It’s the root of all evil, and essential to modern life. It’s a problem solver and a problem creator. It’s money.
For centuries, our system has kept a separation between money used for business and money used to support good causes. The divide between business and philanthropy was clear: business’ goal was highest financial return in the shortest time possible; philanthropies worked to make gifts to better society. Business was all about numbers and metrics; charity was for giving money away and hoping for results.
In recent years that has changed, as more businesses and investors are looking at the long-term effect of their investments, seeking a return beyond the financial. At the same time, charities are becoming more selective about how their grants are spent and how results are measured. The social capital movement was born, and is picking up steam.
This September 1-3, more than 600 people investors, funders and entrepreneurs will gather in San Francisco to discuss the social capital market. Billed as the “intersection of money and meaning”, SoCap09 attendees will discuss how to measure social return, such as improved health, environmental damage averted, or opportunities provided in a way that helps investors and grantors make intelligent decisions around building a new economic foundation for the world.. Just as “regular” investors look at balance sheets and price/equity ratios to determine where to put their money for maximum return, a growing number of investors and funders are looking at ways to calculate long-term return on investments in poverty alleviation or environmental responsibility. The new tools of social networking play a particularly large role in advancing investment for social good.
Partering to maximize social return has gone mainstream. The keynote speaker at SoCap09 is the director of the White House’s brand new Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Sonal Shah will speak about the Office’s goals of identifying innovative programs that are successfully tackling social problems, and assisting in scaling them across the U.S.
In addition to participation from the White House, SOCAP09 brings together a global sampling of traditional investors, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, philanthropists, new media, NGO’s and non-profits, wealth managers, development agencies, venture capitalists, MBA students and other groups interested in the growing opportunities of social capital.
Despite the challenges of financial meltdown, unrest and environmental degradation, we live in exciting times of change and opportunity. Even business is changing. As Care2′s CEO Randy Paynter says, “I strongly believe that business needs to be a driving force for good if we’re to get the world out of the mess we’re in.” SoCap and the social capital movement are signals of that much-needed change.
Photo: Tracy O. via Flickr (Creative Commons)
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