In the enormity of today’s challenges, we can find ourselves disillusioned by the seeming lack of progress and worsening conditions of what we face: climate change, disinformation, broken food systems, vast inequities, anti-democratic forces, shrinking civil societies, and more. The picture can look bleak and overwhelming. And yet, when people come together around an idea – a vision for a more just, sustainable, and peaceful world – there is no limit to what can be achieved. There are change makers across the global working towards a world that is more prosperous for all.
The Skoll Foundation fuels this awareness of collective progress across disparate issues to restore our hope and determination with the annual Skoll World Forum and the Skoll Award for Social Innovation, given to a handful of individuals and organizations each year. This was precisely what founder Jeff Skoll had in mind when he launched this work 20 years ago, but even he may not have foreseen the powerful ripple effects that have taken place since then. As he said at this year’s Forum, which I had the pleasure of attending a few weeks ago, “We can be an unstoppable force at making change in the world and that is what I see ahead for us all. It is incredible what good people will do when given the opportunity to be good.”
On full display at the Forum were multiple inspiring examples of “impossible” change being made possible. These are the types of stories that keep us going at TPI – they remind us that our clients’ commitment to using philanthropy to make change, and our work to support them, are important. I hope these three examples shared at the 2023 Forum inspire you to keep working towards a better future for all.
Maria Ressa, 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner and CEO/co-founder of Philippine media service Rappler, noted that “you cannot solve any global problem if our information ecosystem is corrupted.” As cited earlier in the Forum, a lie told a thousand times is seen as fact, and according to a study by the MIT Media Lab, lies spread six times faster than truth. So, what to do, especially in countries with even smaller locales facing elections in a time of rapid and vicious disinformation? When asked during her session what we can do, Ressa outlined how she created a four-layer pyramid system in her country. At the bottom, 150 news organizations that usually competed committed to fact-checking statements that hit social media. Above that were civil society organizations, “the mesh,” as she said, like churches, business groups, and NGOs sharing the facts with inspirational – not angry – emotional messages. Inspiration, it turns out, spreads just as fast as anger. Near the top were the academic institutions, which reported back to the papers on where attacks were being targeted on a regular basis so that defenses could shift, and at the top were the lawyers who handled legal challenges to those spreading disinformation.
Not only were there inspirational, pragmatic approaches for systemic response to disinformation in the Skoll sessions, but there was insight into how we can begin to shift narratives, and the value of making sure we know who precisely is telling us each story.
Telling Stories That Break Down Barriers
American filmmaker Ava DuVernay spoke to breaking down barriers on two levels. First, she addressed working differently within and around established systems to create change. And equally important, she spoke thoughtfully about how stories on the big and small screens not only help us see the humanity in others but also give us shared experiences around which we can find common ground. She cited being approached in a European grocery store by a white man who began to gush about the drama Queen Sugar, a very Southern American black story based on a novel by Natalie Baszile. The series had reached him in a way that no other vehicle might have, underscoring to DuVernay the power of story and creativity to spread ideas of humanity and possibility and help them take root in any kind of soil.
Finally, reinforcing the power of collaboration and community, Skoll Award recipient organization PolicyLink’s president and CEO Michael McAfee said, “We say equity is just and fair inclusion into a society in which all can participate, prosper, and reach their full potential. The key word here is ALL. There are so many of us not afraid to embrace the ALL. I ask you to find those leaders; invest in their institutions, invest in their visions, invest in their dreams. The world needs that now more than ever.” In that spirit was a third and moving lesson on finding the right people to take up that mantle of leadership…
Creating Unity through Purpose-Driven Leaders
Ebrahim Rasool, former Ambassador to the US from South Africa who served with F.W. de Klerk, Desmond Tutu, and Nelson Mandela, spoke on purpose-driven leadership in the lessons taught by those three men. All were guided by the goal of South Africa living its value of “ubuntu,” a recognition of the humanity of all people. In Rasool’s experience, effective leaders “are not (single) heroes.” Rather, they create popular – not populist – politics by single-mindedly focusing on bringing their visions of possibility to life. These men persisted toward reconciliation with the opposition, then worked with them to create rules that established a more equitable society and made it more sustainable. How did they do this without giving in to hate, fear, or anger themselves? With intentional care of the soul, said Rasool. To lead their country closer to “ubuntu,” they needed to embody that value fully. Mandela demonstrated nonviolence then dignity in incarceration; Tutu protected a white police officer from an angry mob; de Klerk worked to change the minds of a white populace. They modeled a path to bring followers as well as detractors into a world all would share together.
By convening those who are creating change, building community and a sense of collective effort across disparate issues, Jeff Skoll is himself a driver of positive, hopeful action on multiple fronts. On every front are people of all ages joining forces, creating positive change and momentum, and most of all, hope. And, of course, it is no small thing that the Skoll awardees are granted $2.25 million in unrestricted grants, enabling them to evolve to further their unique purpose.
So, if you are wondering what one person can do, if you need the assurance that there is indeed a powerful, global movement you are part of that is making a difference, I urge you to watch these and other Skoll presentations. Remember your purpose. In the words of Mabel van Oranje, human rights activist and founder of organizations such as Girls Not Brides, “Never forget that an enormous wave of change is composed of millions of drops of water. And you are one, and you are one, and you are one, and I am one… we need to create the waves of change.”