Importance of social entrepreneurs to solving the biggest challenges in international development

In the field of social entrepreneurship, there is no shortage of inspired people with powerful ideas that can shake up the current state of international development but rarely are so many of these individuals in one place. This place is the annual gathering of social entrepreneurs, the Skoll World Forum, happening this week in Oxford, UK.

The theme for this year’s Skoll is “The Power of Proximity,” representing a shared understanding among some of the world’s boldest problem solvers — that in order to make a lasting impact on the world’s most persistent problems, we need to understand the direct experience of those within the affected community itself, and involve them in the process of change.

Bridge shares this approach, thus we continuously look to update and improve our understanding of what our pupils, parents, teachers and communities hope for and the broader circumstance in which our learning takes place.

The attendees of this year’s Skoll hail from a range of backgrounds and disciplines, and are united by a shared belief in innovation to facilitate the growth of human economies. Like Bridge, Jeff Skoll  — first President of eBay, and the event’s namesake — has witnessed how technological advances can equip organisations to break new ground for the benefit of customers (and in Bridge’s case parents) around the world. Delegates will be addressing the many challenges and offering many solutions to existing problems but share the single purpose of creating significant social impact.

This year there are some impressive award winners who are focussed on change. In addition, other Stand out Skoll delegates include: Oluseun Onigbinde, co-founder and CEO of BudgIT, a social enterprise which raises standards of public transparency and accountability by providing citizens in West African countries with simplified information on government budgets and matters of public spending, and; Anushka Ratnayake, founder and CEO of myAGRO, a social enterprise which increases yields and enables farmers in West Africa to boost their annual incomes, granting more choices with how they run their businesses.

Bridge Co-founder Dr Shannon May, who started an education social enterprise now catering to over 100,000 daily will be in both listening and speaking mode at Skoll — there to learn, and also to share her thoughts on female founders and the support that they need to really scale their impact.

Scaling impact and being able to do so in a sustainable way is a challenge for many entrepreneurs and education is a sector where this is certainly true. The problem is enormous and yet running effective schools, delivering consistent learning gains at scale is a challenge. There are many organisations and models that seek to address this and public private partnerships are an emerging option. They have long delivered effective outcomes in sectors such as health (e.g. GE Healthcare in Kenya) and energy and yet education has been slow to benefit.

The notion that anyone with the vision, determination and willingness to listen to what a community wants can create effective innovations is a highly compelling one. Ditto, that the development and distribution of new technology one year could lead to momentous social transformation in the next is a real pull for aspiring individuals who seek to solve problems and all others who are interested in the mechanics of social change.

Gatherings like the Skoll World Forum are fostering a culture of social entrepreneurship in the developed and developing worlds alike; by extension, it’s part of a broader movement which emphasises ownership of both solutions and problems in the context of sustainable and scalable partnerships that benefit everyone.

Societies everywhere are becoming more and more receptive to innovative solutions designed by creative social entrepreneurs. When change is made visible, economically and socially, it has the capacity to inspire at the same time as solving problems; to become a powerful force for bigger and better changes through equal participation, with mutually reinforcing economic and social dividends. Education is the best example of a long term investment in both people and economies – local, national and global. Although it is only one of the Sustainable Development Goals, successfully tackling the learning crisis will pave the way for the achievement of the others.

We’ve always been struck by the solution-first optimism of our communities and of gatherings like Skoll; those who want better for themselves and their children and are forging paths to ensure that this happens. Many changemakers, who in breaking new ground typically meet with great resistance — formal and informal — often have stories of the painful experience of growth that can only lead to positive change. Many of those at Bridge take inspiration from their neighbourhoods and their schools to talk positively about a future where they can support their families and give back to their communities.

We believe this is true for many of those at Skoll and the people that are helping. We look forward to hearing the stories at Skoll, sharing ours; learning how our world is going to be changed and, meeting the people that will lead this transformation.