from you this week. I'm not sure I can do justice to what I've learnt but here's a highly selective list of some things that stand out:

I learnt that impossible problems aren't impossible. They're just very hard.
I learnt that we should all get more sleep.
I learnt that the global village needs elders.
I learnt that voles are more interesting than I thought.
I learnt that being outrageous matters.
I learnt that the cracks are where the light gets in.
I learnt that we must tap into the timeless to solve the urgent.

Around these fragments I also felt a collective belief that we must link the fact-based world with the meaning-based world -- that some of the mechanistic models we've built are no longer adequate. We look at the world as if it's chess when it's Jackson Pollock, as Carne Ross puts it. And I felt that mass mobilization, in person, in dance, in technology, is on your agenda.

I have cried every day this week. Remember as I tell you this, that I'm male. And British. And from Oxford. I cried when I heard Nick Danziger. I cried when I heard Eve Ensler. I cried when I heard Annie Lennox. I cried in Pat Mitchell's panel and when I saw the film clips at yesterday's awards ceremony.

I've also smiled a lot. I smiled at the Olympic torch, I smiled at Larry's socks, I smiled at the images of the survivors of trafficking. I smiled at you all and your demonstration that what it takes to change the world isn't, in the end, mostly about facts or money. In the end, it's mostly about people and collaboration. As Debra Dunn said yesterday, "If the stakes are high enough you have to collaborate." We know the stakes are high. Imagine if this event gave us back mass mobilization. That would be harnessing flux.

It is time now for me to thank you for being here and to wish you safe journeys home. I look forward very much to seeing you next year and will leave you, not where we began with TS Eliot but with the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. "Nothing is intrinsically good," he wrote "except goodwill."

You have goodwill and I'm grateful to you for sharing it this week.
Thank you and goodbye.