Business Methods Tackling Social Problems

By:Rebecca Saltman Issue: Conscious Capitalism Section: Jewel Of Collaboration

The Skoll Foundation

Business Methods Social entrepreneurship is the true conscious capitalism of the 21st century, putting ethical values ahead of stock valuations. When I first learned of the term ”social entrepreneurship” I realized it could easily account for all the crazy work I have been doing for most of my adult life – certainly “cause-a-holic” was a pithy, but ultimately dismissive, term. When I described this 21st century concept to my mother, she was very relieved to finally assign a label to my constant flurry of activity (a flurry that was only rarely bound to a concomitant paycheck). On a flight to Denver my mother was so excited about her new discovery she tried it out. She was asked by the business woman in the seat next to her, “What does your daughter do for a living?” Mom proudly responded, “She is a social entrepreneur!” When the business woman promptly volunteered, “Oh, she owns a dating service?”, my mother was somewhat deflated. Her response did little to disabuse the woman of her misconception, while serving to abuse me. The good news is social entrepreneurship has finally moved into the collective consciousness and there are actually people that have not only heard the term, but can define it and live it. I had the opportunity to experience first-hand the magic engendered by the Skoll Foundation while attending the Skoll World Forum at the Said School of Business at Oxford in March of 2009. The event hosted notables such as Matthew Bishop (New York Bureau Chief of The Economist and author of Philanthrocapitalism), Elizabeth Lindsey (first female national fellow and first Polynesian Explorer at the National Geographic Society), Ken Brecher (former Executive Director of the Sundance Institute) and Lord Putnam of Queensgate. In creating his foundation, Jeff Skoll took an entrepreneurial approach by investing in, connecting and celebrating the world's most promising social entrepreneurs in order to effect lasting, positive social change worldwide.

Despite twisting my foot on a cobblestone path (Oxford is famed for many historical discoveries, sidewalks not being among them) I managed to attend a multitude of forums and experience the many valuable speakers. I was moved by the Foundation’s aptitude for bridging the many and varied resources of its guests. Kudos to Kelly Creeden, Marketing and Program Manager, and the masterful team that oversees the planning, scheduling, management and most importantly the needs of 800 internationally renowned "professional collaborators" at the World Forum. Kelly and the team certainly personify that spirit Jeff Skoll was evincing in creating his Foundation in 1999 - pursuing his vision of a world where all people, regardless of geography, background or economic status, employed the full range of their talents. Business Methods

Business Methods

“Because the Skoll Foundation focuses its energies on solving the world’s most pressing problems by breaking down silos between organizations and encouraging collaboration, what is emerging is an entire industry for social change that is greater than the sum of its parts. Since 2005, Root Capital has taken important lessons from the Skoll Foundation on how to be 'pathologically collaborative',” says William Foote, founder and CEO of Root Capital and an avowed Skoll Fellow.

Social entrepreneurship as defined by the Skoll Foundation is, on the surface, eminently pragmatic:

The social entrepreneur aims for value in the form of transformational change that will benefit disadvantaged communities and, ultimately, society at large. Social entrepreneurs pioneer innovative and systemic approaches for meeting the needs of the marginalized, the disadvantaged and the disenfranchised – populations that lack the financial means or political clout to achieve lasting benefit on their own.

Skoll, who was the first employee and first President of eBay, believes that strategic investments in the right people can lead to lasting social change. It is this belief that elevates the pragmatic to the sublime. Many of the problems of our modern world, ranging from disease, to drugs, to crime and to terrorism, derive from the inequities between rich and poor,” he says, “be they rich nation vs. poor nation or rich community vs. poor community. It is in the best interests of the well-off to help empower those who are not as well-off to improve their lives."

The Skoll Foundation’s mission is to advance systemic change to benefit communities around the world by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs. These collaborative pioneers are proven leaders whose approaches and solutions to social problems are helping to better the lives and circumstances of countless underserved or disadvantaged individuals. By identifying the people and programs already bringing positive changes to communities throughout the world, the Skoll Foundation empowers them to extend their reach and deepen their impact, fundamentally improving society. Jeff and his partners traffic in updates on key initiatives undertaken by social entrepreneurs around the world, and then share those best practices and innovations with other partners and Fellows.

J.B. Schramm, is President and Founder of College Summit, an organization dedicated to raising the college enrollment rates of low-income, and commonly underserved communities nationwide. His observations as an academic advisor at Harvard, as well as his personal experiences graduating from an inner-city Denver high school, compelled him to practice the kind of entrepreneurship that the Skoll Foundation prizes. His answers to my three questions are both simple and illuminating, and truly advertise Jeff Skoll’s vision.

