Social innovation in philanthropy: key takeaways from the 2023 Skoll World Forum


Hayley Roffey


In the world of philanthropy and social innovation, the Skoll World Forum is legendary, and I was delighted to get the chance to attend the event in Oxford this year. In 2022’s virtual Skoll Forum, I was fortunate to moderate a panel with inspiring youth activists who had played a pivotal role in creating Global Fund for Children’s Spark Fund.

At Skoll’s first in-person event for three years, there were a staggering 1,359 delegates, full of energy at being back together in person again. When my LinkedIn inbox started exploding the week before with requests to meet, I knew the impact of these few days would be far-reaching.

There were many incredible speakers this year, and this post will be dedicated to sharing my key takeaways from the talks, plus a comment on an area I would love to see developed at Skoll World Forum in the coming years.

Key takeaways and lessons learned

  • The Chairperson and CEO of Asian Venture Philanthropy Network, Naina Subberwal Batra, said that philanthropy is the only sector where non-experts tell experts what to do. Wow – that snapped my head up from my notebook! I have reflected on it a lot since and felt challenged again to always be aware of bias in my own work, as well as calling it out when I see it across the sector. At GFC, we take a locally led development approach, so we are resourcing the experts, but we must continually evaluate how we operate in this area.
  • Nwamaka Agbo, CEO of Kataly Foundation, reminded us that scale can be depth, not breadth (something we fully believe in and support at GFC), and that scope and scale often get weaponised against communities of colour. This is critical learning to be shared with all of philanthropy. A project may be achieving a significant number of outcomes with a few beneficiaries, and we need to recognise the power of this in certain contexts.
  • A few people throughout the week referred to non-profits taking back their power and putting out an RFP (request for proposals) for funders to fund them (RUNWAY is one of them). I loved this! It sends a clear message from non-profits that it is a privilege to fund their work and they get to choose who funds them.
  • Vanessa Thomas, a Director at the Decolonizing Wealth Project, encouraged funders to fund joy! Don’t just fund pain and suffering and justice – fund joy, dreams, and inspiration – especially for black and marginalised communities.
  • The filmmaker and founder of ARRAY, Ava DuVernay, said one of the most important lessons she has learned throughout her career was to create your own liberated territory. I thought this was essential well-being advice; to establish for yourself somewhere you feel most free and where you do your most dynamic work and return there often for inspiration and grounding.
  • 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa reminded us that the only thing that spreads faster than hate online is inspiration. So, share the beautiful stories about the incredible work you’re doing!

What I’d love to see next time

Young people! I had a few conversations with folks about the lack of young people on the agenda and in the space generally – it felt like an opportunity missed and one I would love to see shift at Skoll World Forum in the coming year and beyond. Young people are some of the greatest accelerators of innovation in the face of adversity. Young people need invitations and resources to be welcomed into these spaces to lead the charge for change.

I attended a delegate-led session on ‘the role of communities in youth-led change’ and it was a beautiful moment where a small group of people discussed what we could do to support this. This felt like a good starting point, with hopefully more youth-led conversations at future events.

Hayley Roffey is Global Managing Director at Global Fund for Children.

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