By Carla Javits, President of REDF
With more than a thousand attending, SOCAP 2010 came into its own this year. After creating the concept three years ago, Kevin Jones, his wife Rosa Lee, and their ever-expanding group of creative networkers put the conference on the ground two years ago and have kept it growing and changing. Someone said it reminded them of technology conferences when the boom first began — a bit ragtag at inception, but more powerful and better defined each year.
This year felt more tangible — less about people with fairly limited funds searching for investments that didn’t quite exist yet. More about those with significant resources considering how to invest in a different way at a larger scale. More participation from real and growing businesses.
Especially impressive… The food track highlighted an emerging industry devoted to growing and distributing food so as to improve rather than degrade the environment and peoples’ health. An emblematic session featured Jose Corona of Inner City Advisors who talked about the investments ICA is making in new food businesses that are creating jobs, Cheryl Dahle of the Future of Fish who showed some spectacularly simple slides she had drawn that told the story of ‘greener’ fish – as it turns out ‘fresh’ is not necessarily best, and Debra Tropp of the US Department of Agriculture illuminating useful information on major new federal investments in healthier food.
Tactical Philanthropy’s Sean Stannard Stockton also organized a provocative series on the philanthropy of the future. Which reminds me – SOCAP came up with the good idea to ask knowledgeable people to ‘curate’ tracks on specific topics – which led to solid, informative panels.
With full bias in play, I especially liked hearing Lee Zimmerman talk about how he started the thriving Evergreen Lodge in Yosemite. This beautiful resort also trains young people from tough backgrounds for jobs in hospitality. Melinda Tuan (my predecessor at REDF who helped fund Evergreen) hosted. She probed Lee and Stuart Davidson (who is on the REDF board) about the project financing, and why and how Stuart invested. Fielding multiple questions from the audience, Lee informed us that investments did not come from venture capital or angel sources, because his venture structure was too novel, and not in a sector well-known by those investors. Critical infusions came from foundations, traditional financing (including the initial infusion from friends/family, and later a small business administration loan), and individuals, like Stuart, willing to take risks. The result — Evergreen, and its social mission, are thriving now.
Final notes. Several sessions spotlighted the Cleveland Foundation’s projects leveraging the buying power of anchor institutions to fuel the development of local, cooperatively-owned businesses. The session I participated in on ‘green’ investing featured Robin Hacke of Living Cities and Margot Brandenburg of The Rockefeller Foundation. Both are continuing to invest in green jobs, and modifying strategy to reflect what they’ve learned from places like the City of Portland which is creating local jobs through its energy efficiency initiative.
While high tech moves into the ‘cloud’, SOCAP is moving out of the clouds and onto the ground. I left energized, anticipating the applications for REDF’s RFQ (which closes October 15), eager to get started helping those enterprises create jobs!
Photo credit: Taken from Flickr - Thanks to Jayson Carpenter