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Live from Skoll World Forum 2015

With so much going on at the 2015 Skoll World Forum, it's impossible to participate in everything. Our bloggers are sitting in on many of the exciting sessions at this year's event. Read their concise notes and observations to catch up on important discussions you may have missed.


FORUM2015: The Number Fetish

FORUM2015: The Number Fetish

April 28, 2015 | 3522 views

FRI, APRIL 17, 2015; 11:45 – 13:00

by Dalumuzi H. Mhlanga

In his book Moral Lives of Leadership, Robert Cole writes about a profound conversation he had with an inspiring woman who had worked very closely with some of the most recognized leaders of the twentieth century. He writes, “I had my (psychoanalytic) doubts about anyone’s selflessness, and she made clear she understood what I suppose could be called, ironically, the narcissism of selflessness, the way one can attract attention to oneself, gain satisfaction for oneself, through an insistent, apparently sacrificial interest in others.”

The only reason I have found this reflection to be important is the very important question: When we seek to scale social impact, who do we really scale for? Is it always to make sure that we impact as many lives as possible? Or is it to feed our collective “narcissisms of selflessness” through which, as social entrepreneurs, we can congratulate ourselves and go to bed with soothed, even inflated, egos for the millions of lives we have reached?

Skoll Awardee Joe Madiath drew attention to this as he reflected on his work with Gram Vikas. In particular, he pointed out how his work went against the grain by relentlessly pursuing inclusion based on a recognition that aiming to reach 70 to 80 percent of families in the villages Gram Vikas worked in was not enough. Often, it would be the case that the excluded 20 to 30 percent of families had been marginalized for centuries. As such, while a reach of 80 percent would look impressive, it would have undermined his organization’s mission.

It was therefore refreshing for the discussion in the room to move in the direction of encouraging each other to determine the rate of scale, based on the nature of the problem social entrepreneurs aim to solve. Based on whatever the core “secret sauce” of the innovation is, scale can then be achieved at what is a more “natural pace”, rather than one determined by external pressures.

When the nature of the problem and people’s needs are considered as central, even in questions of scaling social impact, we can more effectively make sure that we are aiming to reach millions of people, less so that we can make the point around dinner tables, and more because we truly are committed to making lasting impact.


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