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The Skoll Forum (one year later)

I’m back in Oxford for the annual Skoll World Forum.  In the two days before the event launches, the Skoll Foundation convenes its social entrepreneur awardees so we can compare strategies and new ideas.  It’s easily the most productive and interesting part of my year.

This year there are some extra guests. Staffers from USAID Administrator Raj Shah’s office joined us to learn more about our activities and what USAID can do to support it.

The ensuing conversation has been both hopeful, and depressing.  On the one hand, Raj Shah is clearly a believer in the importance of supporting innovators and disruptors.  His public rhetoric, and that of his senior staff, is well ahead of other bilateral donors.  Putting those words into actions as well as their efforts on procurement reform are sweeping.

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But, on the other hand, there are many social entrepreneurs who actively avoid USAID funding because of the “poisonous” effect it can have.  Recipients get bogged down in reporting process. Staff becomes more risk adverse. A focus on impact metrics is superseded by the prioritization of process metrics.

For PDT, this is a real issue. How do we scale up our impact without becoming more bureaucratic and less risk tolerant? I don’t know the answer. But I do know where to find it. Here, among the Skoll network.

Jeff Skoll - "invest in, connect and celebrate social entrepreneurs"

PDT was extremely fortunate to win the Skoll prize a year ago. It changed everything for us.  We found ourselves within a community of social entrepreneurs who face many of the same problems and opportunities that we face.  They’ve shared their ideas and their failures. It has helped us to dramatically improve how we tell our story, how we find supporters, and how we measure our impact. The Skoll staff have been even more helpful by introducing us to donors, experts, and advisors as well as reviewing our plans.

As a result, PDT has gone through another year of growth. Since the last Skoll Forum, we’ve grown by staff and by budget. More importantly, in the last year our project teams redirected over $191m of new spending into the economies of Afghanistan, Haiti, and Timor Leste. This has led to the creation of over 2,000 jobs in Helmand province alone.  That’s what the Skoll forum is all about.



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