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Closing the Distance: Leadership and Shifting Systems at Skoll World Forum 2021

Earlier this month, the Skoll World Forum met us on our screens for three days of plenaries, panel discussions, and community sessions that reflected on the theme “Closing the Distance.” From exploring systems-change frameworks to the innovative solutions making way for a better future, this year’s Forum sought to bridge divides between the world’s greatest inequities, bringing together a global community committed to building a better future for all of us. During a global pandemic that is still exposing and deepening systemic inequality, the Forum sessions urged us all to use collective action and collaboration to shift power, privilege, and resources to the communities who need them the most.

Echoing Green at Skoll World Forum

Echoing Green President and Skoll Foundation Board Member Cheryl L. Dorsey participated in two panels at this year’s Forum.

In “Cultivating Systems Leaders in an Age of Pandemics,” Cheryl joined systems leaders Agnes Binagwaho (University of Global Health Inequity); Joe Hsueh (Systems Impact Multi-Family Office); and Paul Poman (IMAGINE) to discuss the importance of leadership in a crisis and the necessity to reimagine what effective leadership looks like for this decisive decade. When asked how Echoing Green approaches identifying and cultivating talent, Cheryl said, “It is a question and exercise about power. How do you cede it, how do you share it? We talk so much about systems change but it is forged in a moment of systems capture and systems failure… These are devastating structural inequities that are indications that systems cannot be changed. The work becomes how do we push back against that? This is an exercise of shifting power.”

Cultivating Systems Leaders in an Age of Pandemics

In “Women Shifting Systems,” curated in partnership with Catalyst 2030, Cheryl discussed inequity in the social entrepreneurship sector, intersectionality, and the disproportionate challenges faced by women social entrepreneurs. “Various forms of inequality operate together and compound and exacerbate each other,” Cheryl stated. “We cannot separate racial equality from gender, class, sexual orientation, and class… You can’t compartmentalize these things because some of us experience the totality of these identities. Recognizing this is incredibly important to understand the weight of the systems that we navigate.”

Women Shifting Systems

In both conversations, Cheryl emphasized the importance of proximity and mutuality in social innovation and change-making. As she advocates, “Folks who study systems of oppression know that oppression occurs at multiple levels — systemic, institutional, interpersonal. We have to tackle all of them.” To tackle these systems, organizations like Echoing Green and the Skoll Foundation elevate collaborative, cross-sector strategies in the ongoing work to dismantle structural racism and the conditions that bolster its presence and preservation worldwide.

To watch a curated playlist of the thought-provoking Skoll World Forum sessions that Cheryl was able to attend this year, check out our playlist below!


The Skoll Foundation is a lead partner in Echoing Green’s Racial Equity Philanthropic Fund. The Skoll World Forum took place April 13-15, 2021. You can watch archived event content here.

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