Editor's note: This post was written by Dani Matielo, community manager at Ashoka Changemakers, who was in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil this past weekend to cover the Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in the New Economy. Isa Carvalho, Michelle Fidelholc, Rafael Avila, and Alex Fisberg contributed to this report.
As the world turned its attention to Rio de Janeiro during the last couple of weeks, attentive to the debates around the United Nation's sustainable development conference, Rio+20, thousands of people gathered in this huge structure at the Forte de Copacabana to talk social entrepreneurship, empathy and the challenges in the “new economy.”
The building itself—home to the Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in the New Economy, organized by Ashoka in partnership with Fundação Roberto Marinho, Fundación Avina and Skoll Foundation—was striking. But even more impressive were the faces and expectations of those in attendance.
The auditorium was full of hundreds of people of different ages and backgrounds who shared one common goal: changing the world.
And the forum featured expert debates and inspiring stories to feed these eager changemakers; the main sessions touched on critical concepts, such as empathy, new social business models, and the new challenges of social activism, while the parallel workshops brought practical examples of what is already being done (and working!) to change systems worldwide.
Empathy was the constant, unifying concept at the heart of every discussion, from the first panel, where Leonardo Boff argued that human society is transitioning from a conquest paradigm to a paradigm of care (or give-a-damn), to the last session, where Boaventura de Sousa Santos said that to make life sustainable in cities the most important value was reciprocity.
As I was sitting in the middle of the crowd—tweeting, taking pictures, writing notes—I could listen to the hushed sounds of agreement from the audience while thought leaders such as Diana Wells, Margot Brandenburg, Oded Grajew, Ellen Miller, and so many others offered invaluable insights about social innovation, collaborative technologies and scalable, triple bottom line business models.
When Pamela Hartingan said that in the new economy, people will be ashamed to say that their businesses are not concerned with suitability, the accordance of the audience could not be more clear. And the same chorus welcomed Marina Silva’s statement that change is essentially about passion, but also very much about persistence.
Other bits of wisdom were received with resounding applause, such as when Bernardo Toro replied to a question from the audience about most-follow economic models. Business models aren't what we should be worrying about right now, said Toro. We must build a win-win system, because this is the only way we will continue existing.”It must be a system that is a win to the environment as well,” added Boff.
During her presentation, Ashoka's president Diana Wells said that in 1992, when the first UN conference was held in Rio de Janeiro, the concept of social entrepreneurship was little more than a nice idea. “Now being a social entrepreneur is a life goal for many people,” she affirmed.
The number of innovators and world leaders present at the event and the depth of the discussions could not be better proof.
So, yes, there was plenty of interesting and thoughtful debate. But, as I said, the most impressive thing at the forum were the faces: young, hopeful, expectant, and absolutely eager to take action. They left the Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in the New Economy with a certainty that there is no better way to change the world than by having all sectors of the society come together, to build a world guided by empathy—one in which everyone is a changemaker.
★ ★ ★
If you want to read more about each of the sessions, please follow these links:
Panel: Empathy and Caring: Paradigms for a New Civilization
Also, for those that read in Portuguese, the Chagemakers Brazil team will produce a series of articles about the workshops, which will be shared via Twitter and Facebook.