30th March 2011, Oxford
Today, the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship 2011 is starting in Oxford. Until Friday, a host of social entrepreneurs, scholars, innovators and thought-leaders will gather at one of the most historic and picturesque universities in the world. Oxford University has generated over the course of its history, twenty six British Prime Ministers, at least thirty world leaders, twelve saints and fifty gold medallists. This backdrop creates a sense of expectancy from the possible outcomes of the discussions and meetings that will take place at the Forum. Beyond revolving across the current possibilities and successes of social enterprises, this may well be an opportunity to renegotiate the bottom line, and perhaps traditional capitalism.
In comparison to the last major conference that The Entrepreneurialist attended, The Celebration of Entrepreneurship organized by Abraaj and Wamda in Dubai; the first reception is rather modest, if not stark. This is not helped by the torrential rain descending down on Oxford in a typical English fashion.
The Forum will officially kick of in just over an hour, with a ‘speed-networking session’, followed by the official Opening Ceremony. The Opening Plenary will include:
Stephen Chambers, Director of SaÏd Business School, and Chairman of the Skoll Center for social Entrepreneurship
Jeff Skoll, Founder and Chairman of the Skoll Foundation
Ngaire Woods, Professor of international Political Economy and Academic Director of the Blavatnik School of Government, Oxford University
John Lewis, Founder and Chair of Microcredit Enterprises
From the schedule, it seems that the first day will mainly be one of networking, meeting old acquaintances and bonding with new ones. Top of the agenda this evening, will be a remembrance to an Icelandic volcano, who managed exactly one year ago, to defy scientific and technological know-how, and bring Europe to a standstill.
But perhaps, the eruption of the Icelandic volcano is a perfect example to stop, and consider the achievements and limitations engrained within our societies, economies and markets. It is a reminder that as humans, we remain in deference to forces that are above us. However, it also permits to reflect that the forces that we do have control over, be they our businesses, our economies, or our role in society; can be rethought and adapted to a changing world. If we are able to simply master this perception, and slowly account for it in our economic and social behaviours, there is no reason for us not to abide by the Portesian notion of ‘shared value’.
There is a certain scepticism relating to the lack of definition surrounding what a ‘social enterprise’ consists of. Some would argue that the social enterprise is closer to a non-profit entity than a true business. Others would say that the bottom line is the differentiating factor; the social enterprise’s bottom line is social value, whilst the traditional enterprise is profit maximization. The question remains, is it possible to harmonize both, and thus create a new hybrid organizational form.
Another question we should ask ourselves is if social enterprises have emerged to fill a gap between the government and civil society. If a government finds itself unable to successfully serve its function within society; creating an environment which harnesses growth and opportunities, has the social enterprise come into existence to bridge this gap? Does it exist to overcome the voids and failures of traditional organizational concepts? And specifically, if organizations adopt the precept of creating social value without forfeiting its reason for existing- profit; will the social enterprise still exist, or will all organizations become social enterprises?
These are but a few questions which will be addressed at the Skoll World Forum. Above and beyond to finding solutions and innovations to our shared perception of the future of the enterprise, this may mark the time that we stop discussing, but enact.
Tatjana de Kerros | 2011