Two weeks ago, I arrived in an unusually sunny London, excited for the week ahead. On Tuesday, I attended the 3rd anniversary of the Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), an all-day workshop with ANDE members (Invest2Innovate recently joined their community) that included breakout sessions around Capital Aggregation, Communicating Impact, and Gender Initiatives. On Wednesday, I trekked down to Oxford to attend the Skoll World Forum and frequent the parallel unconference Oxford Jam.
The week was dotted with inspiration, from listening to incredible and awespiring speakers to meeting amazing people. It is not every day that an animated Hans Rosling can truly engage you in a talk about population demographics or Annie Lennox serenades you with some of the Eurythmics’ greatest hits, or V-Day Founder Eve Ensler uses the word ‘vagina’ in a repeatedly powerful way. Oxford – at least once a year – becomes a buzzing hub of social entrepreneurship warmth & fuzziness. Standing ovations and hugs (on stage and off) are a common occurrence. The community that we so often speak of in this ‘sector’ is palpable here.
If I was to summarize my experience in London and Oxford in one word it would be: introspective. I’ve recently been involved in some thought-provoking discussions around higher education and how youth today actually learn versus how institutions presume we learn. When I was at university, I was the most engaged when I was discussing topics versus listening to lectures; when I was empowered to personalize my learning rather than digest content unquestionably. Obviously, everyone is different, but going to a traditional conference at Skoll and comparing it to the informal vibe of the delegate-led Oxford Jam just down the road led me to reflect on that point further.
At Oxford Jam, I participated in a global skill share led by Unltd – a collective discussion about challenges & lessons from various enterprises operating in different countries. It was eye-opening, got my creative juices flowing, and spurred fascinating discussion around the challenges of working in emerging & frontier markets, from how to mobilize talent to work in enterprises to developing social entrepreneurs from the bottom-up. It was very reflective of our work with i2i, and the challenges our team faces every day in pursuing a model that best reflects the ground realities in Pakistan. In contrast, at the Skoll Forum, I was attending larger lectures with incredible role models and figures in the social entrepreneurship sphere. I was undoubtedly inspired, but there were obviously less opportunities to be truly engaged.
There has been increasing cross-pollination between Skoll & Oxford Jam in recent years, with seemingly more delegates from Skoll leading targeted discussions at Oxford Jam. The unconference is not necessarily a challenge to the traditional conference-style format, but it is a refreshing alternative for someone like me – a younger entrepreneur that wants to learn more and share constantly. A successful conference experience isn’t one built on how many business cards I managed to accumulate or how many handshakes I exchanged while peering subtly at a delegate’s name tag. For me, it’s about the interesting conversations I had, based on building relationships not furthering transactions. That can happen at both Skoll and Oxford Jam. You just have to go in with that mindset.
For more on Oxford Jam, see below:
Kalsoom Lakhani is the Founder/CEO of Invest2Innovate, based in Washington, D.C. She loves traveling, pretending to be a foodie, Jeopardy, and inane discussions about morality in mainstream television shows. If you watch mainstream television shows, you know this amounts to very little discussion.