OxfordJam marks coming of age for Skoll World Forum


Caroline Hartnell


Caroline Hartnell

Caroline Hartnell

It could be argued that the birth of a complementary event marks the coming of age of a regular conference. The Skoll World Forum to be held in Oxford, UK on 14-16 April will be the seventh Forum, and alongside it will run OxfordJam, so called because it’s being held in the Oxford jam factory, just one minute from the Skoll main venue.

What is OxfordJam and how will it work? ‘Take the breaks “in between” a normal conference and full with TED-style “talking heads”,’ explains the website. ‘Then take the normally programmed time and empty it out. Allow space for the inspiration this creates and let the conversations and encounters go where they will.’

Building on the widely accepted view that the best parts of most conferences for most people are the spaces between sessions, OxfordJam will run from 7am to 2am, focusing programming around meal times and breaks when speakers and delegates from Skoll can join in – breakfast, coffee, lunch, aperitifs, dinner, late-night cabaret sessions; the website promises ‘endless food and drink’.

‘Time and time again attendees report that some of the most valuable discussions of the SWF happen in the halls and the bars around the event,’ says the website. ‘OxfordJam allows participants to shape and maximise the benefits of these discussions, and furthermore invites all those social entrepreneurs that are unable to attend Skoll.’

Typical conference fees, including those charged for the Skoll Forum, are way beyond the means of most small-scale social entrepreneurs, of the sort that might receive small grants from an organization like UnLtd (http://www.unltd.org.uk), so they are inevitably excluded from events like Skoll. OxfordJam is free to attend, so will greatly widen the pool of potential participants. So far around half the people signed up are attending Skoll and the other half not.

The spaces in between meals and breaks will be for people to organize their own sessions – this is to be a co-created event, along ‘unconference’ lines – though the Jam organizers have pre-set themes for each day. The ground rules: ‘never to lecture, never to teach’, so Ben Metz, one of the organizers, told me.

I’m looking forward to moving between Skoll and OxfordJam. As a seasoned conference goer, I will be interested to see what ‘conference’ and ‘unconference’ each has to offer.

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