How Has Collaboration with Other Skoll Social Entrepreneurs Added Value to Your “Membership” in the Skoll Community?

The Skoll Foundation was an early supporter of College Summit’s vision that all students should have the same opportunity for post-secondary success. In April 2008, the Skoll Award and relationship provided us with the opportunity to be featured in a 25 minute segment on PBS’ NOW with David Brancaccio as part of their Enterprising Ideas series. In addition, at the 2009 Skoll World Forum, my meeting with a producer from PBS’s NewsHour led to a national segment with Judy Woodruff at a College Summit partner high school in St. Louis that had transformed from low-performing to all students expected to graduate college-ready. Both segments have raised our profile as a credible authentic voice within education policy and have been valuable tools in communicating the impact of our work.

How Have You Integrated Collaboration and Collaborative Strategies in Your Overall Organizational Goals?

Skoll funding and support connected us to not just influential funders and foundations, but tremendous thought partners and champions. College Summit’s institutional success has led to valuable partnerships with Deloitte and the Gates Foundation, helping us to build tools for data analysis and integrate our efforts into K-12 efforts nationally. College Summit has also been building relationships on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Department of Education, and with advisors to President Obama.

How Has Connection and Collaboration Affected the Impact Your Organization Has on the Ground?

The key to College Summit’s success on the ground has been the deep and open relationships we build with our partners’ schools. Our outcomes have improved dramatically as a result of our interactions with administrators, staff, and teachers to continually improve our programming and services. Most specifically, our collaboration has yielded broad consensus around the need to introduce services in every high school grade, and our new “Whole School” program addresses the 9th-11th grade contingent, maximizing college enrollment for low income students. College Summit’s work with the Skoll Foundation continues to reap very public profits. Wakefield High School student and College Summit Peer Leader Tim Spicer introduced President Obama to the nation for his recent education address, broadcast from Wakefield High in Arlington, VA.

This year, both at the World Forum and beyond, an important change came to light; the social entrepreneurs are now joining together with each other to drive expansion, improve operational efficiencies and increase impact. Some examples of cooperative work between Skoll social entrepreneurs include:

* Aflatoun, which focuses on teaching social and financial literacy to children, is working with the Afghan Institute of Learning, Committee for the Democratization of IT, Fundación Paraguaya, Visayan Forum Foundation and Escuela Nueva to deliver Aflatoun’s curriculum through these existing teaching networks. * Partners In Health and Riders for Health are partnering to improve the delivery of health care to rural poor in Lesotho and, potentially, other African countries. Riders for Health is also in the initial stages of a partnership with mothers2mothers to increase the mobility and efficacy of “Mentor Mothers” in their work to stop transmission of pediatric HIV/AIDS. Andrea Coleman, CEO and co-founder of Riders for Health, proclaims that money management is not the same as creating an equitable model for development. Jeff Skoll and his partners have illuminated that very point to her critics and fans alike, over and over. “Being part of the Skoll Foundation has allowed us to develop and test our social enterprise models, the prime example being our Transport Asset Management (TAM) programme in Gambia,” she said. “With TAM, Riders is exploring new ways of making effective use of money in the developing world... this would not have been possible without the Skoll Foundation. The relationship that the foundation creates between awardees has provided us with countless examples of best practice and innovative ways of working. Our partnerships with the Barefoot College and Gram Vikas in the Gambia have allowed us to share our knowledge and experience... (to) achieve results that would not have been possible had we acted individually.” * Global Footprint Network, Kickstart and IDE-India are all providing training for the inaugural session of an innovative leadership and enterprise program for high school graduates in Zambia run by Camfed. Aimed at developing entrepreneurial business and leadership skills through classroom work and distance-learning, the program will address themes of food security, ecological sustainability, sanitation and education. * Fundación Paraguaya now serves as an implementing organization for Kiva in delivering microloans in Paraguay. * Root Capital and TransFair USA work together to assure that farmers reap the full benefits of fair trade; higher income, enhanced environmental stewardship and stronger communities. Root Capital has also partnered with the Acumen Fund, the Skoll Foundation and others to create the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs to increase the amount and effectiveness of capital, technical, and business assistance for entrepreneurs in developing countries.

These are all meaningful partnerships designed to help increase a sustainable impact. While the Skoll Foundation has provided a venue to meet and exchange ideas, these partnerships have developed independently between the entrepreneurs. Enabling this level of connection to evolve into more strategic partnerships, driving both organizational breadth and societal impact, can only strengthen the power of the “conscious capitalism model” in the years ahead.

Rebecca Saltman is a social entrepreneur and the President and Founder of an independent collaboration building firm designed to bridge business, government, nonprofits and academia. Contact Rebecca at