Mary Anne Stokes, Philanthropy Manager, Social Entrepreneurs Ireland.

Jeff Skoll, a Canadian whose fortune originates in his early leadership of eBay, began in 1999 with a vision to catalyze social change. Today this has blossomed into the four-day event that some would say is the premier platform to advance entrepreneurial solutions to many of the world’s most pressing problems. The 2024 Skoll World Forum brought together more than one thousand innovators, philanthropists, corporates, NGOs, civil servants and curious souls with countless others attending the fringe Marmalade Festival at venues around Oxford.

The Forum hosted a wide range of philanthropic organisations with leading names in ‘celebrity philanthropy’ such as disco and R&B star Nile Rogers, founder of the We Are Family Foundation (supporting disadvantaged young people) and George and Amal Clooney who are known for their work in International Human Rights. Other renowned names in global philanthropy included Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, Confluence Philanthropy, Open Society Foundations and the Ford Foundation.

The salubrious New Theatre Oxford hosted plenary sessions featuring the wit and wisdom of speakers like Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand, author, story teller and disability rights activist Eddie Ndopu and our own Íar-Uachtarán Mary Robinson.

The highlight of the conference was the annual ceremony and celebration of the Skoll Award for Social Innovation. Each Skoll awarded organisation receives $2 million in unrestricted funding and flexible support to scale their work and transform their impact.

The 2024 awardees were:

For me, what distinguished the Skoll World Forum from other similar conferences, was the intentional ambiance of openness, curiosity and good old-fashioned friendliness which was set from the opening reception. Networking was demystified by the welcoming Skoll Foundation team and new delegates encouraged to take a deep breath and dive into conversation with the people next to them. Challenge accepted with the benefit of native English and the luck of Irish charm.

From the conversations with fellow delegates – some philanthropists, others fellow fundraisers and many somewhere in-between – the key ingredient is your innovation. What are you doing different to everyone else? How are you solving a problem in a way that has never been done before? This currency went further than regional or thematic ties.

As delegates spoke of their innovations through formal panels, workshops, plenaries or over dinner in an traditional Oxford college dining hall, the themes of climate action, preservation of democracy in the information age, systems change and leadership for equity and justice were ever-present.

I found my fellow delegates intriguing. Many presented transnational identities, having grown up in one country, sometimes with parents from one or two different cultural backgrounds, they are now living in another country, often far from home, with some even working in another location again. A few were Oxonians themselves, thrilled to be back in the ‘city of dreaming spires’ to continue their lifelong learning. Indeed I was also inspired by the amount of social innovators working entirely remotely with notable social impact to their credit and often attributing their ability to be creative and effective to the work-life balance they have crafted.

As Oxford is a short hop for us here in Ireland, The Skoll World Forum is a golden opportunity to experience something inspirational, elevate your thinking to a global level and come home with a whetted appetite for your vision, mission and the dream of what could be.