Social entrepreneurs create innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform the world for the better, according to Sally Osberg, president and CEO of the Skoll Foundation.
Osberg delved into the topic when she addressed nearly 200 leaders from philanthropy, the nonprofit sector, government and industry as part of the USC Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy 2010-11 Distinguished Speakers Series.
The center is one of 12 research units in the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development and the only academic research center in the country with a focus on philanthropy and its links to public problem solving.
The center’s annual Distinguished Speakers Series seeks to raise the profile of philanthropy by providing a venue for leaders to share their views on the role of philanthropy in addressing the challenges facing communities.
Osberg described how the Skoll Foundation achieves its mission to drive “large-scale change by investing in, connecting and celebrating social entrepreneurs and other innovators dedicated to solving the world’s most pressing problems.”
In 1999, eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll started the foundation with a vision “to live in a sustainable world of peace and prosperity,” Osberg said. Even before he had encountered the term “social entrepreneur,” he knew that he wanted to leverage the foundation’s impact by investing in smart, disciplined, effective people working on projects that benefit humanity.
Over the past 10 years, the foundation awarded more than $250 million, including investments in 83 social entrepreneurs and more than 65 organizations on five continents. These social entrepreneurs are creating innovative solutions such as bringing literacy to millions of Afghan women and girls, and founding the first nonprofit pharmaceutical company.
In 2003, the Skoll Foundation partnered with the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford to launch the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship. Their signature program is the Skoll World Forum, an annual gathering designed to share what’s working in the field and shine a spotlight on social entrepreneurs and their innovations.
The foundation also harnesses the power of the media to tell their entrepreneurial stories. “They are incredible human beings,” Osberg said. “They deserve to be the celebrities that our culture writes about, thinks about, recognizes and supports.”
In addition to the Skoll Foundation, Jeff Skoll, who attended the luncheon along with other members of his leadership team, has a portfolio of ventures to promote social change —including a media company and an investment group which seeks business opportunities that provide financial returns while promoting the greater good.
“The Skoll Foundation has demonstrated extraordinary leadership in building the field of social entrepreneurship,” said James Ferris, director of the USC Center on Philanthropy and Public Policy and holder of SPPD’s Emery Evans Olson Chair in Nonprofit Entrepreneurship and Public Policy.
“One of the many unique features of the Skoll Foundation that Sally highlighted is how it works with other members of the Skoll Group — Participant Media, TakePart.com, the Skoll World Forum, the Skoll Global Threats Fund and the Capricorn Investment Group — to unleash a collective impact that none of their organizations could achieve alone. Their ‘portfolio approach’ to philanthropy typifies a type of new philanthropic strategy that is focused on achieving greater leverage and impact.”