What is Community? A Report from Day 1 of SOCAP11
I am representing Care2 at SOCAP11, a three-day conference taking place in San Francisco, CA this week. The theme is “money + meaning = ?”. As a community of social entrepreneurs, investors, and friends we are trying to answer that question. I will be reporting back from the conference on how that is going!
I attended a wide range of panels today, covering everything from the legal structure of a restaurant in Berkeley, CA to innovations in leadership development. Yet the theme of “community” came up in every conversation.
In the morning plenary “Keeping the Meaning in the Market” BLISS founder Saba Gul told us a very compelling story behind the founding of her company. She learned of a young Afghani girl who, because girls are unable to attend school, dressed and impersonated a boy until the age of twelve, so that she could attend school. Her parents then wanted her to marry a man, and the student went through a very difficult time. Saba said she herself was fortunate to have been born into a more prosperous family in Pakistan, but that this student’s story could just as easily have been her own if fate had worked out a little differently. As a result Saba felt that she had to do something to empower and educate girls in Pakistan. BLISS employs young women, who used to be carpet weavers, to make beautiful handbags for sale, and provides the girls with an education. Although the stories behind BLISS are compelling, she said that in the end, BLISS must produce a very good product – the handbag – for sale. That’s what consumers really care about. A fellow panelist asked us the question “How do you change consumers?” He shrugged his shoulders as if to say that he hasn’t yet found the answer.
In the panel “The Democratization of Impact Investing: Breaking Down Barriers to People-Powered Capital” we heard from Ari Derfel, the founder of the Berkeley, CA restaurant Gather. Although attorneys would advise Ari against working with unaccredited investors, because they have a more personal relationship with the business, and it would be harder to manage that relationship when times were hard, Ari decided to pursue that fundraising angle, anyway. He incorporated his business under Rule 505 of Regulation D (SEC). As a result, his unaccredited investors contributed more money than they had initially committed to, and they are very personally invested in the restaurant. Not a week goes by when a Gather unaccredited investor doesn’t host an event at the restaurant or bring friends in for a meal.
To kick off the panel “Igniting a Global Community of Impact Investors” the moderator asked the audience to share our interpretations of the conference theme. A young SOCAP11 attendee in the audience said that “investment” means contributing your skills, talents and contacts if you do not have the financial resources to invest or contribute to enterprises. Jo-Ann Tan of Acumen Fund talked about the Acumen volunteer-run chapters located on several continents, and the organization’s idea of walking through and teaching the chapter leaders about how to become impact investors. She also said that Acumen has found that the best way to build community is by building personal relationships. Acumen then shares these individuals’ stories on the internet, which attracts more people to the chapter network. She said that the chapter network builds social leaders. This is one of Acumen’s goals, in addition to patient capital investments.
This theme not only was the common thread between all of the panels that I attended today, but it is also instrumental to the purpose of SOCAP11. Several times today moderators said that the important parts of SOCAP11 take place in the hallways – between the panels – between conference attendees. This afternoon we had an open forum where all attendees were invited to come up with a discussion topic that they would like to have, and to present it to the group. I organized a discussion around “Empowering Women and Girls through Education and Entrepreneurship Training”, which will take place tomorrow morning at a table in the dining area. I hope that other participants will join me for a collaborative discussion. I invite you to join the discussion by commenting on this post, and following the live stream on the SOCAP11 website!
In addition to noticing a theme of “community” today, I was also intrigued by a few forward-thinking statements shared by today’s panel presenters. I hope that their remarks will interest you, too.
During the “The Democratization of Impact Investing: Breaking Down Barriers to People Powered Capital” John Katovich of Katovich Law spoke about his views of Wall Street in relationship to social investments. He said that it’s not going to do any good to play with “the street” anymore. Lobbyists have worked hard to make sure Americans’ 401(k) plan dollars are tied up and cannot be invested in social enterprises. Only 2-3% of Americans are accredited investors. If you are not an accredited investor but want to invest in social enterprise, John recommended self-directed IRA’s, which open up a wide range of assets that you can invest in. He also mentioned Buy-In’s, and Investment Clubs where people come together to pool their capital in the communities in which they live. He said that there are off-shoots of Investment Clubs which are very exciting, but cannot be disclosed yet because they are not quite ready.
Another panelist, Amy Pearl of Springboard Innovation talked about a building that the organization is buying in Portland, OR to house HATCH, an innovation resource center for early stage entrepreneurs. Springboard Innovation has decided to make HATCH a for-profit, and made it a public offering instead of choosing to make HATCH a nonprofit and fundraise to build it. Amy is convinced that this model of direct public offerings is the future.
I only caught the end of the panel “Technology Solutions: Ready to Scale” featuring d.light founder Sam Goldman. I have learned a lot from film footage that documents their door to door solar lantern salesperson trainings. One of the panelists, Patrick Maloney of Imprint Capital stressed the importance of layering distribution channels for water and energy products. I’d be interested to see what that would look like.
These are just a handful of thought-provoking ideas that I heard today. I also enjoyed hearing about attendees’ enterprises, reasons for attending SOCAP11, and sources of inspiration. There is so much to learn at SOCAP11!