“Our ambition should be to rule ourselves, the true kingdom for each one of us; and true progress is to know more, and be more, and to do more.”
The Skoll World Forum takes place in Oxford every year, a vibrant convening of civil society organizations run by committed and often renowned social entrepreneurs, all working to build sustainable human-centered business models and find solutions to “the world’s most pressing challenges.”
This year, the conference was built around the theme of ambition. Panel after panel offered juicy peer-to-peer success stories and reliable, trustworthy mantras about intractable problems faced by communities at risk and the groundbreaking solution-based approaches that the folks in the rooms have tested, adapted and held up as the best or most unique practice. Change is the currency here; raising awareness is a step in the right direction, but actual, measurable, replicable impact on issues like poverty, child trafficking, climate justice, land rights, and global health is the ticket to get you an invitation to the week of panels, meetings, presentations, networking events, awards ceremonies, and late-night parties. The goal is new insight, renewed commitment to the struggle, and a rejuvenated community that can go back out in the world to fight another day–for justice, for equality for the poor, for freedom for the marginalized voices and incarcerated bodies around the world.
I love the Skoll World Forum for all its urgency and brazen commitment to service, for its deep understanding and abiding respect of narrative, for its celebration of storytelling and humanitarian achievement, for its understanding of the role of art in social movements, and for the ongoing support of some of the most important work on the planet.
Sundance Institute is a key strategic partner at the Forum, providing core content and mentorship to Skoll social entrepreneurs through a series of activities each year. This particular year, if you were a Sundance Stories of Change Advisor, you might find yourself leading a story circle where the participants have escaped Libya after a long prison term, survived a Taliban attack, or run an organization that rescues trafficked children in Southeast Asia. You might find yourself on a panel providing mentorship and critique to young leaders from Nigeria, Ghana, Egypt, and inner city Philadelphia as they stand in front of an intimate audience at the Forum for the first time to tell the story of their personal and professional transformation. You might find yourself in a series of one-on-one meetings with Skoll Foundation awardees, helping them find ways to access authentic stories from within their communities, exploring ways to leverage those stories to strengthen the vision and impact of the work. You might find yourself on stage at the Oxford New Theater close to midnight after a screening of Sundance-supported short films, answering questions from a wise and inquisitive audience. Or you might find yourself at a table with indigenous tribal leaders from the Amazon who are working on deforestation and climate justice in Brazil. Or, if you are lucky–like me, Pete Nicks, Nicole Newnham, Deborah Alden, Lynette Wallworth, Kristin Feeley, Richard Ray Perez, and Tabitha Jackson–you are engaged in all of the above.
It’s a breathtaking week that keeps you up at night, and hoists you back out of bed after 4 hours of jetlagged sleep. Because the people you are meeting at breakfast are saving HIV babies in Uganda, ending poverty in Latin America, and keeping 13-year-old girls in India from being married off to men who could be their grandfathers. The collective hunger for effective storytelling is all around you, and you can only hope to connect and facilitate and listen – and help their big ideas, in some small way, come to life.