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What is Community? A Report from Day 1 of SOCAP11

What is Community? A Report from Day 1 of SOCAP11
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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!

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8:25PM PDT on Sep 11, 2011

Nice that there are so many people wanting to help make the world a better place.

6:13PM PDT on Sep 9, 2011

Thanks for the article.

9:01AM PDT on Sep 9, 2011

This good news report is welcome. There are so many organizations and individuals who are working on making this a better world. Thanks.

6:44AM PDT on Sep 9, 2011

thanks for sharing

4:38AM PDT on Sep 9, 2011

Thank you - really interesting report and I look forward to the next couple.

2:43AM PDT on Sep 9, 2011

Thanks for sharing

9:44PM PDT on Sep 8, 2011

Thanks for the summary! I was only able to attend on Wed., but really enjoyed the sessions and meeting / reconnecting with a lot of great folks. It's a great conference full of social entrepreneurs, investors and others looking to make an impact. I know Care2 members would really have enjoyed many of these sessions.

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