I just returned from the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, England. The SWF is a pre-eminent global gathering of social entrepreneurs to share experiences, celebrate successes and learn from each other. SWF is an invitation-only event— so it’s an honor to be invited and an even greater privilege to be able to attend.
While the whole SWF experience was exhilarating—and I’ll get to some truly amazing speakers and presentations in a moment—one potentially troubling element has stayed with me. About 900 people attended the SKW. I’d estimate that around 400 of these people were American. But almost none of these Americans are focused on social impact in the United States. There appears to be a certain cache associated with tackling the problems of Africa and Asia, leading to a social entrepreneurship brain drain at home.
Certainly, there are HUGE problems around the globe. Yes, poverty is overwhelming and opportunity scarce. The challenges seem intractable. But there are also enormous problems right here at home in the United States. Unemployment is rampant, especially among the young. Poverty is climbing. And then there is crime, inadequate education and health care that is increasingly out of reach for those who need it most, not to mention a stalemate on climate change and completely ineffectual government. We need social entrepreneurs tackling these issues as well!
I recognize that there may have been a certain self-selection bias at play at the SWF. The Forum is a global gathering and may attract those working on more “global” issues. I know there are talented social entrepreneurs working in the States and on the States. But, the US is certainly part of the globe and nearly half the attendees at the Forum were American. At least based on attendees at what is arguably the single leading venue for social entrepreneurs to network, share, learn and ultimately step up their game, I’d say we do have a brain drain of social entrepreneurial talent leaving the US.
Reflecting on this brain drain makes me want to acknowledge PCV’s awesome Volunteer Business Advisors even more than I usually do! I often tell people that PCV’s Business Advising Program is “like Doctors Without Borders, only it’s Business People Within Borders.” Instead of doctors travelling abroad to care for the sick, PCV volunteers stay home and help people in their own communities build businesses, creating jobs and opportunities for the vulnerable people who need them most. Kudos PCV Volunteer Business Advisors! By the way, if you would like to learn how to become a PCV volunteer, click here .
Now, as promised, some of the exhilarating moments at the Skoll World Forum. There were some incredible speakers/presentations. If you’ve never heard of, or seen, Hans Rosling, co-founder of the Gapminder Foundation and a Swedish medical doctor, academic, statistician and public speaker, check out the video of his presentation here, beginning around minute 22. You will never know how fun and useful statistics can be til you see Hans.
Activist and playwright Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and founder of V Day, gave an eloquent and passionate presentation on violence against women, unfortunately found in every corner of the globe. You can hear Eve at the morning plenary, beginning around minute 59 here.
I could go on and on, but I won’t. I’ll just give you one more example. I was heartened to learn from Zika Abzuk, who leads Cisco’s social investment commitments in Israel, Palestine & Sub-Saharan Africa, that Cisco has made a $10 million investment—lead from the company’s Tel Aviv offices—in building the IT economy in Palestine. The initiative has been amazingly successful. Too bad we never read this kind of news about the Middle East in a US Newspaper. But you can learn about it here, around minute 12.