The unexpected is always the highlight.

I recently attended the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. Going in I didn’t have much of an agenda but did end up with an experience that was worthwhile and possibly pivotal. The reason of course, as with all events it seems, is the people that gathered and connected.

Pamela Hartigan and Jeff Skoll at Opening Plenary

From the content and conversation perspective, the highlight for me was the focus on systems as core to social entrepreneurship. Roger Martin tagged disrupting and establishing equilibria as the ultimate purpose, and previously tired conversations around metrics became flavoured with the emergent dynamics of working at the level of systems. While applying rigour to scale and diffuse innovation was a hot topic, people also recognized that the most innovative work often reflects insanity before it becomes recognized as brilliance. That this conversation was happening here was a good thing.

What I think made the forum work was a mix of who participated and the space that was created for interaction. While there has been criticism of the exclusive nature of the event, it is definitely part of what makes it a safe space. The concentration of some of the highest profile people in this sector turns this from a worship session to a gathering of peers. At the same time, having the opportunity to participate in OxfordJam at the same opened up the range of perspectives and conversation more than at any conference I’ve been to before.

In the end, what may prove to be pivotal, were the unexpected encounters over during the space between sessions, venues, and events (including spontaneous volcano-inspired after events) and over the meals and drinks shared with others. The best of them happened with people I never knew and/or on paper, would have had no interest in meeting. Being together though as peers, without the distractions of daily life, sparked conversations and connections I expect I might carry for life. And for me, that is something I would go for again.

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