SOCAP16, this year’s iteration of the premier social capital markets (SOCAP) conference hosted in San Francisco each year, reflected a growing maturity in the fields of social entrepreneurship and impact investing. The discussions emphasized the need for inclusion of those most impacted by the problems social entrepreneurs are trying to solve. They recognized the lack of domestic investments in communities of color. They noted that incremental change was insufficient to change the culture necessary for accomplishing broader, positive social impact. They moved away from preaching on the need to collect data to discussing what data needs to be collected and how. They identified equity as inherently an economic growth strategy. And they highlighted that philanthropy, while a key partner in impact innovation and an underutilized player in impact investing, is a product of power and privilege (and, as Stanford professor Rob Reich insightfully added, an exercise of power and reminder of privilege).
Jed Emerson, originator of the term “Blended Value” and Chief Impact Strategist with ImpactAssets, talked about framing impact investing as creating a new kind of value and not as sacrificing (or not sacrificing) financial return. He also questioned the purpose of capital. You can watch Emerson’s talk at the opening plenary here. His article, SOCAP16 And Beyond: A Community of Parts and Whole, reflecting on the evolution of the conference and the urgent need for action is both illuminating and inspiring:
As we move to scale our impact and continue to embrace the ongoing mainstreaming of our vision and practices, we need to create a truly big tent that may simultaneously hold all our various parts while also ensuring we’re all a part of the same gathering and overall movement committed to impact, equity and the effective deployment of diverse types of capital in pursuit of multiple returns.
Finally, as you move through the presentations and conversations to come, both here at SOCAP16 and at home in the months ahead, I remind us there is a unique and critical urgency to our getting on with the order of the day. Black men, women and children continue to be murdered in their own communities, going about their daily lives, driving cars and playing in front yards. Women around the world continue to be objects of abuse, trafficking and economic injustice. Animals and diverse species on our planet whose interests are wrongly deemed subservient to Homo Sapiens are in some cases directly exploited through industrial farming and in other cases increasingly tipping toward permanent extinction as a result not of natural processes but of the economic, cultural and related systems we have put in place and with which we dominate our world.
Matthew Weatherley-White, Managing Director of The CapROCK Group, suggested having ESG (environmental, social and governance) investing as the default from which investors would have to opt out if they wanted to broaden their investments to include companies that exploit workers and corrupt the market.
Jonathan Jenkins, CEO of Social Investment Business, observed in his excellent article SOCAP16 – views from a reformed conference cynic:
- People are no longer asking how the metrics should fit mainstream expectations. People are asking why we should fit the mainstream expectations when many of those are entrenched to only consider risk and return, not impact?
- Some people are even going full circle and questioning whether we have thought about impact (the “why”) enough, in our rush to create a market place (the “how”).
Further evidencing the growing importance of both SOCAP and social entrepreneurship, the New York Times noted in Social Entrepreneurs Say They Face Tough Hurdles but Making Headway:
- Attendees at SOCAP said governments are promoting social entrepreneurship and schools are teaching it, while enterprises are finding fresh, creative ways to obtain credit and financing.
- But nearly 60 percent of experts cited [in a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll of almost 900 social enterprise experts in the world’s 45 biggest economies] a lack of public understanding, access to investment and selling to governments as the biggest challenges that could hamper growth [of the social enterprise sector].
NEO Law Group’s Michele Berger chronicled her personal takeaways from SOCAP16 here.
The Best Countries to be a Social Entrepreneur 2016 (Thompson Reuters Foundation)
Hub of Impact (Huffington Post)
Impact investors: will you accept these three dares? (Bold Social Ventures)