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Reader Report: Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

By Kristin Hayden

Ziko.jpgI've just returned from a very inspiring three days in Oxford, England, at the 2009 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. This annual mega-event for the world's leading social entrepreneurs was started by Jeff Skoll, co-founder of eBay and founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation and Participant Media.

A social entrepreneur myself, I've noticed a huge shift in the public's understanding of the field. When social entrepreneurship was first gaining ground as a meme, people seemed confused by the difference between a social enterprise versus a non-profit or charity. Over the four years that I've been attending the Skoll World Forum, I've experienced the growing institutionalization of the field in academia as well as increasing public recognition of social entrepreneurs. As the Skoll Centre's new director, Pamela Hartigan, announced last Friday at the closing ceremonies, social entrepreneurship is now the sixth-most-tweeted trend in the world!

The highlights of this year’s Forum, for me, were meeting Skoll in person (he’s a humble visionary – wow, what an amazing example of using your wealth to effect the most amount of people!) and hearing the inspiring stories of the 2009 Skoll Awardees. Among the standouts were INJAZ, leading a rapidly growing movement in the Middle East to bring business leaders and entrepreneurs into the failing public school system, and VisionSpring, providing eyewear from the developed world to the Global South.

My favorite innovation was HeroRATS, an innovation from a research organization called APOPO that uses rats to sniff out land mines and diagnose disease in Africa (see video). Founder Bart Weetjen, a Belgian-born Buddhist monk living in Africa, trains rats to use their sense of smell to find both metal- and plastic-cased explosives in the minefields of Mozambique, and to detect tuberculosis bacteria in human sputum samples. (According to APOPO, a rat can evaluate 40 samples in 10 minutes, equal to what a skilled lab technician, using microscopy, will do in two days). APOPO also teaches local people to use the rats for these otherwise costly and dangerous missions, helping local communities become less reliant on foreign assistance.

The Forum left me reenergized and inspired to do my part to make this world a better place. All of our creative ideas, innovations and belief in self and others are needed now more than ever before - may we all heed the call!

See my blog for video snippets of my favorite speakers, interviews and other highlights from the conference.

Kristin Hayden is an Ashoka fellow and Founder/Executive Director of OneWorld Now! - an award-winning & innovative program providing critical foreign languages (Arabic & Chinese), transformative leadership training, and study abroad opportunities (Middle East & China) to underserved high school youth. A passionate believer in the transformative power of international study & service, she is a leading American advocate for institutionalizing the “GAP Year” (year of service abroad) in America. She writes about social justice in international education on her blog In my O.W.N. words. You can follow her adventures at the 2009 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship on her blog & Twitter @KristinHayden.

Editor's Note: We encourage "Reader Reports" -- submissions from members of Worldchanging's global audience who volunteer to write up their notes from travels, conferences, workshops and other worldchanging happenings they participate in. If you'd like to contribute your own report, please email editor[at]worldchanging[dot]com.

Photo source: HeroRATS.

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