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From eBay to Social Entrepreneurship

When Jeff Skoll became the first full-time employee and president of eBay, he had two failed businesses behind him. But he wrote a business plan that led this start-up company to legendary success. It was so successful, in fact, that when he cashed out a portion of the company, he joined the ranks of the world's billionaires.

He could be spending the rest of his life on golf courses, private jets and luxury yachts. Instead, he has founded Participant Media, a company that has funded Oscar-winning feature films and documentaries that promote social values; and the Skoll Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, which is behind the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the Saïd Business School at Oxford University.

This week, the Skoll Centre has been hosting its annual Skoll World Forum for around 800 of the world's leading social entrepreneurs from 65 countries. Prominent figures from the public, academic, finance, corporate and policy sectors have engaged with them in debates, discussions and workshops focused on accelerating, innovating and scaling market-based solutions to some of the world's most pressing social issues.

The climax of the 3-day Forum is the giving of the Skoll Foundation Awards. This year's recipients included a young woman called Soraya Salti. She left a job in business consultancy to join INJAZ al-Arab, the only education programme in the Arab world that helps students learn entrepreneurship and life skills as part of their school education.

Another awardee, Gary White, is the founder of WaterPartners International. Over twenty years ago in Guatemala, he watched a young girl carry contaminated water back to her shack alongside a stream of open sewage. At that moment he decided to dedicate his life to helping poor people gain access to safe drinking water but in a way that was commercially viable.

Similar stories of vision, passion, risk and adventure have poured forth, not only from the podium but in hundreds of hushed but animated twilight conversations in darkened streets and college precincts. It is as if the dreaming spires above have born silent testimony to the enduring values of stewardship and responsibility that put such things as entrepreneurial skills and a cup of clean water in the hands of a poor child.

For the faith that inspired those spires teaches us that the hands that receive them are Christ's own. It's the kind of faith that inspires business plans for start-ups from people who have failed more than once in business but who have a social conscience. It can even help lift the global economy from its knees.

Peter Heslam


  stories of vision, passion, risk and adventure have poured forth
stewardship and responsibility help put entrepreneurial skills and a cup of clean water in the hands of a poor child