Skoll World Forum 2011

From March 26 to April 1, the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program was in England for a series of events ranging from screenings to workshops. Early in the week in London, the DFP hosted a screening of Patrick Reed’s film The Team, which was the second of the Sundance | Skoll ‘Stories of Change’ films to debut.

The film is based on the pioneering work of the Skoll-supported organization Search for Common Ground, which specializes in conflict resolution globally and uses popular cultural forms like soap operas to embed messages about peace and reconciliation in conflict-torn countries. The Team follows the production of a TV show in Kenya about a soccer team that cuts across ethnic boundaries to promote tolerance.

The DFP then traveled to Oxford for the Skoll World Forum and conducted a series of workshops, panels, and advisory sessions with accomplished storytellers and media specialists, all aimed at bringing storytellers and social entrepreneurs together. This is the eighth year of the Skoll World Forum, which aims to “accelerate entrepreneurial approaches and innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social issue.”

The Forum brings together more than 800 delegates whose organizations are working globally to combat poverty and climate change and provide access to education, clean water, sanitation, financial services, healthcare, and other benefits. This was the fifth year that the DFP has attended, and the staff and filmmakers were embedded in this tapestry of dynamic changemakers as part of the Stories of Change convening.

The theme of this year’s Forum was “Large Scale Change – ecosystems, networks, and collaborative action,” and it provided a rich landscape for the annual Skoll World Forum ‘Stories of Change’ convening. The Forum opened on Wednesday evening with a screening of The Team.

Director Patrick Reed and Producer Peter Raymont were in attendance and participated in a Q&A with Search For Common Ground co-founder John Marks, DFP Director Cara Mertes, and about 150 attendees. It was at ‘Stories of Change’ four years earlier that Reed and Marks first were introduced and began to explore ideas for a documentary. To return to the Forum and see the ways the film could catalyze others was one of many examples of how collaboration can encourage action.

A sub-theme of “storytelling for impact” shaped the workshops and panels, which Sundance Institute facilitated. Led by Cara Mertes, a private workshop for 45 social entrepreneurs focused on storytelling and social media, featuring Wendy Levy (Bay Area Video Coalition) and Andy Ellwood (Gowalla). The next day, a popular Connect and Collaborate session was filled to capacity with more than 60 people participating while filmmakers Pamela Yates and Paco de Onis (Granito, 2011 Festival), Kirsten Johnson (The Oath, 2010 Festival) and media specialists Levy and Ellwood shared storytelling techniques and engaged entrepreneurs to reflect on the narrative of their work.

Entrepreneurs such as 2011 Skoll Awardee Rebecca Onie and her organization Health Leads, Ned Breslin of Water4People, Andrea and Barry Coleman from Riders for Health, and Paul Rice from TransFair America met in groups and individually identified the best platforms, whether it was short or long form content, games, or specialized social media strategies to maximize their reach.

Many entrepreneurs sought strategies that would work across various platforms, but ultimately, each person engaged with their inner filmmaker to ask “what story am I trying to tell?” On the final day, a popular session curated by Skoll’s Sandy Herz around language, culture and impact was moderated by Mertes, and featured Lera Boroditsky, Martin von Hildebrand, and Naif Al-Mutawa to great feedback and vigorous discussion. The evenings were marked by dinners and gatherings between Skoll, Sundance Institute, and the many talented social entrepreneurs that Stories of Change is working with.

All of the sessions fed off the other’s passion for and commitment to their work and left a long list of ideas and an even longer list of potential for collaboration. Filmmaker Paco de Onis said he left the Forum with “his batteries re-charged.” In between strategy sessions were moments of joy and, somewhat unlikely at a conference, spirituality.

During the awards ceremony, Archbishop Desmond Tutu received the first Skoll Global Treasure Award and Peter Gabriel and Baaba Maal performed “Biko,” bringing the delegation to its feet. The Archbishop’s presence set a tone of reflection amongst people who are persevering against intractable social problems.

Ultimately, it was the unique combination of engagement, reflection, and community building that made the original goal of the conference—to catalyze collaboration—possible. Possibilities for the Stories of Change partnership, beyond film screenings and filmmaker-entrepreneur collaborations, were seeded and the story of the partnership continues.

Lead photo: