Skoll World Forum 2018 | The Year of the Woman

Author: Natalie Lynn Rekstad (Member, Women Moving Millions)

Each year, nearly a thousand of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs, key thought leaders, and strategic partners come together for the Skoll World Forum to exchange ideas, solutions, and spark collaboration.  Located at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, the Forum is comprised of an extraordinary community of changemakers who are advancing entrepreneurial approaches and solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.

It was incredible to see so many members of Women Moving Millions taking the Forum by Storm:  Emily Nielsen Jones, Cristina Ljungbert, Wendy Anderson, Sapphira Goradia, Liz Sheehan, Jim Greenbaum, Lorene Arey, and myself.  What a force of bold changemakers moving the conversation around women and girls forward throughout the Forum.

This year’s theme was the “The Power of Proximity” – being proximate to the people and communities we endeavor to help.  By more fully grasping people’s needs and dreams through deep interaction, we grow more empathetic, and have a richer understanding of adversities being experienced.  Only then can we genuinely understand their journey, earn the privilege to walk beside them, and join them in bringing about change that honors their definition of prosperity.

Beloved Skoll Foundation CEO Sally Osberg, put it this way: “Proximity triggers empathy.  Social entrepreneurs must commit to proximity to gain knowledge of the contexts affecting the communities they serve and the institutions that can help them scale their solutions.”  Many of us remember Sally from her participation in the 2015 WMM Summit where she talked about, among many things, the book she co-authored entitled:  Getting Beyond Better: How Social Entrepreneurship Works. She is stepping down as CEO of Skoll Foundation, but her legacy is a powerful testament to how one woman can unify and propel thousands with her life philosophy and mantra, captured in one word: “Onward!”

Particularly inspiring during the Opening Plenary was a session by Bryan Stevenson, Founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama.  Stevenson is a widely acclaimed public interest lawyer, dedicating his career to helping the poor, incarcerated, and condemned.  To understand the Skoll World Forum theme of “The Power of Proximity” – watch his session; it will be the best 20-minute gift you can give yourself today.

In fact, my new obsession is the Skoll Youtube channel, and I encourage you to go there whenever you feel the need to be inspired by the plenary speakers and performers, or to build your professional and/or funder knowledge through the education sessions.

President Jimmy Carter was presented with the annual Skoll Global Treasure Award for his stunning record of achievements in addressing global problems. He shared that having more women politicians will result in a more peaceful world.   Carter says it best: “There’s no doubt in my mind that a woman is more inclined to peace than a man is, so I think we can move towards peace if women get more and more positions in parliament and more and more positions as president.”  BOOM!

The Skoll Foundation presents the Skoll Awards for Social Entrepreneurship each year to a select group of social entrepreneurs whose innovations have already had significant, proven impact on some of the world’s most pressing problems, and invests directly in the promise of even greater impact at scale.

It’s notable that five out of six Skoll Award winners this year are womenmerit-based, certainly, but when I asked Skoll World Forum Co-Founder Stephan Chambers about this over breakfast, he indicated it was “not a coincidence.”  Stephan also shared that 60% of this year’s delegates were women, and 65% were people of color. This year’s stellar Awardees are:

  • Jess Ladd, Callisto
    This organization really struck a chord with me (actually it’s “why” made me weep).  Callisto is helping women and young girls report sexual assault through software that can keep time-stamped documentation of a sexual assault, searches a database to see if any other women have named the perpetrator, galvanizing the attacked to file a report via the Callisto platform.  This has been particularly powerful on college campuses throughout the US.
  • Anushka Ratnayake, myAgro
    A special congratulations to a Black Fox Philanthropy client, myAgro!  myAgro is an agricultural focused organization helping farmers through a pioneering microfinancing solution that allows farmers to purchase seeds, equipment and tools they need via a layaway-type plan, eliminating the cycle of scarcity often faced by farmers between harvests.
  •  Lesley Marincola, Angaza
    Angaza’s platform enables manufacturers and distributors to make energy products affordable to the world’s 1 billion off-grid consumers.
  • Jennifer Pahlka, Code for America
    Code for America uses the principles and practices of the digital age to improve how government serves the American public, and how the public improves government.
  •  Barbara Pierce Bush, Global Health Corps
    GHC’s goal is to recruit a diverse group of young professionals and insert them into existing health and government agencies in an attempt to offer a fresher, more varied view of global health issues.
  • Harish Hande, SELCO
    SELCO provides sustainable energy solutions to the poorest regions of the world through building an ecosystem for accessing clean energy.

Black Fox Philanthropy teamed up with Young Presidents Organization to produce a session on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals titled “From Promise to Practice.” I was inspired to produce the convening by my obsession with the SDGs, and ways in which the Goals are gaining traction in overarching ways: in guiding the deployment of billions of dollars in development finance, in building partnerships between public and private sector actors beyond the 193 UN members who unanimously endorsed them, and in providing a framework for advocacy for each of the seventeen goals. Yet history teaches us that lasting social change is not gifted from above, but rather through pressure from below.  I couldn’t find a central conversation around what that looks like from the boots-on-the-ground perspective in the reading materials I’d scoured for months, so decided to make the SDGs a central conversation at Skoll among the change-makers themselves.  It was thrilling to see that half of the robust attendance were funders, many of whom operate in the “big bet” space.

