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Social entrepreneurs in a state of FLUX as Skoll Forum kicks off

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 29 Mar 2012 00:46 GMT
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OXFORD, England –  Have you heard of FLUX?

It’s not a new energy drink or Internet start-up, if Skoll Foundation founder Jeff Skoll is to be believed, but a “continuous flow and operating paradigm that expresses the fluid nature of relationships, policies, institutions and human beings which are ever-changing in non-linear ways."

It couldn't be more jargon-laden and made me wonder what exactly is going to be discussed at the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, now in its ninth year. 

“FLUX – Seizing Momentum, Driving Change” is the theme of this year's forum.  But isn't that what social entrepreneurs do all the time - seize momentum, drive change?  

To do that they need to think big and FLUX-- note the big letters -- is what the Skoll Foundation would like them to explore in their pursuit of large-scale social change.

Clearly, as always with the Forum, it’s all about big thinking and the opening ceremony was a showcase of exactly that.

Skoll drew parallels with the Olympics and how athletes overcome obstacles through dedication and dogged pursuit of their goals. The same needs to be done regarding the challenges facing the world.

“We need to pursue diplomatic solutions as eagerly as we’ll pursue gold medals this summer,” he told a captivated audience, referring to the London 2012 Olympics. And Kofi Annan should be given a gold medal for securing a peace deal with Syria, he added.

Hans Rosling, the enigmatic chart master known for his ability to make everyone think that statistics are sexy, seemed to be unfazed by whether we’re in a state of FLUX or not.

For a change, he augmented his famous bubble charts with toilet paper from his hotel to demonstrate why populations still continue to grow for a few generations even once birth rates even out at two children per family.

Using fact-based information, Rosling, professor of international health at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm and founder of Gapminder, challenged the notion that we have an ever-increasing overpopulation problem.

“We’re all debating when we’ve reached peak oil, but we know we’re reaching peak child,” Rosling said.

It will be fun to watch his dynamic talk again once the video is up on the Skoll Forum website.

Professor Peter Tufano told delegates that to be successful, social entrepreneurs need four traits: strong values; a knowledge base in the areas in which they choose to affect change; the skills to manage people and a willingness to embrace failures.

"You have to study failure, some of the greatest innovations have come out of failure," Tufano, the Peter Moores dean and professor of finance at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, said.

Roger Martin, dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, pointed out that academic institutions are too fixated on proving a concept before starting to develop it. Government are better at fostering invention than innovation, he said.

Soraya Salti, founder of Injaz Al-Arab, stressed the importance of education in the Arab region, where 75 percent of the population is young. "There is no Arab Spring without an Arab educational revolution," she said.

Technology has been playing a major part in recent social changes.

Patrick Meier, director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi , spoke about using the company's crowd-sourcing technology for input from people in Uganda  to talk about the #kony2012 video campaign on child soldiers.

Al Jazeera English has launched "Uganda Speaks", an initiative to track down the voices of the people who have largely been missing from the debates regarding the viral video, which now has more than 80 million hits on YouTube -  the Ugandans themselves.

Ushahidi's technologies can now facilitate what Meier called the of connecting disaster problems and solutions, just like an online dating site. 


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