As I sat in the back row of the Oxford hall with my computer waiting for the 9th annual Skoll World Forum to start, I was worried that I might miss the energy of the evening by being so far from the stage. It turns out that the only thing I might have missed was the chance to be hit by the sweat dripping onto the first row as Hans Rosling darted around the stage chasing his moving statistics. You know the speakers were engaging when all of your tweets are left half finished because the moments worth capturing were coming at too high of a velocity. It could have been predicted, of course, given the line-up.
Here were some of the top moments I was able to jot down:
1) Jeff Skoll, the man who made the evening possible and the founder of the Skoll Foundation, started us off with a joke as he introduced the theme of the event, Flux: it’s not just for breakfast any more. With the London Olympics just around the corner, he drew connections between the overcoming of obstacles, dedication, and celebration of the Olympics and the need for the same with regards to the challenges facing the world. His most tweet-worthy quote: “We need to pursue diplomatic solutions as eagerly as we’ll pursue gold medals this summer.”
2) Hans Rosling, period. It doesn’t matter what that man is talking about, from GDPs to STDs, he can make any statistics engaging. I have to admit that hearing him speak was one of the things I have been most looking forward, and he didn’t disappoint. I used to marvel at how he could take what was happening in the world and turn it into digestible information on a computer screen, but this time his most impressive statistical representations weren’t just on the screen, but on the tabletop. He stacked toilet paper rolls to show us a model of why populations will still continue to grow for a few generations even once birthrates even out at two children per family and he challenged the notion that we have an ever increasing overpopulation problem. Hotel toilet paper has never been put to such good use. His most tweetable line: “We’re all debating when we’ve reached peak oil, but we know we’re reaching peak child”. (If you don’t know who Hans Rosling, Professor of International Health at the Karolinska Institutet and co-founder of Gapminder is, you might not watch enough TED talks. Lucky for you, the Skoll World Forum is now offering all of their main content online as well and you can check out the live stream sessions as well as recorded videos even if you are not here with us in Hogwarts!)
3) Peter Tufano reminded us that entrepreneurship was about relentlessly pursuing opportunities that require resources outside of our control. To be successful, he said we’d need four things: strong values, a knowledge base in the areas in which we choose to affect change, the skills to manage people, and a willingness to embrace failures. I buy that, and not just because he’s the fabulous new Dean of Oxford’s Said Business School where I’m lucky enough to be studying!
4) Roger Martin also spoke about failure when moderator Judith Rodin (of the Rockefeller Foundation) asked him why institutions are slow to innovate. Roger’s tweet-able quote was “Governments are better at fostering invention than innovation” and when asked about academic institutions, he remarked that they are too fixed on using scientific logic that requires you “prove” a new idea is possible before you start. As the Dean of the Rotman School of Business, Roger should understand the issues with academia “squelching innovation accidentally“, but hopefully with more people like Martin and Turfano leading business schools, this will not be the case into the future.
5) Even without any toilet paper tricks, Soraya Salti, founder of INJAZ Al-Arab, was probably the most energized speaker on the stage tonight. Her passion for her work supporting the youth leadership ecosystem in the Middle East and North Africa made everyone around me smile. What an energy she has! I am eager to watch what she and the youth she works with will continue to achieve as they reach new goals. As she stated: “they have created the impossible politically and now they will create the impossible economically.”
6) Community-led change fuelled by innovative technologies was also a theme for Patrick Meier, Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi. He received spontaneous applause from the crowd when he spoke about using Ushahidi’s information crowd sourcing technology to gather feedback directly from people all over Uganda to be able to share their own voice with regards to the #KONY2012 dialogue. His group’s technologies can now facilitate what he calls the Match.com of connecting disaster problems and solutions, and the nods from the crowds indicated that this was an online match making service they would not be to shy to join.
As Eva Ayllon and her band from Peru sang the evening to a close, I realized that even from the back of the room, I could only have missed out on the Skoll World Forum’s energy if I was one of the many gargoyles around Oxford: it was a pile of international inspiration and I look forward to seeing Hans Rosling trying graphical represent that!
Daniela Papi is a student at Said Business School and is a founder of PEPY and PEPY Tours in Cambodia. She normally writes on her blog, Lessons I Learned, but is at the Skoll World Forum this week blogging along with a team of student bloggers.