A First-Timer’s Experience: 3 Reflections from SOCAP16

Cathy Clark at SOCAP
Cathy Clark at SOCAP

This post was written by Robyn Fehrman, Managing Director of CASE, in September 2016.

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to attend SOCAP16 for the first time. With the tagline “A Conference at the Intersection of Money + Meaning,” this annual convening of global innovators, investors, foundations, governments, institutions, and social entrepreneurs deeply intrigued me –  but as a SOCAP novice, I wasn’t fully sure what to expect.  Here are three reflections on my experience.

The impact community is a big tent.

Among the more than 2,500 SOCAP attendees, the first thing I noticed was the diversity of perspectives and experiences.  Throughout the week, I saw the buttoned-up investment manager, old school hippie activist, and millennial entrepreneur talking with and learning from each other.  Local government officials, bankers, and religious leaders joined panels to share their skills and stories.  From introductions in the breakfast line to conversations at happy hour, everyone I met was interested in learning everything they could from everyone they could.

We were all encouraged – through the welcome letter from SOCAP Founders Kevin Jones and Rosa Lee Harden – to “look for valuable strangers…who can become unlikely allies….[because] “this is the place of the possible.”As we face immense, dynamic, and complex social issues, SOCAP was a powerful reminder that scaling solutions requires us all.

Social impact requires our whole selves.

When this “financial conference” was officially kicked off by an Episcopal priest – SOCAP Co-Founder & Executive Producer Rosa Lee Harden – I felt like I had found my people.  I believe that social impact requires our whole selves: hard skills we can skillfully deploy and contemplative practices that build the resilience needed to change the world.  Both were fully on display at SOCAP

Through sessions such as Leveraging Experienced Talent for Impact, Donor’s Tinder: How to Get Donors to Swipe Right,  Structuring Investment Vehicles: Lesson from Leaders in the Field, and Pathways to Scaling Global Health Innovations, participants learned about specific tools or actions they could put to work immediately to further their impact.

Equally valuable, participants could nourish their mind-body-spirit connections in pursuit of transformational change, through sessions such as:

  • #ChooseConnection: Awakening the Heart of the Entrepreneur
  • Mindfulness, Compassion, and Resilience in Companies for Social Change
  • Epiphany Management: Living a Life Guided by Purpose
  • What Role do an Investor’s Values Play in the Impact Investing Process?
  • Mindfulness in the Workplace – Scaling Sustainability
  • How do Money and Spirit Connect in Your Life

Leadership matters.

Regardless of the session theme, a common thread throughout the week was leadership: a person, group, or coalition who set a big vision for change, took small and large aligned actions, influenced & motivated others and continuously reflected on their progress.

In Go Beyond the Gender Lens: Investing in Empowerment of Women and Girls, I heard CASE i3 Advisory Council Member and Calvert Foundation President & CEO Jennifer Pryce described her organization’s work to increase the accessibility and inclusivity of impact investing through their WIN-WIN Initiative.

In Public-Private Partnerships: How Can Cities Engage their Entrepreneurs? Monique Woodard of Black Founders and representatives from the San Francisco Mayor’s Office shared their collaborative and challenging work to ripen the entrepreneurial ecosystem for all.

In Building and Scaling an Authentic Mission Driven Brands, the founders of Revolution Foods, Olly, and Sundial Brands spoke of their passion, drive, and commitment to continuous improvement as they relentlessly work toward their missions.

In each of these examples, change is happening because of leadership at the entrepreneur, investor, board, and community levels.

I left SOCAP16 deeply inspired, motivated to continue doing my part, and recommitted to the belief that working for the good of all is possible.