This past week at SOCAP 2011 brought nothing short of pure amazement at the innovation surrounding social impact investment and the opportunities we (each of us) have today to invest in positive societal change. We learned about polycentric philanthropic solutions to poverty through shared power and mutual responsibilities among investors and stakeholders. We learned how seed funders such as Gray Ghost Ventures & Village Capital, Invested Development, and The Eleos Foundation, help social enterprises get started and scale. We learned how to leverage social media for investment and impact, from the likes of Causes, Amazon Watch, and DBL Investors.
Carl Palmer of Beartooth Capital showed us how private equity investment funds can augment ‘natural places’ and make them more valuable through restoration and conservation. David Chen of Equilibrium Capital Group showed us how ‘innovation’ as the financial instrument can unlock new value, and noted that the new ecosystem market in the US will be water health, and developing the cheapest means of heating and cooling water.
We learned how to build an audience and capital through crowdfunding with the likes of IndieGoGo, Loudsauce, and Start Some Good. Collaborative consumption start-ups such as Airbnb, GoGrubly, GetAround, and thredUP showed us how the access economy is driving social change through shared resources and reducing society’s footprint.
The third day brought a climactic revelation of breakthroughs and shared tips from the experts. Krista Donaldson of D-Rev; Yves Behar of fuseproject; Damien Newman of Central Story; and Eve Blossom of Lulan Artisans held a session (almost a competition) on great failures and the lessons learned from them. This crew had many a story to tell about launching products and services into the market and the importance of building feedback loops into the process to build successful business models. Eve Blossom illustrated how not just the cultural differences, but perceived cultural differences, can create barriers to success.
Craig Newmark of Craigslist let us in on his quest to empower a movement for the common good through his latest venture Craigconnects.org. Quoting Victor Hugo he said, ‘Nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come.’ Craigslist’s 30 billion page views per month have branded more than a movement of connecting people, and Craig (who needs no last name at this point) wants to help people connect for the common good, beyond the ‘wants’ and ‘sells’.
Bonnie Nixon of the Sustainability Consortium (SC) talked about transparency in supply chain management and told us that, ‘Capital is something that we should keep valuing, and it doesn’t have to depreciate.’ Initially funded by Walmart, the SC sustainability measurement and reporting systems (SMRS) are changing the way products are manufactured, packaged, and transported, one product at a time.
Probably the liveliest conversation happened during the final hour of the conference, amongst 'the panel' of pioneers in social capital investment, reporting from the trenches. Matt Bannick of Omidya Network moderated Bill Davis of GATE Impact; Jed Emerson of ImpactAssets; David Geary of Endeavor; and Tracy Palandjian of Social Impact Bonds. Emerson, also the co-author of Impact Investing, spoke about the challenge of helping investors who are unfamiliar with ‘socap’ understand the importance and the profitability of it. Davis spoke about using the 'language of the evil empire', aka wall street, to grow funds for the greater good. Geary told of sheer fear driving traditional investors towards social impact investment, and how to 'socialize the risk'. Palandjian, the social impact investment straightshooter, talked about first finding an impact and then monetizing the social outcomes. The whole conversation was so engaging, audience members requested these same panelists return next year to report on their progress.
Videos of all keynotes and most sessions at SOCAP 2011 can be viewed here.