Moments ago, I was one of several hundred delegates streaming out of the Sheldonian Theatre at Oxford University. We had just experienced the opening plenary of the Skoll World Forum 2010.

The event opened with a beautiful performance by South African Singer-Songwriter and Poet Activist,Vusi Mahlasela, including a song about two birds in a barren land, one with no wings and the other with no eyes. Together, they find a way to fly to a better place. The song, no doubt picked for its relevance to this year’s theme of catalyzing collaboration for large scale impact, breathed new life into the ancient lecture hall and appeared to move the audience deeply.

Speakers at this evening’s opening plenary included Jeff Skoll, Founder & Chairman, Skoll Foundation, Participant Media, and Skoll Global Threats Fund; Lakhdar Brahimi, Veteran United Nations Envoy and Advisor; Ann Cotton, Executive Director, Camfed International; and Paul Farmer, Co-Founder, Partners In Health. Below are selections from the opening plenary, weaved together with a gentle nudge to Skoll World Forum delegates and people following from afar to consider the possibility that the ingredients for catalyzing collaboration are coming together somewhere other than the Sheldonian Theatre and the Saïd Business School.

Senior statesman Lakhdar Brahimi’s presentation included a humorous anecdote about a peace agreement he helped broker between Afghanistan and Iran. After a lengthy negotiation with a Taliban leader, Brahimi helped secure a commitment to peace. Later he found out that his Afghan interpreter had taken the liberty of neither fully translating what the Taliban leader or what Brahimi had said. The interpreter, however, had responsibly said what needed to be said.

Later in the evening, Ann Cotton of Camfed was asked if collaborating with local organizations requires international aid organizations to let go of some power. A strange question, but Cotton responded with the highly tweetable and poignant observation that, “You can’t empower people without giving up some power.” The round-table discussion with Cotton and her partners highlighted the value of letting go of control by placing the people you seek to serve at the center of your work. See the Accounting to the Girl report released today for more information.

Introduced as a social entrepreneurship ‘rock star’, Paul Farmer of Partners in Health presented on the earth quake relief and rebuilding effort in Haiti. He walked the audience through a intense slide-show of images from Haiti, read from the country’s Declaration of Independence, and concluded with a shopping-list of what’s needed in Haiti to “build back better.” Farmer also confessed that he didn’t know what remarkable tools could possibility make the provisioning of his entire shopping list possible. Nevertheless, he concluded that the “between us and among us lie the tools and resources to rebuild Haiti.”

This very brief review of tonight’s opening plenary of the Skoll World Forum 2010 concludes with a response to Paul Farmer, in the manner of the interpreter from Afghanistan, and with the interest of placing the people we want to serve at the center of our work.

As a migrant from the social tech universe, I may be one of handful of people attending the Skoll World Forum who are remotely familiar with a revolution in collaboration brewing at the edges of geekdom. Few people have heard of the Open Linked Data Cloud, and even fewer people can easily interpret its significance to social entrepreneurship. (See Tim Berners-Lee’s TED Talk for a primer.)

I won’t attempt to explain #LinkedData here, but during the course of this evening’s plenary, I realized that the breakthrough tools for collaboration that not even Paul Farmer can envision are quite possibly not “between us and among us” but down the street at the University of Oxford’s Computing Laboratory.

If by some stroke of good fortune, a translator from the world of code is reading this and can explain how the Open Linked Data Could could facilitate deep collaboration, data sharing, and empowerment of the people we want to serve, I will return to Canada a happier person and Paul Farmer may someday soon be able to seamlessly assemble the resources necessary to have his shopping list crowd-sourced.

Let me attempt to prompt the discussion by tagging @viewchange@webfoundation@phase2tech,@zemanta, and @semuni.

Peter Deitz is a blogger, microphilanthropy consultant, and the founder of Social Actions. Read his blog at and