Skoll Foundation: Our History, Our Vision

The Skoll Foundation story really begins with Jeff when he’s a young man.
Actually when he’s a kid. I read a lot of books. Thought I would be a writer to get people involved in the big issues of the world. Decided to get to a point where I could afford to write those stories. So I became an entrepreneur. When he has the wonderful opportunity
to partner with Pierre Omidyar and start eBay, a phenomenon is in the making
and he finds himself in 1998, when eBay goes public, a very, very wealthy young man. All of a sudden I had more resources
than I ever dreamed of. And beyond writing stories I realized that there was a vast amount of resource
that could be put to use to make a difference
in the big issues of the world. Sally Osberg took me to meet
her mentor, John Gardner, architect of the Great Society programs
under Lyndon Johnson, and I asked him, “What can we best do to make
a difference in the world and ensure that humanity would survive
into the future?” And John said, “Bet on good people doing good things.” And what he meant was that there were big
problems ahead for the world but there were also people who would stop at nothing
to solve these problems. That set gets very small though as you look
at people who actually have what it takes to create the vehicle, the venture,
the strategy to drive that idea and that innovation forward.
And then it gets narrower still when you look at people who are having
success. And that’s where we focus. The Skoll Foundation supports social entrepreneurs
who offer innovative, long-term solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Like equipping indigenous tribes in the Amazon
with technologies to protect their lands from deforestation. Bringing new teaching methodologies to thousands of schools in India. Sharing tools and resources with small holder farmers so they can improve
yields and access to markets. Building a grassroots movement to end
the centuries old practice of female genital cutting in Africa. And strengthening healthcare systems for some
of the world’s most vulnerable people. How do you define a social entrepreneur
versus others in the social sector? We call social entrepreneurs equilibrium changers. Someone who actually wants
to crack the code on a problem, solving them with other innovators, with partners,
with strategic allies, so that at the end of the day when that new equilibrium
is in place everyone is better off. And that for us is the big differentiator. The Skoll World Forum was just us saying, “I wonder what would happen
if we brought social entrepreneurs together?” Each year the Skoll Foundation convenes
and produces three magical days in Oxford. Change makers come
from all different sectors to learn, to share, to strike up partnerships. Here you are with thousands of people who are actually
tackling almost every challenge from different angles, with different methodologies. Sharing resources, sharing information, sharing skills. There’s no better community
to be part of. It is a community of people who want to build a better future. It’s a week away from what I’m doing and it’s a window into something
that’s greater, and it reconnects me to that original line of sight that I have. I think the connections made between social entrepreneurs and funders, philanthropists, businesses, at the Forum, have advanced the cause considerably. Welcome everyone to the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship. The Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship is a real
signature program of the Skoll Foundation. At one level it is shining a light on the individual
who has come up with a game- changing idea and who has been
responsible for driving that idea forward. At the same time the award comes with a contribution
of more than a million dollars that goes to the organization. That’s such a small part compared to giving us confidence, giving us faith, bringing contacts, bringing resources. There’s a partnership and it’s not about,
“We’re going to write a check and we want a report in a year.” It’s a, “We want
to think through this together with you. We don’t just bring money to bear here,
but we have immense intelligence.” It changed the life of my organization, the life of me personally. It changed the life of thousands and thousands of people in Afghanistan. It’s a lifetime of having a community to journey with. When we started out we had investing in and connecting social entrepreneurs as two pillars of our mission.
But the third pillar, celebrate, was about telling their stories. Through Skoll Foundation, Visayan Forum was able to tell our stories to the world. Storytelling is a very important component
of our strategy: to go to the community, to go to the government,
to inspire them to join the fight. There’s a new idea taking root. People are applying
business skills to solving social ills. Storytelling is what actually
brings vision alive, it brings hope into focus, and it actually
drives and inspires us in our work and we know it plays a huge role
for the social entrepreneurs as it helps them communicate what their work is about
and the difference it can make to a public who actually needs to know. I think I’d describe my own story
to date as a bit of a fairy tale. It’s surreal how much has happened so quickly. The question comes,
“Well, what do you do with that excess?” I figure you kind of chaperone it and devote it
to good causes and give it away over time. At heart, this Foundation is bringing a vision to life. And that vision is Jeff Skoll’s belief that a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable
world is within our reach. That’s the work of the Skoll Foundation. That’s what keeps me inspired and motivated. I started the Skoll Foundation to make a difference in the biggest issues in the world.
And at the time I didn’t know how, but after a couple of years we realized social
entrepreneurs were great people doing great things and were
an incredible lever for good. And I think 15 years later
we’ve now seen that that is the case.

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