face/forward | forum report 6-8th April 2022
The theme of the 2022 Skoll World Forum Face/Forward addressed how we learn from our past experiences including through Covid-19 and look to the future. A powerful opening video montage that is highly recommended sets out the challenge, “if we are to face forward then let it be a challenge of the work ahead”. Through collective action people can bring about effective change in the face of today’s global challenges and crises.
Due to the impact of Covid-19 and to support broad participation the 2022 forum was an online event, designed for learning, connecting, and encouraging action by those dedicated to social progress. The event welcomed over 3,000 attendees from 121 countries, running across three days, creating a space for sharing innovative solutions and engaging roundtable discussions. Day 3, Ecosystem Day, provided over 140 independent sessions encompassing a range of issues around broader social impact ecosystems. Many of the sessions are available to view on the Skoll YouTube channel.
Three key themes emerged from the event: Collective action, effective change, and innovative solutions.
The necessity of collective action was emphasized by Donlad Gips, CEO of the Skoll Foundation, during the opening plenary: we must face the future with courage, determination, and hope to move collectively in the direction of progress. This belief that we cannot do it alone, only by working together can we achieve a just, sustainable, and prosperous world.
Celebrating innovative solutions to address global societal challenges
The Opening plenary introduced the 2022 Skoll Awardees, six innovative organisations with a focus on advancing solutions and targeting root causes of global societal and environmental problems. Transformational social change is a big focus for Skoll and another key theme of the forum. Skoll 2022 awardees are: NOSSAS, NDN Collective, Noora Health, Financing Alliance for Health, Common Future and MapBiomas.
Skoll Award Spotlight sessions gave the stage to Tazzo Azevedo from MapBiomas, stressing the necessity of collaborative work to achieve effective change. MapBiomas achieves this through local knowledge and organisations, creating a knowledge sharing network with data that is open and transparent.
Collective action for effective systems change
In a vibrant session, ‘Ensuring climate commitments reach frontline communities’ Rukka Sombolinggi, of Alliance of Indigenous Peoples of the Archipelago highlighted that “we need to reduce the lack of trust between donors and communities,” stating the way in which philanthropy is invested needs to change. Assumptions about capacity should be challenged and instead investment should be focussed on supporting Indigenous peoples and grassroots communities to deliver on biodiversity and climate action goals. Rukka closed the session by stating “we are a collective community; we all have our parts to play” a declaration encompassing the key message that we must work together.
How can we drive change? Shamil Idriss during ‘Bridging divides for a collective future’ argued that we need to be the change we want to see. However, connecting with people to change social norms and behaviours requires, according to Sonali Khan, “a new narrative, around changing hearts and minds”. Inclusion is imperative, ensuring people and communities are listened to and represented.
As an example of this Nawaz Mohammed highlighted the use in Sri Lanka of memory and memorialisation through mobile and virtual history to provide opportunities to bridge divides, for people to speak their truth, and to help to rethink existing attitudes.
The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted and reinforced inequalities within global economic systems. Rachel Korberg, highlighted how in the US, “45% of the lowest paid workers were laid off in 2020”. There is now an ‘”opening for change to reimagine a promising economic model for workers.” For equitable economies to be constructed, Erica Smiley developed the argument of fair work for fair reward, and time for social, culture and leisure, needs to be prioritised. Workers must be able to influence decision making and have an active role in democracy in order to create effective change.
Learning from our past to face the challenges of the future
To close the first two days of the forum Ngozi Okonjio-Iweala, Director General of the World Trade Organization noted the use of trade as an instrument of resilience. The session emphasised how an understanding of the past can be leveraged for opportunities to learn. The Director General highlighted separately that climate change provides Africa with a key opportunity to lead, and to develop and do things better. Another key issue highlighted within the forum, strongly resonant of the previous year’s keynote by nobel peace prize winner Maria Ressa, was how to tackle disinformation. Jonathan Dotan, founding director of Starling Lab, has created an innovative solution to the way we store and record the origin and authenticity of history to tackle this issue.
It is impossible to do justice to the wide diversity of thinking on this third day of the forum. Some highlights for Urban Habitats include:
From Borneo to the Amazon: reimagining the relationships with our forests highlighted how we should rethink relationships with nature. Cynthia Ong, Forever Sabah called it a ‘relational tissue’. Masungi, Georeserve trustee Ann Dumaliang, called for a resurfacing of identity and character of place, creating immersive experience that aids a shift in the mindset. With Berto Verissimo, Imazon, stating “we need to view forests as part of culture and identity, with beneficial services” to revalue the role of forests.
Giving communities the tools to implement effective change
Shaijia Mehta of Dasra accentuated that collective action is about facilitating and bringing together stakeholders to develop trust-based relationships, “to take risks is very hard” but it must be done. “Shifting the power: community-led development for a partnership-based society,” by Onevillage showed the need to give power back to communities, allowing them to choose their own priorities. As Karishma Shelar expressed top-down approaches do not work, as desired impacts aren’t met. Sara Scherr urged need for action at the large scale through landscape action plans, which respond to local priorities and coordinates project investment that achieves landscape scale impact.
Climate-smart infrastructure discussions assessed the need for development to be multi-functional, to provide transit, food, education and healthcare, whilst addressing differing social demographics. But how do we build green equitable infrastructure? Carla Mays and David Capelli from Smart Cohort, took inspiration from Asian Smart-Cities, resilient development, which encompass a culture of respect. How communities are supported throughout their life course is integral to the city’s design, something which must be incorporated into our own way of planning.
What we learned
At Urban Habitats, learning is integrated into our practic/se. For the last two years the Skoll World Forum has provided an invaluable space for us to develop our own thinking and reflect on our practise. The 2022 Forum emphasised throughout that we must work together to bring about change, highlighting innovation is key to addressing the challenges we face. Ecosystem day displayed the importance of community-led pathways to development and that we must rethink how we view our relationships with nature and each other. We see such thinking as critical to developing creative, inclusive, and evidence informed practise that prioritises the future of both people and planet.