Attendees at Day One of the inaugural Social Capital Markets 2008 Conference (SOCAP08) were greeted by a sunny day at San Francisco’s Fort Mason and capacity crowds wherever they turned. Registration went well over the expected 300 to reach almost 600 participants that included a mix of non-profits and for-profits with a variety of interests, backgrounds, and social missions.
Everyone I talked to had something to give and something to gain from attending. “Why are you here?” I asked Dominik Mjartan from Southern Bancorp (a community development bank involved in rural development in the Mississippi delta), “I’m here to learn, share, network, and hopefully connect with some investors. A lot of us have been working in this area without a big support network, so I’m glad conferences like this exist where we can finally come together and learn from each other.”
Learn and Network
Following an opening address from Kevin Jones, a principle at Good Capital and the founder of SOCAP08, the conference split into three tracks: SoCap 101 (an overview for newbies), a New Wealth Management track (for social investors), and a Social Entrepreneur track (for social startups). Each track offered several sessions throughout the afternoon. Attendees could jump between tracks according to their interests. Ample networking was available at breaks, between sessions, and at the reception which ended the day.
I started my day in the Social Entrepreneur track in the “Building the Business Plan” session. Kirsten Gagnaire, from the Social Enterprise Group, and Kevin Braithwaite, from RootSpace, offered practical advice and led a discussion on how to develop a business plan for a social venture. Much of the content in a social venture plan is the same as a standard business plan with one important difference: “Make sure your vision and passion for your mission come through,” was the oft-repeated advice from the moderators.
After learning about business plans, I jumped over to the Social Investing track to hear Andrew Kassoy from B Lab, R. Paul Herman from HIP Investor, and Steve Godeke from Godeke Consulting discuss the challenges of social investing. It’s a “brave new world” was the message from the panel, as new tools, metrics, and indicators are developed (like the HIP scorecard) to measure and compare social investments. One of the new metrics being developed to measure social performance looks at 3 indicators: proportion of women on the board, attention to green house gas emissions abatement, and employee satisfaction. Seems that companies that perform well on these three measures also perform better financially!
After the session, I talked to William Fisher from Living Capital Metrics who comes from a measurement theory background. “It’s not as hard as everyone makes out. We need to start to look beyond the traditional financial measurement tools.” William has some new ideas on how to measure social return so came to share and network. Rob Reinders from Bunch Concepts came to share what he’s learned over the years about, “best practices of social investing and how to take social entrepreneurs through the funding process. This has gotten even more challenging with the latest economic issues.”
Just Jump In
Any industry that is growing so rapidly has challenges but also lots of opportunities. All admit the capital markets for social funding are still in development and seeking a resolution to the inherent tension between the social and commercial. Tim O’Shea the founder and C3EO of Cleanfish, Inc. was one of the speakers on the “Social Capital Markets 101″ panel. I think he offered the best advice of the day, “Let’s not wait until it’s perfect to jump in; don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
Jim Witkin is a writer and consultant focusing on social enterprise and ICT4D. He can be reached at jameswitkin at yahoo dot com.