“Se hace camino al andar – the road is made by walking,” said Yves Moury of Fundacion Capital, quoting Spanish poet Antonio Machado. He went on to explain that the poet was telling us to find new ways to think and to act. “Always act,” he exhorted, “the road is made by walking.”
I identified with this call to action as the unofficial theme of the 2014 Skoll World Forum. The presentations, the side conversations and even the general spirit of the Forum underlined this. Here is a sampling of some of the more provocative actions and articulations I heard:
- In the opening plenary, Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, argued that the world needs more CEOs to stand up to their shareholders.
- Also in the opening plenary, Arif Naqvi, founder of private equity firm The Abraaj Group, emphasized the importance of a broad definition of stakeholder engagement because as he put it, “you can’t have islands of excellence in an ocean of turbulence.”
- Jason Saul of Mission Measurement presented a framework that promotes deriving a cost/outcome across what he deems is 132 outcomes in the world.
- Jeff Bradach of Bridgespan Group raised not only organization-centric pathways to scale, but also field-centric ones that would argue for strengthening a constellation of organizations.
- Feike Sijbesma, chairman and CEO of Royal DSM, emphasized that more than shareholders have to be a company’s priority in “future-proofing a business” as he traced the company’s transition from a coal mining company to a chemical company to its current framing as a life sciences company.
- Mike Barry of Marks & Spencer shared in a side conversation that in 10 years their most important strategic partner might be a healthcare company as they think about a frame of wellness rather than products.
Finally, as a tour de force at the Forum were the words of Malala, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who survived a Taliban assassination attempt as she advocated for education for girls. She spoke passionately and eloquently with a poise way beyond her years as she proclaimed, “Education is more powerful than any weapon.” Although she was specifically speaking about education for girls, her message is really universal whether speaking about individuals, investors or companies.
As I reflect back on the Forum, I’m inspired to continue challenging companies to always act, innovating to protect the planet.