The Editors' Post: Is the Skoll World Forum truly global?

The conference on social entrepreneurship gathered delegates from around the world – but were voices from the Global South given the prominence they deserve? Our takeaways from last week's summit in Oxford.

Is the Skoll World Forum truly global? This question emerged as I attended the first two days of the conference in Oxford, England, last week. The 20th edition of the forum, which celebrates social entrepreneurship and innovation, gathered nearly 1,500 delegates from around the world – but, as AVPN CEO Naina Subberwal Batra pointed out, it didn’t feel like the world was quite there. Yes, the Global South was represented, not least among the winners of the Skoll Awards for Social Innovation, which recognise some of the most impactful social entrepreneurs in the world, and this year included organisations from Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa as well as the US. But there was an overwhelming feeling that much of the conversation, in particular on the main stage, was dominated by US voices – one delegate also recounted hearing a speaker saying “here in the US” multiple times in another session.

Of course, the Skoll Foundation is a US-based organisation, so a certain focus on North America can reasonably be expected. But should this be more actively avoided by organisers? One session I attended did just that – focussed on localising value chains in Global South countries so they can be truly independent and empowered. The US was mentioned – not a reference point though, but as a place where there needs to be a change of narrative. Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, founder of African Food Changemakers, recounted her surprise to find out how, in the US, Africa was framed as “a hungry child” that needs high-income countries to feed it. Data shows Africa mostly feeds itself, she points out, and entrepreneurs are driving social innovation at speed on the continent – the problem lies in global trade systems that were set up to extract its natural resources towards high-income countries, and therefore prevent it from being truly independent. 

Changing this kind of narrative and perceptions is a barrier that social innovators often have to overcome first before they can scale their impact; and it is necessary to achieve any kind of systems change. How do you change the narrative? It starts with who tells the story. Who you put on the main stage. While Skoll World Forum has made a great effort in promoting diversity among its main speakers, perhaps moving the focus away from the US with a line-up of star speakers from the Global South for the main act could be a good idea.


Suzanne Biegel's legacy project

Important news last week was that gender-lens investment pioneer Suzanne Biegel, who revealed that she is terminally ill with cancer, is launching a “legacy project” – a $1m investment to kick-start a new endowment tackling climate change and gender inequality; our global editor Julie Pybus has the details. We’re also hearing about blockchain, and Liam Black reveals his secrets on purpose-led leadership.


Don’t forget to apply for the SE100!

Are you one of the UK’s top 100 social enterprises? Don’t forget to apply to Pioneers Post’s NatWest SE100 list and Social Business Awards this year. Make sure to read our top tips to succeed in your application, shared with you by Buzzacott's Hugh Swainson, one of our SE100 judges. You have until 7 May.



This week's top stories:

Al Gore at Skoll 2023: Diversity isn’t just ‘woke’, it’s essential to fight climate crisis

Suzanne Biegel launches legacy project as she reveals cancer diagnosis

Opinion: Blockchain can redefine impact investing – here's how


Top image: Wes Moore, Governor of Mariland, US, and Don Gips, at Skoll World Forum last week (courtesy 2023 Skoll World Forum)

Thanks for reading our stories. As an entrepreneur or investor yourself, you'll know that producing quality work doesn't come free. We rely on our subscribers to sustain our journalism – so if you think it's worth having an independent, specialist media platform that covers social enterprise stories, please consider subscribing. You'll also be buying social: Pioneers Post is a social enterprise itself, reinvesting all our profits into helping you do good business, better.