The SoCap conference is arguably the highest-energy gathering of the year for anyone interested in social entrepreneurship, impact investing, engaged philanthropy… any elements of the “good economy”. I’ve attended for about five years and must admit that at first, I found the very idea of SoCap daunting: the audience was so broad, the agenda was so flexible, the setting was so – well, so California. For someone who had just left a very traditional perch in a very traditional East Coast investment setting, the sheer amount of zeal and creativity and intellect that was gathered in one spot was dizzying.
I still feel a bit dizzy at SoCap, but that is a great compliment. From the large keynote settings to the thousands of smaller meet-ups and conversations, this is a place where new connections are made, new ideas are born, and ongoing endeavors are strengthened and nourished. Here are the two concepts that struck me most strongly from this year’s conference:
Several speakers such as Paul Hudnut and Steve Wright put a fantastic spotlight on one central reason that impact investing and social investing seem so hard: we are using tools from extractive, transactional financial models to support regenerative, relational business models. This means that our “good economy” investing and financing efforts run the constant risk of being mis-matched with generation of meaningful social impact. For me, the principles of biomimicry have helped to illuminate this tension, and to highlight potential for more alignment. For example, in early-stage investing, we talk a lot about “exits”, but nature – our best model for regenerative enterprise – has no exits. Nature has recycling, repurposing, decay, development… but not exits. Similarly, we talk a lot about “scaling”, and indeed the world needs growth in these regenerative enterprises – but nature does not scale. She grows and replicates, and that growth is always predicated on appropriate development of supporting systems. The need to connect mission and mechanics is acute, and vital.
I am often skeptical of “big tent” approaches, due to the potential for content at such gatherings to be an inch deep and a mile wide. But SoCap’s (literal) big tent has cured my skepticism: this crowd has the potential to be both deep and wide. Here is an example of the stunning breadth I’m talking about: on the first night of the conference I went to a reception of women who focus on investing that supports other women, an approach near and dear to my heart. Then in walked one of the best investors I know, who works at a large financial institution. Then came two friends from the Ohana group I belong to – a conscious investing, spiritually-centered group. Then came two others who work with entrepreneurs and biomimicry. Then several other colleagues who work on rural health care in Africa. My mentors Hazel Henderson and Susan Davis always say, to start a revolution, throw a better party. Now, THIS is a party! To have all of these perspectives and wisdom – and differences! – gathered together is a powerful, stellar combination.
Thank you to all of the SoCap organizers, and thank you to all of the colleagues who were there, both met and un-met. I look forward to “making paths by walking” …together.