Just one year ago, I giddily boarded a plane from San Francisco to London to attend my first-ever world-class conference: the 2009 Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship. As 25, having studied and admired the legends of the world’s most decorated social entrepreneurs for half a decade, I could hardly believe my luck as I found myself in conversations with Paul Farmer of Partners in Health, Martin Fisher of KickStart, Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, and more. As I said then, I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
Humbled by the achievements and stature of those around me, I struggled to understand my own relative contribution and place. As I wrote at the time, "I’m battling the feelings of someone not yet part of the club: I feel concurrently blessed and entitled, grateful and indignant…I am in the presence of giants, and I feel small in comparison…I don’t yet know how I fit in…And yet under it all, there is a voice from inside that tells me that I do in fact belong."
For better or for worse, just one year later at the 2010 Skoll World Forum, I am no longer concerned with such questions about my own belonging, or anyone else’s for that matter. In the past year, my consciousness and concerns around social entrepreneurship have shifted by leaps and bounds. Whereas I used to look at the sector and see the famous faces swirling in the stardust of their own mythologies, now I see a burgeoning movement of tens of thousands of ordinary people with extraordinary convictions. Rather than worry about my own level of inclusion, I’m now concerned with tearing down that wall of exclusion for the rest of the world. Because social change needs all the manpower it can get.
If the 2010 Skoll World Forum has taught me one thing so far, it’s that I’m not alone in my thinking. In both formal and informal ways, this year’s conference is emphasizing the importance of the innumerable and diverse roles that must be filled in our struggle for a better world. In his opening speech, Jeff Skoll stated that social change "is a team sport." Pamela Hartigan took it a step further: "While we celebrate social entrepreneurs, unless we create a movement among political actors, the change will be limited."
The sector of social entrepreneurship has come a long way in the six years since the Skoll World Forum launched in 2004. Having started my organization in 2003, I feel blessed to have been able to watch this growth unfold. This year in particular, it feels like we’re hit an inflection point illustrated by a mindshift in focus from the one to the many. Whereas before the social entrepreneurship sector felt far too much like a high school for grown-ups – full of its requisite cliques, jocks, and prom queens – it’s starting to feel more like college. We are still wide-eyed freshman, for sure, but with a dose of humility and a dash of self-awareness. And hopefully more to come.