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A New Hero?

Jeff Skoll at the launch of The New HeroesEbay billionaire Jeff Skoll, the man behind The New Heroes and the champion of a new kind of philanthropy.

This week’s highlights include The New Heroes, a remarkable series of films exploring the growing phenomenon of social entrepreneurship hosted by Robert Redford.

What is a social entrepreneur? The films define them as someone who identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Remarkably the term is as applicable to the man behind the foundation that funded the films, eBay billionaire Jeff Skoll, as those featured in the series.

The major funding for the films came from the Skoll Foundation, a privately funded charity set up with the billions its founder made from eBay. The Foundation states its mission as: “To advance change by investing in and supporting social entrepreneurs.” and has been responsible for hundreds of projects from dubbing the movie Gandhi into Arabic for the Palestinian territories to films like The New Heroes.

Robert Redford, Skoll's friend and the host of The New HeroesSkoll’s philanthropy doesn’t stop there with other projects including the online community and the film company Participant Productions, both of which aim to push social issues further into the public’s agenda.

Participant Productions is the company behind three new politically charged films widely attributed with redefining Hollywood politics, Syriana, North Country and Good Night and Good Luck. The company expresses its purpose as being: “Changing the World one story at a time.” A mandate Skoll extends as: “Finding exiting and innovative ways to enable audiences to make a difference.”

Participant Productions Film’s are made in partnership with activist groups and Skoll has put his eBay experience to good use. The resulting action campaigns are organised around Participant’s sister website where people can become involved in group blogs with experts on a particular social issue and meet like minded activists.

The Launch of The New HeroesThese ideals are certainly being taken seriously by the movie industry’s bright and beautiful- George Clooney and Traffic’s Stephen Gaghan star in and direct Syriana- despite the films dealing with subjects like the McCarthy witch-hunts, the type of social conscience drama neglected by the cash-governed Hollywood mainstream since the 70s.

If Skoll is a social entrepreneur then what social issue has he chosen to be champion of? By his current endeavours it seems promoting the cause of social entrepreneurship itself, or in his own words: “A new kind of Philanthropy.”

At the premiere of The New Heroes Skoll gave his own philanthropy’s raison d etre: “I believe that it is in our own self-interest to back the best minds and talents of our generation as they apply their entrepreneurial skills to problems that affect our very survival as a species.”

Whether or not the philosophy of social entrepreneurship turns out to be a panacea for social ills, we can be sure with the backing of a patron like Skoll those that practice its values are guaranteed a lot more exposure in the next few years.


You can watch The New Heroes every Thursday at 8.00 pm/ am on Community Channel.



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