Last week, I rode in the center of an extraordinary motorcade of police cars, fire trucks and freedom riders to the funeral of a three-star general of the U.S. Army – my girlfriend’s grandfather, Lieutenant General Caryl Glenn Marsh. Shortly afterward, I returned to my home in San Francisco to attend SOCAP13 – the world’s leading conference exploring the intersection of money and meaning. Both experiences were powerful reminders that life is fleeting, yet capable of leaving lasting impact even after we’re gone. The reach and nature of our impact, however, depends on how we decide to live.
Over the past week, I was humbled by the eulogies celebrating a family man and soldier who “didn’t have a pot to piss in,” yet followed his calling to serve his country to the pinnacle of the U.S. military. I was convicted by the iconic Van Jones as he challenged an overflowing audience of mostly white, upper middle class entrepreneurs and investors to finish the work of the civil rights movement by consciously confronting racial issues (especially with our children), rather than passively welcoming amnesia to blot out our history of racial and gender division. I was awakened by a photographer who dodges bullets through war-torn regions to illuminate the effects of often overlooked conflict on those who are too far removed to feel any connection. Reflecting on the past week, I doubt if I have ever felt as simultaneously unaccomplished and provoked to lead a life that continues to impact others when I’m gone. I also arrived at the realization that had I not answered my own call to work in a mission-driven profession, I might feel merely unaccomplished without provocation.
In conversations with many friends who work with organizations that address issues related to education, health, poverty, and the environment, we often and inevitably discuss alternate options that would make life a bit easier. We consider other vocations that might avoid the shallow bank accounts, long exhausting hours, feelings of instability or overwhelming frustrations evoked by the seemingly intractable issues we face. What if I just accepted that cushy, 9-to-5, high-paying job offer for a little while? After only 10 or 15 years with that investment fund or law firm, I could save enough money to dedicate the rest of my life toward solving the problems that keep me up at night.
Yet nearly all the accomplished entrepreneurs and thought leaders on the SOCAP stage this week – some of the people we most admire – have achieved success not by first becoming rich, but by overcoming these obstacles to remain relentlessly focused on their vision to positively influence our world. Could it be that this struggle is precisely what makes them so successful? After all, there are few greater tests of an entrepreneur’s resolve (and viability of his/her model) than years of bootstrapping, pleas of support from family and friends and sacrificing time, energy, comfort and convenience for the sake of a vision that few, if any others, can see. After listening to countless unglamorous stories of the struggling entrepreneur, I am compelled to wonder – how much less equipped to scale a venture is the entrepreneur who has not endured such hardship?
Perhaps the greatest distinction lies in the gracious appreciation carried in the heart of the entrepreneur who has, at long last, broken through great struggle to breathe in the sweet fragrance of success. Such intimacy with failure can form the root of the perspective that enables an entrepreneur to weather storm after storm in the relentless pursuit of a dream. Over and over, I heard the same humble sentiment echo over the SOCAP grounds along the pier of the San Francisco bay. I am gratified by the immense privilege to serve humanity through my work and I couldn’t imagine using my time on earth any other way.
It is clear that SOCAP’s entrepreneurs are best equipped to serve the purpose most aligned with their vision. Often, the anxious, ongoing quest for funds comes at the expense or delay of the vision if it consumes the resources of the entrepreneur. Instead, this has become the role of the social capital markets. SOCAP exists to help facilitate and encourage connections between entrepreneurs who are willing to risk everything to serve our world and investors who are devising creative means to empower them to achieve their fullest potential. After just six short years, the conference has catalyzed a thriving ecosystem where each individual can serve the world by remaining true to his/her values and purpose. For the first time in the history of humanity, we are invited to imagine a better world by doing what we really want to do when we go to work each morning.
SOCAP has quickly achieved mind-blowing strides in both numbers (over 1,900 attendees this year) and influence, helping to spark an emergence of impact accelerators like Greenstart, Hub Ventures, and Unreasonable Institute, impact investment funds including RSF Social Finance, Root Capital, and ImpactAssets and other for-profit and nonprofit cultivation mechanisms designed to take a social entrepreneur’s concept to fruition and, eventually, scale. Additionally, SOCAP’s affiliated HUB network, now comprising over 40 workspaces globally, has recently announced plans to launch 20 additional impact-based collaborative workspaces around the world by the end of 2014. The once-annual conference has evolved into a multi-location and multi-theme conference series which boasts a European convening, along with SOCAP Soul, which was designed to explore the spiritual motivations and elements helping to drive the movement.
Once again, meaning took on a starring role at SOCAP13. In a session entitled What is Literally Worth Dying For, Premal Shah, President of Kiva.org, captured a fitting culmination of the week: “If everything you do, you do for yourself, then when you die it all disappears. If everything you do, you do for others, it all lives on.”
[Image Credit: Creative Commons Flickr: Edel Mahony]