The session included speakers who were curated based upon their leadership in addressing core solutions outlined in the SDGs, their organizations’ impact, and their unique capacity to effectively absorb and deploy bold philanthropy to get the Goals over the finish line by the year 2030.  Participants were Sasha Chanoff of RefugePoint; Avery Bang, CEO at Bridges to Prosperity; Martin Fisher, Co-Founder & CEO at Kickstart & Skoll Awardee 2005; Jensine Larsen, Founder & CEO at World Pulse; Eric Stowe, Founder & Executive Director at SPLASH; Leslee Udwin, Founder & President at Think Equal; and moderated by Jay Coen Gilbert of B Lab, Skoll Awardee 2014 (Black Fox Philanthropy is proud to be a B Corp!)

The smaller gatherings throughout Skoll week were a highlight, and it was incredible to meet with beloved clients, and old and new friends from Women Moving Millions, Opportunity Collaboration, Maverick Collective, The Philanthropy Workshop, as well as serendipitously in the Collaboration Cafe, on the streets of Oxford, and at after-hours parties that are rampant throughout Oxford during the week.  The icing on the cake was dining and conversing with social impact giants in the “Harry Potter dining hall” at Christ Church, where in the 19th Century Lewis Carroll, author of Alice in Wonderland, also presided as Lecturer of Mathematics, and where he met the famed 10-year old “Alice”, the daughter of a dean.

I am deeply grateful to be part of a community that cares so deeply about each other, humanity, and the world, and am proud to carry the torch forward into my philanthropy, and in our work at Black Fox Philanthropy.  Onward!

Natalie Lynn Rekstad is Founder & CEO, Black Fox Philanthropy, LLC. Check out her website, Black Fox Philanthropy.

Lysa Rohan is On a Mission to Help Women Age Vibrantly

Author: Lysa Rohan (Member, Women Moving Millions)

I came of age during the first wave of the Women’s Movement in the 1970’s. Even as a thirteen year old, I knew the passing of Roe v. Wade was a great thing for women’s health.

As a senior in high school I wrote a paper for an English paper about the sex-role language of men and women. After that, my awareness of the inequality we women experience every day was engrained in me, for life. Fast forward to turning fifty and the end of my interior design career, I took stock of my life at mid-life. I made the choice to completely change career paths, return to school, and become a Certified Gerontologist. I loved interior design, but felt I could help others in a more tangible way. Blessed with good health, sustainable energy, and the belief I can reinvent my life–engaging my mantra: you always have the power to re-choose— I wanted to give back to the world in gratitude for all I have been given, to pay forward my good fortune. I also knew from the beginning of my most recent return to school, that I needed to concentrate on issues facing women as they age, for my own journey and to help all my friends live long, healthy lives so that I would have playmates!

I chose gerontology because it is the only science-based, holistic discipline focused on aging. It looks at all aspects of aging—the body, mind, and spirit, and integrates all the disparate information from the other sciences—biology, physiology, psychology, and sociology — to understand the whole human being and all she experiences as she gets older. It is a unique and very cool approach.

Always an academic nerd, I loved science from an early age. When I developed endometriosis in my early twenties, learning everything I could about this disease became very personal. I almost died after my eventual hysterectomy from a one in ten million reaction to the replacement hormones I was given. After exploring every available resource I could find on the subject, I pretty much came up zero on anything that could help me effectively deal with my disease. Once I fully recovered from my post-surgery complications, my mission in life became writing a book to help women be healthier after menopause. I am in that process now. I launched my practice in January of this year—L.J. Rohan-Certified Gerontologist at My weekly blog contains information not only on how to manage our aging process, but also how to make this chapter of our lives the best it can be. I include healthful tips, answer questions, plus I include weekly humorous takes on aging through custom-drawn New Yorker-style illustrations.

In developing my platform, I am putting together a talk and handout in which I offer guidance for aging vibrantly to women. In addition to speaking to women like us, I will work with women in underserved areas around the country.  I plan to visit their communities, where they live and work. This is the truly exciting part of my work. Based on solid science and the latest research, I have created an action plan for all women that puts them on the path to vibrant aging. The remarkable thing about my list of recommendations is that 88% of these are free of any monetary investment, which allows women, no matter their circumstances, to gain benefit from my suggestions.

Concurrently, I am working with two esteemed medical doctors in writing a proposal for a book covering in greater depth my recommendations and additional exciting information on how to age vibrantly. Once the book is published, I will continue to reach out to women through my personal speeches and blogs. Each year I also plan to put thousands of free books into the hands of women here and women around the world, through what I hope will soon be, The Want to Be Vibrant? Foundation. (I am awaiting the copyright search results.)

My desire and vision is to change the conversation and the reality about aging for women; to give us the knowledge and tools we need to be the very best version of ourselves as we grow older.

Check out Lysa’s new website here and be sure to follow her on Facebook and Instagram!