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Words of Inspiration from Social Entrepreneurship Maven Sally Osberg
Monday, Jun. 2, 2014
The internationally respected thought leader in the field of social entrepreneurship, Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg, received the Magis Global Changemaker Award from Santa Clara University's Center for Science, Technology, and Society on May 18, 2014. Citi Foundation’s Graham Macmillan, who helped create the successful eyeglass provider VisionSpring, was also honored. The text of Osberg's speech is below.
Thank you Kirk for that hyperbolic introduction. I didn’t catch any grammar slips so I’ll check out the manuscript.
I appreciate more than I can say your superb service to the Skoll Foundation over so many years. Those of you who know me know, I’m much more comfortable doing the honoring than standing before you, especially the part where I impress upon the honorees just how much time they have for their remarks. I promise to stay in my allotted time.
I truly am honored to receive this Magis award and to share the moment with Graham Macmillan, what an exemplar of our mission you are Graham.
It’s also very meaningful for me to be here in the Locatelli Center. Paul was a dear friend, many of you know he did my husband’s memorial service, and I took great strength from seeing his picture in the back of the room knowing that his hand would be with me and his blessings upon me as I stood here tonight. Thank you Maria, Wim, Fr. McCarthy and Fr. Engh for the care, commitment and dedication you bring to leading this remarkable university. Thank you Fr. Garanzini for driving the force of social justice in every Jesuit institution of higher learning throughout the world, it was a great privilege to meet you.
Thank you my wonderful friends and fellow travelers, Thane and Jim. Your entrepreneurial leadership has done so much for so many over the years, and like all great social entrepreneurs, you are just getting started. In true Silicon Valley style you set your sights on a 10 X multiple, aiming to hit a billion lives by 2020. That’s my kind of ambition.
To my beloved colleagues from the Skoll Foundation and Children’s Discovery Museum; Skoll Global Threats Fund; Capricorn Investment Group; the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship; and my friends of many many years here tonight. I am blessed, beyond blessed, to have you in my life. What a road we traveled together over the years. Thank you for your dedication, inspiration, your friendship and your love.
I wish my daughter and son-in-law could have been here tonight, but if you’ll allow me a proud mom moment, she was just awarded tenure at Villanova University where she is a professor of education. This weekend is Villanova’s graduation-- she had to be there.
I recall as if it were yesterday the first time I stepped foot on this campus. My late husband was being courted for professorship in the English Department, it was 1983, March or April, we traveled here from upstate New York where we lived, and where it was still in winter’s grip, so you can imagine the contrast, everything in bloom here, the wisteria cascading from the arbor alongside the Mission Church. While Dick was in conversation with his prospective colleagues, I was whisked away to what was then the Novitiate Winery in the Los Gatos Hills. Suffice it to say, we made the decision to come.
What I couldn’t know then was just how much this Valley would ask of us and how much I would be given in return. But there were clues. See, back East, Dick and I were both born and raised in the Northeast, the first question you are asked is “where are you from?” followed closely by “what school did you go to?”
Here, the first question is “what do you do?” Now it’s true that this may come from wanting to know whether you are hatching the next Facebook or Uber, but in my experience, it’s indicative of a more open attitude and genuine curiosity.
So in thinking about what to say tonight I came back to this question, turning it on myself and giving it the Magis touch. Have I asked of myself whether I am doing enough, and am I going to be able to do all I can to serve humanity? I’ve asked myself that question and I’m afraid I’ve come up short.
So what gives me the credibility to receive this award? It’s because of the folks my colleagues and I have come to know and support at the Skoll Foundation -- VisonSpring, IDE India, so many of the organizations that have come through the GSBI and flourished.
It’s these incredible women and men Jeff Skoll had in mind when he put his eBay fortune to work in the world and invited me to join him in living out his mission for a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. We call them social entrepreneurs.
If some of you wonder what a social entrepreneur is, you are not alone. Academics squabble over definitions. NGOs express skepticism, and entrepreneurs wonder whether their ventures measure up.
