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The Week That Was: From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

Posted: 1/04/2012 00:00

This week, hundreds of the globe's greatest brains descended on Oxford for the Skoll World Forum, which annually celebrates social entrepreneurship, and this year set out to discuss how we can seize momentum to drive change.

Over three days, academics, CEOs, journalists, philanthropists, charity workers and students debated a diverse array of topics including ending the famine cycle in Africa, micro-franchising, off-grid clean energy and youth unemployment.

The high point of the week was Thursday evening, when I sat in the audience and watched six individuals be presented with special awards to mark their efforts in social entrepreneurship.

From Antonio Meloto and Jose Luis Oquinena of Gawad Kalinga, who are transforming the slums of the Philippines, to Tim Hanstad of Landesa, an organisation which facilitates all-important land rights for millions of farmers across the world, it would do them a disservice to merely label their efforts inspiring.

These are individuals working selflessly within (until now) unsung organisations, which facilitate change, look for new ways of helping rebuild the world, and never ask for personal riches or reward.

As I mingled with other attendees over drinks in the Ashmolean museum later, I was asked repeatedly by non-Brits, "what's the big news in the UK right now?". I found myself, much to my embarrassment and their hilarity, attempting to explain what a pasty is, and why the entire country is talking about them, and then why our newspapers are covered in photos of queues of cars outside Esso garages.

I had pondered earlier in the week that if aliens landed right now we'd have a difficult time explaining what on earth we were doing obsessing about greasy pies and petrol, now I discovered I was having a difficult time explaining it to fellow human beings.

In a world where the oceans are rising faster than we can figure out how to confront the issues of global warming, and where human trafficking is this century's answer to slavery, how is it that we have become so inward looking we are unable to even acknowledge the world's problems, let alone start looking to tackle them?

Ironically, this of course happened in a week when the government is being urged to drop the amount it commits to oversees aid, at a time when it is perhaps needed most.

In-between the embarrassing pasty-explanations, and the emotional responses to the story-telling from some of the attendees, what I took away from Skoll were the words of one speaker, who pointed out, far more articulately than I am able to here, that nothing is impossible. Very hard, yes. But definitely not impossible.

So, let's put away the jerry cans, stop obsessing about boiled beef and potatoes, and channel our national obsession into making a difference, debating change and looking for new ways of living in this ever-changing world of ours.

Watch, and be moved, by the tales from the Skoll Award winners below...

 

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