Below are some of my thoughts and observations from the first day and half at SOCAP11:
- The philanthropic sector seems less represented this year. In various sessions where moderators asked the room to self identify themselves, the common responses included social ventures, investors (i.e., venture capitalist or business investors), with a mix of emerging social entrepreneurs, nonprofits, government, and educators. Philanthropic practitioners are both hard to find and somewhat quiet in this conversation.
- The great convergence between the philanthropic and social impact investment sectors needs some crossover between the two communities in order to become reality. A natural convergence could come by combining the audiences of the Social Impact Exchange and SOCAP conferences. Both have a tremendous focus on generating resources to increase social benefit and increase scale. And yet, there are very few of us in attendance who currently cross over between both of these communities.
- A corollary to the above point: several people I’ve chatted with in between sessions feel that the growth of investors signals a growing thrust to match investment opportunities with projects. In other words, SOCAP may be evolving into a higher focus on deal-making. I’m not sure that’s a great thing.
- How to categorize and define impact? This question continues to float around, especially when trying to define social impact. For example, how do you measure what is the best company (for profit or nonprofit) in a sector? Or how do you amplify impact?
- The term ‘patient capital’, i.e., expecting a return on an investment but over a much longer time period, continues to resonate. But, what’s not clear is if a social benefit return that might take more than 10 years to materialize (which is not uncommon in philanthropy) would attract social investments.
- A very quiet push back was voiced against the march to develop a common system to track and monitor metrics. In particular, a suggestion was presented that we should ease up on strict definitions and applications of metrics. While nonprofit rating efforts continue to evolve and GIIRS and IRIS keep getting visibility and traction, I’m curious to see if this soft push against developing the holy grail of metric assessment gains any steam.
- Last observation: the language used at SOCAP11 (examples include proof of concept, value creation, sustainability, raising capital, investment returns, etc.) needs more translation and common definition in order to engage people from both the impact investment and philanthropic sectors. For example, an investor is not synonymous with a donor – but how the term is used at times at SOCAP11 implies that the two terms are the same. Finding a plain-language approach is absolutely necessary in order to extend this dialogue beyond the group of people already working in this space. Literally, how can I translate this to donor, nonprofit, and philanthropy populations not following this conversation?
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