Paul Farmer, a cofounder of Partners in Health, he spoke here on this campus just a few weeks ago and received our Skoll Award in 2006, even confessed to mixed feelings of honor and shame, in being anointed a social entrepreneur.
His rhetorical rebuke hit home. What does it say about the scientifically advanced, technologically rich world of ours when his organization’s commitment to delivering high quality health care to the world’s poorest is considered entrepreneurial and innovative? But there it is.
It turns out Tom Friedman’s flat world, like the one Columbus’ contemporaries thought he’d sail to the edge of and fall off, has massive cliffs and crevasses. San Andreas fault lines riddle the world, dividing rich and poor, the barely okay from millions barely clinging to survival.
Most of you know the numbers, they are staggering, so let’s cut to the chase.
If we are going to solve the challenges confronting us-- poverty, injustice, violence, war and disease, a degraded environment, climate change -- we need social entrepreneurs.
We need their adamant refusal to accept the way things are, we need their innovative solutions, new ways to supply clean water and renewable energy, to ensure everyone has enough to eat, health care, education, and the chance to lead decent productive lives. We need their drive.
It’s not enough to invent clean cookstoves and low cost water purifiers, we need entrepreneurship to get those solutions to the poor and into communities. We need their discipline, their doing what begs to be done even and especially when everyone says it can’t be done.
We need their disruptive impact.
Consider Jenny Bowen, founder of the Half the Sky Foundation. Like thousands of Americans, Jenny and her husband adopted a Chinese baby girl, Maya, more than a decade ago. They fed and clothed, loved and played with her. And watched their listless emotionally stunted daughter blossom before their eyes. For most of us this would have been enough. But Magis called, and Jenny answered. Over the past 10 years she has worked tirelessly with the Chinese government to change its system of orphan care, teaching its bleak institutions to go beyond simply tending to children’s physical needs to nurturing their minds and emotions as well. In 2011the general heading China’s entire child welfare system, a take-charge, no-nonsense guy who led the Szechuan earthquake response, committed to implementing Half the Sky’s program in every province in China.
Today, millions of children like Maya will be able to develop their full human potential. That’s impact at scale, because of one woman Jenny Bowen.
And there’s Amitabha Sadangi, who came through the incubator. Amitabha has pioneered an extremely low cost micro-irrigation set of products and figured out how to market them to desperately poor rural farmers. How? By producing Bollywood-style films featuring his products. “Buy the drip for the crops, get the most beautiful woman” fantasies. IDE then loads up a fleet of pickup trucks with projectors, generators and products, and screens the films in thousands of villages in central India. It works Over 1 million small producers servicing 6 million people have bought and are using IDEI’s products. And dozens of competitors have now entered the market.
Today, India’s 700 million smallholders have a better shot at feeding their families, because of Amitabha Sadangi.
A friend of mine once called social entrepreneurs human tipping points. I love the phrase, which captures both the individual’s defining moment and the nature of change itself. But I’ve come to like even better where that idea points: to a global movement. Taking place in rural villages and urban slums, in corporate boardrooms and in gatherings of the G20. In Silicon Valley garages, Rwandan clinics and college campuses like this one. It’s an unruly movement, a growing movement, a movement of movements.
It ranges from Citi and Unilever whose purpose-driven grants are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the company’s in its portfolio. Government ministries in countries like Rwanda, the only sub-Saharan country on track to meet the millennium development goals. Investors like Capricorn and its partners putting their funds to work for cleaner greener world.
And students Micah Klaeser, recipient of the Osberg fellowship, who is being helped by the Center here to build out his vision for having drone technology to deliver medical supplies, not bombs.
We live in an amazing part of the world at a pivotal time. The question Magis puts to us is whether we can harness our talents, our energy, our precious time on this earth to bring about a better world. Whether we have the courage to rid the world of all that corrodes and destroys. Whether we have the moral fortitude to stay at it, to work at building great social enterprises that hold so much promise for humanity and our planet.
Tonight in your company, I know that we can.