Where to start? I ask this in advance of sharing what I recently heard and learned from some of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs at the SKOLL World Forum, held at the University of Oxford. Thought leaders and strategic partners from around the globe were invited to participate. I was privileged to have been one of them.
I ask the question as a philosophic probe of the very real challenges we face as a global community. How DO we tackle issues like the eradication of poverty, environmental and water reclamation, social justice, and the education of girls and children? During the forum I heard from world-renowned leaders about the most insidious problems facing the world today. Again, how do I/we start to address them?

I cannot—in a few words—adequately capture the heart-rending and life-affirming stories shared during my week at Oxford. While I cannot do justice to the examination of any one topic in this short editorial, I can share my recognition of the convergence in our world’s challenges. First though, if I was reminded of any one thing over and over—something that for us in Camp Fire is a deeply held value. It was this:

All people want to be treated with respect and to have a voice in their present and future.

Whether the challenge is irrigation in a remote African village or the difficulties we face in moving the needle for youth in the U.S., we’re all in “this” together. I can also say with pride that Camp Fire is indeed among the social entrepreneurs committed to the systemic change the world needs—a change that only occurs with patience, bold action, unwavering commitment, hope, and a new way of thinking about deep-rooted problems. During the Forum this change in thinking about human behavior was referred to as “design thinking.”

Camp Fire’s entire history has supported and confirmed design thinking. As I learned about the application of design thinking to social programs, I could have been listening to how Camp Fire approaches program planning, delivery and measurement. These tenets include:

  • Good programs and systems, delivered in the right environment.
  • “Changing the path,” even in small ways, creates impact.
  • Ask two key questions: (1) How do we motivate behavioral change? (2) How do we make the path easier?
  • Get out of your office.
  • Find out what your users’ headaches are.
  • Cure the headaches. (I love that one! Talk about brand differentiation!)

These concepts were discussed by the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. They’re also concepts Camp Fire instills in the youth and families we serve every day. Over the months ahead I will seek opportunities to continue this conversation. We need to talk about the tough stuff. Not just in our backyards and in our communities but in the world. Young people don’t share the limited world view that too many adults do—unless it’s instilled in them. We need to expose youth to the global challenges and threats that in one way or another they will have to deal with and, perhaps one day, help overcome. We need to connect them to kids who really are so much like them when you scrape below the surface.

They need to understand that sooner or later the fact that 1.2 billion people have no access to the most basic hygiene or that 1 billion people have no access to basic healthcare are realities that will impact them. Just ask the Americans who were impacted when the first Ebola patients were flown into the U.S. All because one little boy in a very remote Liberian village became infected and had no access to care.

China’s economy is a major driver of the world’s economy—including ours. The Chinese loan billions annually within the American public and private sectors. So at some point, it might matter that there are 61 million rural Chinese children who only see their parents once a year, 23 million of whom are under age 7. More than most organizations, Camp Fire can foresee the implications for their social and emotional development. What happens when that many children in one of the world’s largest countries are uneducated and never exposed to the world beyond their villages?

Why does all this matter? Because the thread woven throughout the SKOLL World Forum was the reminder that in every phase of our lives and in the work that we do together—

The cost of inaction is greater than the cost of action.


Cathy Tisdale
Camp Fire President and CEO