Social Fiction: Muhammad Yunus Asks Social Entrepreneurs to Write the Future

Last night, at the awards ceremony at the Skoll World Forum, Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus gave a powerful talk to hundreds of forum delegates from all around the world. He ask social entrepreneurs to write the possibility of a new future. He pointed out that science follows science fiction, with the fictional images of scientific inventions contributing to the drive to achieve those visions in reality. In describing what he believes is needed to create the changes we want to see in the world, he ask why we don't have "social fiction."

He challenged the room to create stories, images, and visions of the world that "could be" if social problems were fixed, coming up with new fictional ways of how to solve them, pointing out that those imaginative ideas can actually pave the way for real solutions.

This concept really resonated with me. We are all quick to place blame in the world when the opposite happens: when fictional evil becomes horrible realities. We blame war video games when young people turn violent in schools, and the media when people learn to look at Africa as a place for aid, not a place for opportunity. Dambisa Moyo mentioned this in her talk this morning as well, reminding us that creating visions of a continued need for more and more aid for Africa in the future not only feeds stereotypes, but also hinders a different reality from becoming the vision we work towards for the future.

This made me reflect on my own work with Learning Service, where we're trying to put the learning back into the growing international travel movement based on the idea that we have to learn before we can help. I realized when I heard Yunus talk, that we need to start being even more imaginative for what the future could look like. I spent some time today in Oxford speaking with friends in the same field visioning what that future could be like. In our work, maybe that looks like educational hotel chains, with professors-in-residence, articles on your bed at night, guest speakers adding history, insight, and context to your travels?

So what would that look like for you? What realities can you make come alive for others that highlight a future that could solve some of the problems you see now, or predict are coming? What possibilities can you create with your "social fiction"?


Daniela Papi and her team at PEPY Tours will launching a platform on at the end of the month, and are working with a worldwide team of co-authors on a book on the "Learning Service" concept. Daniela also works with the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford's Said Business School.