I always dread conferences – the badge slung around the neck, the feedbag wrist bracelet, the organic-sourced handbag filled with printed agendas and speaker profiles – I spend most of the time feeling guilty that instead of “networking” I’m “notworking”.
And I’m always glad I came.
The Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship, held last week in Oxford, was no exception. It is, above all, a gathering of optimistic, positive people who are tackling some of the world’s most (seemingly) intractable problems: poverty, violence against women and children, disease, malnutrition — you could scarcely name a plague besetting mankind that wasn’t represented by someone laboring to mitigate it.
I consider Woodstock, which I attended back in 1969, to be the precursor of all of these gatherings: Davos, the Global Philanthropy Forum, Opportunity Collaboration, the Microcredit Summit and others, and they all boil down to this: we come away with an unwritten pledge to make the world a better place.
The question is, after we return to our homes and our vineyards: do we deliver?
The older you get, the more you are impressed with the brevity of our stay on this earth. Walking around Oxford, one of the oldest – so old, in fact, that our tour guide told us that ‘no one knows when it was founded’ – universities on earth, you can’t help but confront that ageless dilemma: do I go for immortality or the pleasures of the moment? There are the digs where Halley (never lived to see his own comet) hung out, the college where Evelyn Waugh nurtured his future comic and dark genius, the buildings that the unchartered architect Sir Christopher Wren designed. These men’s works outlived them. They left indelible footprints as a guide to those who came after.
There were about 1,000 of those people gathered at Skoll these past three days. Most of us will be forgotten, but some may join the Pantheon of those who really changed the world for the better.
Jeff Skoll, I salute you. Thanks for bringing us together.