SOCAP11: Questions That Should Have Been Asked More

Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Entrepreneurship, Measure Impact, Microfinance, poverty, World

Editor’s note: This post is part of our SOCAP11 conference coverage in San Francisco. Picture is taken from one of the art exhibitions at SOCAP11. 


The three days at SOCAP11 was a time where conversations continue to push the edges of the intersection of money and meaning. Passions were uncovered and ventures were pitched as attendants share their stories with others. Having jumped from session to session and done a round of conversations with thought leaders at SOCAP11, I must admit that I wasn’t surprised at most of the questions asked, but more so by the questions that should have been asked more. Some questions more pressing than others, here are my top three questions that resonated with me throughout SOCAP.

How are we accounting for diversity at the intersection of money and meaning?

There were multiple sessions at SOCAP that touched upon this question of diversity.  Speakers and panel sessions highlighted the need for cross-collaboration and the involvement of majority stakeholders to pool together resources to strengthen the sector. Day two at SOCAP11, in particular, touched upon the importance of diversity and proposes applying systems thinking to how we view different components, recognizing that they all feed into the bigger picture of what we are trying to build. Although this is an important discussion to have, I think what would be incredibly valuable would be to then dig deeper into specific underlying issues of diversity:

What is the case for women-driven investing? (Note: Criterion Ventures led a great discussion surrounding this question) How do we overcome the perception of “suits” vs. “hippie” at SOCAP11? Does our definition of global truly mean inclusive? What tangible processes have organizations taken to tackle diversity?

I recognize that alot of these diversity issues have been inherited from the current systems that we have built for ourselves, but it shouldn’t stop us from asking the more difficult questions. There is a delicate balancing act that has to occur in the intersection of money and meaning: between impact vs. return and old vs. new. Layered on top of this act is the richness and inclusiveness diversity has to offer and it starts by asking the deeper questions.

What is your motivation to be in this space?

The quality that animates all of life is compassion. – Ashwini Narayanan, Microplace

There was a question that persisted throughout SOCAP11 in all levels of conversation and this was: what motivates you in this space? I found the question, although very relevant and fascinating to understand where different people are coming from, I am left wondering whether it really matters, at the end of the day, what brings people into this space. The panel session that brought this to light was one that brought together a range of faiths from Alex Hofmann of Changents, Sai Giambanco of Omidyar Network, Lisa Lepson of Joshua Venture Group, Matt Flannery of Kiva, Ashwini Narayanan of MicroPlace, and Firas Ahmad of Emergence BioEnergy.

This panel session at SOCAP11 explored this topic on how spirituality motivates and ignites passion in individuals. Several key fears surrounding faith arose, including the fear of being viewed as an extremist as panelist Firas Ahmad had put forth or the fear of meaning being lost in the noise of criteria and structures of religious institutions. Ultimately, Matt Flannery, founder of Kiva summed it this session best by stating that we need to do away with the dualism and break down the differences to convey compassion and meaning through people powered capital. Change comes from the periphery, where faith has a potential to make an impact.

In a conversation with Narayanan from Microplace, she emphasized the fact that when we are in touch with our authentic selves, we transcend the dual nature of this search because at the end of the day, we are not looking for meaning, we are looking for the experience of being alive. Once we understand that what faith brings to the table is not frameworks or criterias, but instead, a way to be in touch with compassion and our values, it can be a strong motivator for someone to be in this intersection. The challenge is to transcend the fears and pre-existing assumptions, and as a mixed panel of believers all ultimately point out: to recognise the universal calling for service and compassion.

The belief systems surrounding the core are just frameworks. So, who are we to try to make a case for whether your motivations or story is just as compelling compared to another person if you are already doing your part to carve out the space? The question should then turn to (and related to the previous question discussed): How we can collaborate to create an intersection that welcomes all sources of motivations and builds on everyone’s skills? Where should we start?

Accessibility and Scalability

Everyone is invited – but not everyone has access to the invitation – Deborah Alvarez-Rodrigue, Goodwill Industries

As the intersection continues to take form and function, we must turn our attention to a pressing question that would ultimately influence the future in this space: how can we unlock a broad spectrum of avenues to build pervasive, enduring and lasting social enterprises? How do we prioritize in what order we should build these values into social enterprises? This issue takes it place primarily in the accessibility of capital and then later, in its scalability. SOCAP11 kicked off with a panel session on the democratization of impact investing addressing the issues of accredited investors and working within the regulatory system to channel funding. Michael Van Patten of Mission Markets boldly stated that “unless we work within the current regulatory infrastructure, there is no way this market will scale.”

A second issue of accessibility dwells in the talent pool of the next generation, who are increasingly frustrated by the lack of opportunity to develop skillset in this blended area and are forced to build experiences at either end of the spectrum. Sure, there is a rise of schools recognizing the demand for these courses, but what use are they if there are no jobs available after graduation with most positions requiring a graduate degree or 3-5 years of experience. I believe that a strong network of social enterprises, building in this intermediary gap and backed by a community of impact investors, can create significant waves in capital and talent accessibility to create scale.

While we’ve had great platforms for donating to, and fundraising on behalf of, causes we care about for almost a decade now, it is only more recently that it has become accessible for emerging social entrepreneurs to rally a community and raise the funds needed to launch their own initiatives. Crowdfunding, or peerfunding to use my preferred phrase, lowers the barriers to entry for social innovators and allows local communities to identify and support the ventures they wish to see implemented. – Tom Dawkins, Co-founder of speaking on increasing accessibility to the space through crowd funding.

The challenge is to understand out road maps and patterns in order to delicately weave together upcoming talent, accessibility to funding and sustainability of ventures to continue to scale.

Perhaps the solution to address all the above questions is to continue to be part of the conversation but more importantly, take action and provide your answers to the “how-tos” as you are in the position to offer. Continue to serve and make deep commitments – with your money, time and skillset. Start by asking the right questions.


Jocelyn is constantly on the hunt for new innovative platforms as an intersection point for business models and markets at the base of the pyramid to contribute to social or economic progress. An impa­tient opti­mist, Jocelyn believes that through com­pas­sion, inno­va­tion and edu­ca­tion, we can be the change in the world.

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