But this year was different. I went with Jeff Skoll, eBay's first president and now one of the leading lights of social entrepreneurship and its greatest innovator. The occasion was an award by the Skoll Foundation of $7 million to the business school to create a program to train the first generation of MBA social entrepreneurs.
The grant money goes to create a curriculum, hire instructors, and most important, create five Skoll Scholars each year to be the equivalent of Oxford's legendary Rhodes Scholars. From these ranks will come the social entrepreneurs who will lead this movement into the 21st century … and, with luck, solve its biggest challenges.
That's just part of the story. The end of March, also at Oxford and also sponsored by Skoll, will see the world's first social entrepreneurship summit — the Social Entrepreneurship Forum — which will bring together the greatest leaders of nonprofits and foundations from around the globe to discuss the issues facing the field, establish links, and share best practices.
Finally, next autumn, PBS will premiere a new four-part miniseries profiling a dozen great social entrepreneurs. Once again, Skoll is the underwriter, though the stories will range across the grantees from Ashoka, the Schwab Foundation and other giant foundations.
The series is called The New Heroes. I know about it because I'm an executive producer. Recently we sent the teams of producers and camera crews off to Pakistan, Brazil and Zambia.
Meanwhile, in universities around the world, academics in the growing field of intellectual capital continue their decades-long work in learning how to best measure intangible assets. They've made great strides — not enough to produce a full intellectual capital balance sheet on a nonprofit, but maybe enough to make a market.
Is all of this enough to turn social entrepreneurship into a full-blown counterpart of commercial entrepreneurship? No, not yet. But it is enough to make a start, to establish some standards, and to attract some topnotch talent. And that, I think, is enough to spark a boom. And that boom will, memorably, begin in 2004.