Skoll World Forum: My day of inspiration with business leaders and social entrepreneurs

Earlier this year, the Skoll Foundation awarded one of our former students and Apps for Good Fellow Mohima Ahmed to a day pass to attend the Skoll World Forum on 10th April in Oxford.

The Skoll World Forum is an annual conference on social entrepreneurship trying to bring together the most relevant news, insight, and opportunities to accelerate entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issues.

Mohima was thrilled to attend the event! Here’s her take on her exciting day.

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Mohima pitching her app Transit to other former Apps for Good students.

The Skoll World Forum

A 6am morning, 2.5 hour long journey and a full day at Oxford: when you’re representing Apps for Good, you better be prepared to go all in. Fortunately, it wasn’t my first rodeo and so I knew the effort would more than pay off – and it did! Held at Oxford Said Business School, The Skoll Forum – celebrating social entrepreneurship – was a busy event and the greatest task was fitting everything in.

The daughter of a journalist, I naturally attended ”The evolving role of Media in Modern Age” workshop first. It’s not every day you get to sit in close proximity to the Senior Vice President of CNN and The Head of Media/PR for Al Jazeera, but when you do, you can be sure to be left with rather deep philosophical questions invoked in, even shallow old me. We no longer get our information from the daily newspapers or the evening broadcast, but now instantaneous updates fill our Twitter feeds and Facebook timelines. This begs the question: Do we still cover stories with integrity and shake the core of society, or would people rather hear cheerful stories of what’s going on around them? While the corporate media conglomerates argue that there is a time and place for every kind of story, the smaller more “activist” journalists state that the beauty of a small audience is that they can continue to focus on impact articles and make a change– no surprise there then. What they both did agree on though is that social networking sites have provided a new avenue to reach new audiences, thus attracting viewers who would’ve otherwise remained ignorant. Sorry old timers (and mummy), it seems that the internet isn’t the Big Bad Evil you keep claiming it to be.

Inspiring women

After lunch, the female in me couldn’t resist going to “Unlocking the Entrepreneurial Ambition of Women” – no, I will not apologise for being a cliché, we girls still need to stick together – and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. Listening to Comfort Jennings’s story of how she went from being a little girl in Africa who fixed necklaces with pliers to the CEO of an international exports company was beyond refreshing and inspiring. It just reiterated that little fact that we all know deep down: we can do almost anything we want if we stay tenacious and focused. God, that sounds scary, doesn’t it?

Networking with a competitive twist

The afternoon was quickly followed by the “Sundance Network activity.” Lured into going by thinking that it would be a session on networking skills, imagine the betrayal I felt when we learnt that the bulk of the session would be us being divided into small groups of 12 and baring our souls? Ok, not quite baring our souls, but they did ask us to share a personal insight into our lives that has shaped us to be our present selves. Feeling immensely daunted, I didn’t jump at the chance, but midway in, I realised, all these people – the very tall guy in the suit, the very French woman in the pashmina and the very pretty blonde – had these amazing stories but with a common theme, their own vulnerabilities. Realising everyone was just as nervous as me, I shared my story too. I told them about growing up as the child of immigrants with their then broken English and my time with Apps For Good (hey, I was there to represent us so of course I’ll take any opportunity to promote us!) and how it helped me realise the joy of giving back. And then funniest thing happened. The people of my group – the middle class guy who didn’t realise he was racist till his mid-twenties, the genius Stanford graduate who designed a baby incubator that saved 50,000 lives, the executive editor of NPR – they voted my story the best one! Needless to say, I was shocked…and a little smug. But I was also pleasantly surprised by how good it felt to tell all these strangers something about me and hear stories about them that I didn’t expect. It made me realise that we aren’t as different as we think we are. Don’t worry, we didn’t all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya” afterwards – even I draw the line there.

Skoll Awards Ceremony

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Me and Rodrigo (The Founder of cdi.org.br) enjoying the ceremony

The day ended with the Skolls Award Reception and it was phenomenal. Opening the ceremony, there was an AMAZING performance from Playing for Change Band. Their quirky uplifting style and dated outfits made me feel like I was in a very retro 1960’s music club that only the really cool people know about. The bright lights and cheerful atmosphere isn’t something I’ll forget in a hurry but unfortunately it was all I could enjoy as train ticket bookings meant I had to leave early. It was however, the perfect ending to a wonderfully intellectual day. A day designed to celebrate the coming together of people to help each other and move forward as one – something even the most hard hearted of us can’t deny is what the world desperately needs. And we’re getting there. One step at a time.

About the author: Mohima is 19 years old and graduated from the Apps for Good course in 2011 where her group created Transit (an English to Bengali translator app for parent teacher conferences.) She’s currently doing her first year of Engineering at Imperial College and often represents Apps for Good at events.