I have just spent three days at the Skoll World Forum in Oxford, enjoying what I thought would be a “business as usual” conference where the wealthy elite pat each other on the back and say “good job”. I was pleasantly surprised.
My first full session was an invitation by Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen, to explore belief. This was followed by Mabel van Oranje, chair of Girls Not Brides and a relatively intimate conversation with Jeff Skoll, the forum founder and former president of eBay, focussing on passion, love for life and what he wants for his future daughter.
Every session I attended was led by game-changing, driven, inspiring leaders who have created real change in their communities on their own terms. There was no finger pointing, instead the conversation focussed on personal responsibility and exploring how every individual has the power to make something good happen.
Education was discussed extensively, as it should be: according to statistics there are 31 million girls of primary school age out of school worldwide. Of these, 17 million are expected never to enter school. Without basic life skills such as literacy and numeracy it is an uphill battle to ever be economically independent, politically active and have a voice in society. I don’t like to say anything is impossible, but it’s close.
In the UK, we know our young people get an education, but there is still so much we can do to support girls – helping them to to understand they are more than sexual objects, that they are leaders not simply “bossy” and that no industry is closed to them.
The forum focuses on attracting social entrepreneurs, who are often passionate, can-do people, but I believe that everyone has the power to step forward and so something to help ourselves and others. Together we can advance towards equality through leadership, entrepreneurship and self-belief. I realised that my seat at the table was exactly that. Mine. When I sit down, I’ll use that opportunity to pull out a chair for a fellow woman so that she can decide to take her place too.
A video that summed up a lot of my thinking, narrated by Safeena Husain of Educate Girls in India talks about the “promise of girls.” While we don’t have to check that our sisters, daughters and nieces are safe every 20 minutes, we do have a job to do in terms of showing those around us that life is there for the taking and supporting them on their own journey through work and education. If we go one step further, if we support our friends as they go for that promotion, or start their own business, then we are doing everything we can to support growth and close the equality gap.
We all have promise. We all have a right to sit at the table. If there’s one thing I learned this week, it is that we are the ones we’ve been waiting for – so let’s do what we can for ourselves and others. I challenge you all to do something. If you’re not sure where to start, here are three things you can try today.
This article first appeared on The Guardian.
Natalie Campbell is founder and director of A Very Good Company, a social innovation consultancy.
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