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Exploring hiring challenges (and avoiding volcanic ash) at the Skoll World Forum

Recently our fearless leader, James Weinberg attended the 2010 Skoll World Forum in England.  Since the rest of us were not able to attend, we had a million questions for him when he got back. Here are a few snippets of what he had to say:

This was your first time at a Skoll World Forum; why did you decide to attend this year?

As Commongood Careers has grown to a point of national scale and with the launch of our new venture, Talent Initiative, I have been focusing a greater amount of my time on advancing the sector as a whole, on both a national and global level.  This is coming at the same time as I believe that we are approaching one of the most pivotal inflection points in the history of the social sector.  As we emerge from the global economic downturn, many world leaders—including President Obama in the US—are re-envisioning the role that entrepreneurial, outcome-based and high-impact nonprofits/NGOs have in moving our society forward.  The Skoll Forum is one of the most significant annual conversations among social entrepreneurs about the future of our work and our world.  Given my new focus areas and the strategic imperative of this time, I was excited about the opportunity to join the dialogue this year.

How was this conference different than other conferences that focus on social entrepreneurship?

There are not too many conferences focused on social entrepreneurship, and I wish that there were more. The Skoll World Forum is the most globally diverse conference that I have ever attended.  At any given event, I was as likely to be sitting next to someone from Ghana or Palestine as I was to be comparing and contrasting the hiring needs of nonprofits in Korea or Darfur.  It was an amazing experience to see how many similarities exist across the world, and to imagine how different our work would be in different cultures and contexts.

You led two workshops about talent while you were there. What were the themes, concerns and ideas that were discussed during that session?

We had two great sessions on “Human Capital and Social Entrepreneurs” in Oxford.  At the start of each session, we went around the room and asked participants to share their greatest areas of concern or challenge related to human capital and management.  Then, for 90 minutes, my colleague Pari Jhaveri of Third Sector Partners in India would answer as many of their questions as possible.  Many of the participants were focused on specific hiring needs, most commonly based around hiring (in many cases their first) Chief Operating Officer and/or Chief Development Officer.  These hires both represent a vital developmental turning point for many organizations and exploring how to structure these roles and integrate them into existing management structures was a fascinating conversation.  Many social entrepreneurs were also focusing on maintaining a competitive compensation structure within this economic environment, preserving their organizational cultures throughout a rapid growth process, and building “bench strength” and succession plans for senior managers.

What are your overall impressions of the Skoll World Forum 2010?

It is an amazing opportunity to convene leaders from incredibly diverse backgrounds that all share a common entrepreneurial approach to their myriad visions for social change.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to attend and I hope to do so again next year.

How did you get home when everyone else seems to be stranded in Europe as a result of the Icelandic volcano?

Eric Schwarz from Citizen Schools and I had to get back to Boston early for an event and I think that we were on the very last plane out of Heathrow before they closed down all of British air space.  We really lucked out on that one!  Now just about a week later, I understand that most of the conference attendees are still unable to return home, with many of them making their way in cabs and busses down to Madrid where it is rumored that you can get a flight out.  This phenomenon has just absolutely amazed me and it seems to have bottled up the world’s greatest social entrepreneurs in one place for an extended period!  We have a lot of work to do and I hope that everyone can get home soon.


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