Deep Leadership session
1. Sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming
Admittedly, as a first-time attendee at Skoll, I often found myself a tad lost, dazed and confused. For one thing, there were questions with answers not easy to find, probably since many depended on me… For example, here’s one that got me on a regular basis: Which session should I attend? They all looked so interesting and chock-full of great speakers, issues and educational value. Why were there so many good ones scheduled at the same time?? Answer: close your eyes and point. It worked every time. Truth is, it was hard to go wrong—and that says a lot about Skoll. Then there was the common journalistic concern: so many stories, so little time. How could I possibly meet all these great entrepreneurs and document their compelling stories? Answer: Um…you don’t, you simply can’t.
But you know what? It’s okay, there’s plenty of great fodder to work with from the folks you do meet. And, besides, business cards are worthy inventions. Of course, there’s the dreaded query that still confounds: Why did I bring heels when there are so many cobblestones and the distance between venues so seemingly vast? Tip: Always, always keep a pair of comfy flats in your bag. Believe me now, thank me later.
Storytelling for Impact session
2. Sometimes it’s personal
That was the thought that kept swirling around in my head during my three-day stint. Because, when you think about it, for many of the delegates who descended upon Oxford touting their incredible, far-reaching and highly impactful organizations, what initially inspired their actions wasn’t some grand scheme, strategic political ambition, or even the desire to change the world. Their change-making endeavour came out of something that just wasn’t quite right in their microcosmic world. Personal struggle led them to take action.
Take Thorkil Sonne. When his son was diagnosed with autism, Sonne, founder of Speciliasterne and Specialist People Foundation, was suddenly struck by how unfair it was that society had no need for people like his son, tremendously skilled as he was. So he became determined to make people see the beauty in dandelions (he uses dandelions as a metaphor, explaining how some see it as an annoying weed, in need of plucking, but the plant is actually an herb, a beautiful addition to any garden or dish). Autistic individuals may not be great team players and may lack in flexibility but they’re still skilled, loyal, have good memories, and are patient with details. “If you can take people who are left out of society because they don’t fit into the mainstream model and give them support, make them feel wanted, they can contribute knowledge and have great life,” he said. Sonne has dedicated his life to finding opportunities that allow autistic individuals to contribute and that take their needs into consideration.
Thorkill Sonne & Dr. Victoria Kisyombe
Or Dr. Victoria Kisyombe. A veterinarian living in Tanzania, she saw her life turn upside down when her husband died and his family— following customary law— reclaimed all of their marital possessions. They did leave her one cow, however. Named Sero, the cow provided Kisyombe with the resources to help sustain herself and her family. But Kisyombe’s personal challenge demonstrated to her the value in owning land and assets, and the unfortunate reality that many women in the country weren’t able to do so.
She founded SELFINA, which helps women overcome the barrier. The organization introduced the concept of micro-leasing, which provides credit to women entrepreneurs, allowing them to become owners of leased equipment (and to then use it as collateral for future transactions). SELFINA leases a variety of assets like water pumps, computers, small tractors, sewing machines and livestock. Thanks to SELFINA, Tanzanian women have been issued credit worth $22 million USD, with 200,000 lives affected so far.
3. Sometimes it’s the little things
Sure, the bevy of insightful, formal sessions were not to be missed. And the same can be said for the organized events, dinners, etc. But the informal chats and meet-ups proved to be equally unforgettable and enriching. From a “peace and pints” lunch (which ended up being more of a networking opportunity) to an ad-hoc “drinks and canapes” gathering and every haphazard meet-up in between, chatting with a variety of unassuming, down-to-earth and fascinating folks was a most unexpected delight.
And then there were the other “little things” I wasn’t anticipating that moved me in profound ways: Listening to Peter Gabriel belt out Beko—some songs/singers are simply timeless; hearing Desmond Tutu’s infectious laugh; enjoying a fascinating walking tour of Oxford, an experience that certainly added to the auspiciousness of the Forum; feeling perpetually mesmerized by stories of audacious entrepreneurs from across the globe; and the overarching Skoll environment that somehow enabled a very affable, welcoming and inclusive experience.
Until next year, these thoughts, memories and contacts will serve quite nicely. Thank you Skoll.
The Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. Photo Credit: Allyson Hewitt